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Opinion

Alt Guitar Summit in Big Indian, NY

I attended the alt guitar summit in Big Indian, New York. I got to hear Wayne Krantz, Marc Ribot, Julian Lage, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Bill Frisel among others. I met a lot of nice people. I heard A LOT of Jazz guitar.

If you found this via Google, here’s a disclaimer. I’m glad I went, but for me this is a one-and-done kind of event. It was very expensive – I wasn’t able to camp, which would have saved a lot of money. I tried to get some of my music buddies to go in with me, but no one wanted to. I debated not going, but… I thought I should try something new, and outside of my comfort zone, in the pursuit of being a better improvisor. By the time I registered, they only had a few spaces in the cabins with a roommate. Fortunately, my roommate was a great guy, and we had a lot in common. In fact, just about every attendee there had a lot in common with both of us. Coincidence?

I debated putting this post under the music category, but it expresses too many opinions. If you found this online and are debating attending, then I happily offer the following observations. Please consume with the appropriate grains of sodium.

First, the website claimed all styles were welcome, it’s not just a Jazz event. It was totally, exclusively a Jazz event.

Second, every session that was listed as a masterclass started with the presenter saying “This is supposed to be a masterclass, but, um, I didn’t prepare anything. Does anyone have any question?” Every single time.

Third, it’s highly advertised that there were plentiful spaces for jamming each night, and we were told to not bring amplification, but rather a guitar, extra guitar straps and our own drum sticks. I was excited by bringing drum sticks, figuring I could accompany tons of folks who wanted to jam with a drummer. I should have brought an amp. Frankly, I should have brought a drum kit, since I drove all the way there and had my car with me. The spaces for jamming ended up being overrun (3-4 guitarists on stage per song, does everyone know the same standard? Next!). I went to the “free music” space, and the tiny little amps were garbage, there were no drums or a PA. Had I brought an amp, I could have played with my roommate, demonstrated my pedals, and even gotten some recording done.

Also, the photos in the marketing materials and the website show attendees sitting with guitars in hand at the “workshops.” In reality, we were asked to not bring our guitars to said workshops, and if we did, to please not play them. While I picked up some useful information from listening to Lage and Krantz, this thing has the feel of a Jazz festival, where one is a passive attendee, more than a place to jam and learn from instructors. It is NOT that.

The main organizer is Joel Harrison, of musicmasterscollective.org. He’s an odd fit on stage with all the other luminaries, and projects a Gilderoy Lockhart vibe, if Lockhart had been a wannabe 1970’s singer songwriter rock dude turned wannabe Jazz dude in a flat cap. Several attendees observed that Joel uses the other guitarist’s celebrity to elevate himself. I had enough yucky interactions with him that he earned his own paragraph in this recap.

The location itself was lovely, and the food, while heavy, was pretty good. So, what did I come home with? A few things.

Marc Ribot

I love watching Marc Ribot perform, and it was fun to talk with him. I attended his lunch where he explained his activist work organizing the non-union Music Worker’s Alliance. His performances crushed it.

Wayne Krantz

I wasn’t familiar with Wayne Krantz, but his approach to improvisation made a lot of sense, and I picked up his book. To me, he thinks a lot like a drummer, and a few lights went on in my theoretical room of improvisation. I’m really glad I got to chat with him about improvising, and looping. He was very kind and encouraging.

And, I got to see Ribot and Krantz on stage together for the very first time.

Julian Lage was a wonder, literally surprising me every 7 seconds or so of his playing. He offered an exercise, which I’ll share with you, here:

Record yourself every day improvising for 60 seconds. During your 60 seconds, do anything that comes to mind. You might pull an idea out of the ether, develop it until around 30 seconds, heat it up at 45 seconds, and conclude at 60. Or, whatever.

Do this every day for a week, or maybe two weeks. Do not listen to any of it. Put the recordings away for several weeks, and then, listen to them altogether.

This should reveal things you like and want to develop, as well as what doesn’t work that well.

I tried this, and I love it.

Lage also echoed something Steve Vai had said to us a few weeks before, which was that we are all worthy to make the music we make. No one else, in truth, can make it. And we are worthy right now – not at some imaginary point in the future when we attain some out of reach skills or ideas.

He also noted that these kinds of events can do harm. The attendees sit in this hall for hours at a time, listening to some of the best guitarists on the planet, and the inevitable self critiquing comparisons dwarf the intended inspiration.

If Rosenwinkel and company are your jam, then this event might be for you. Whether you need a guitar is questionable. You might not. Probably not. It’s really not that kind of event.