Berks Country Fest: An Americana Jamboree brought its annual gathering of brilliant guitarists, called Guitar-A-Rama, to Building 24 Live in Wyomissing on Sunday, and it proved the perfect venue for this back-porch experience.
Bluegrass guitarist Jim Hurst, folk/rock guitarist G.E. Smith of “Saturday Night Live” fame, Berks County’s own guitarist-of-all-genres David Cullen and Martin Guitar Musical Ambassador Craig Thatcher kept the audience mesmerized the whole afternoon.The concert opened with Josh Taylor, who teaches at the RMF/Olivet Guitar Club, and three of his students (including his son Josiah), performing pieces they have learned or written – an inspiring way to begin.Hurst demonstrated beautiful picking and a relaxed vocal style, delivering a funny “I Ain’t Got the Blues,” about a rare good relationship, bending notes seductively.His other original songs included “It’s a Cold, Hard Business,” a song about unscrupulous people and karma, underlined by deep bass tones; the uptempo “Through the Country,” about enjoying simple pleasures, which should be the theme song of this festival; the sweet “Kentucky Sunrise Waltz,” written on his front porch; and “All of This Just One Man,” which had a surprising spiritual aspect.He also sang Jack Shannon’s old-timey, sentimental “I Picked the Wildwood Flower” and the shimmering “Same Old Moon.”Smith played an acoustic guitar through most of his set, favoring ballads from several centuries. He is a compelling singer; I felt myself hanging on every word in Merle Travis’ “It’s Dark as a Dungeon Way Down in the Mines”; Woodie Guthrie’s “Buffalo Skinners”; the 16th-century “Barbara Allen”; Todd Rundgren’s “The Lack of Honest Work”; the folk song “Handsome Molly”; and a chilling Civil War-era song.He also sang the 1928 song, “Long Gone From Kentucky”; ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago”; “Jimmy Crack Corn” and “Thousand-Dollar Car.”His playing was immaculate, but it was his singing, surprisingly, that captivated me.Cullen played two of his original instrumentals on classical guitar, reminding us of his incredibly refined technique, his rich sound and his ability to spin both jaunty and haunting melodies. His “Take Me Back,” a bluesy bar song celebrating times gone by, showed his steel-string prowess and strong vocals; and he brought pianist Cliff Starkey in for Billy Preston’s rollicking “Nothin’ From Nothin’.”Thatcher, along with Starkey and percussionist Don Plowman (using only light shakers, box and such), played a variety of styles also, always with fine, eloquent guitar, especially in Lightinin’ Hopkins’ “One Kind Favor I Ask of You.”Jefferson Airplane’s “Embryonic Journey,” Dwayne Allman’s “Little Martha” (Thatcher alone), and Starkey belting out a Stevie Wonder song all got expert treatment. Thatcher’s love song to his wife, “Before I Go,” about being on the road and missing her, was a highlight – one of many in this wonderful concert.All the musicians got onstage for a grand finale of unrehearsed jamming.Contact Susan L. Pena: firstname.lastname@example.org.