Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel will be playing the Great American Music Hall on January 11th and 12th. Now in his sixth decade of writing and performing on the acoustic guitar – starting at the age of 6 – Emmanuel might be the world’s greatest player of fingerstyle guitar.
If fingerstyle guitar isn’t something you’re familiar with, we recommend you get familiar with it; it’s as far from twangy, over-strummed beach renditions of Wonderwall (ironic or otherwise) as you can get. It might just revolutionize how you think about acoustic guitar. Emmanuel’s signature style is a way of using the whole guitar – the whole symphony of sounds you can make with wood, strings, and frets – to create a sound that’s organic and percussive, driving and lyrical.
As a genre, fingerstyle is a perfect example of what happens when a musician takes an instrument seriously, no matter how overlooked or dumbed-down it might seem; and Emmanuel is one of the best and most technically-skilled artists you’ll hear.
Emmanuel’s first brush with music can be traced down to when he was four when he received his first guitar. Over the years, although he’s gained experience as a singer and songwriter, the acoustic guitar is what he’s returned to. His first steps as a performer were as part of the family band that his father created after selling their home. He spent the better part of his childhood touring the Australia of the 1960s and 1970s, playing rhythm guitar and occasionally going to school. By the end of the 1970s, he was the drummer in the group Goldrush along with his brother Phil, and making money as a session artist, before becoming part of the Southern Star Band in 1979 as lead guitarist, playing as the backing group for vocalist Doug Parkinson. And then, as the new decade arrived, Emmanuel joined the reformed lineup of the 1970s rock group Dragon. He toured extensively and was a vital part of their 1987 tour with Tina Turner.
But over the years, even as the apparently-archetypal touring hero, Emmanuel’s technical skill began to grow larger than the mid-level rock circuit he was playing; and he moved back to the acoustic. Since then, much like before, Emmanuel has been unstoppable.
Like many artists of his generation, Emmanuel hasn’t had any formal training in music; he’s started with feeling and built a career of huge technical ability on top of it. All we hear stems from natural music ability, an inherent sense of rhythm, and a charismatic persona that has gained him fans from all over the world.
And in the age of the hyper-managed image and the carefully-planned live spectacle, Emmanuel is something special: someone who plays to the room rides the feeling and never has a setlist – choosing instead to let the show go where the show wants to go. Stripped-back, low-fi, but formidably skillful anyway, what this means is that Emmanuel delivers original shows every night. If you’re going to be there at the Great American Music Hall this week, you’ll probably witness a performance that he hasn’t delivered anywhere else before.
Tommy Emmanuel/JD Simo play the Great American Music Hall Thursday Jan. 11, Friday Jan. 12 // Doors @ 7:00pm / Show @ 8:00pm // $46 advance // $51 door // $70.95 dinner — seated show
Photos courtesy of MSO PR