A weekend at the Canadian Guitar Festival

3 Aug

I just returned from a weekend of music at the Canadian Guitar Festival. This was my first time attending and I have nothing but positive things to say about the experience.

The Canadian Guitar Festival

Fingerstyle competitions at the Canadian Guitar Festival

This year, the festival included performances by 13 exceptional players (including Don Ross, Michael Manring, Tony McManus and Vicki Genfan). The event also included guitar workshops, an open stage and the Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Championship competition. The performances were, of course, remarkable. Michael Manring in particular surprised and delighted the audience with a one-hour performance on his fretless electric hyper bass. A fretless electric bass at a fingerstyle guitar festival, you say? I’d like to describe it to you, but I couldn’t possibly do it justice. You’ll have to experience Michael for yourself.

What’s really remarkable about the Festival is its role as a career enabler for young artists. It’s a place where young and developing musicians can showcase their talents and get to meet successful artists in an atmosphere free of the usual pretense. By attending, jamming, playing on the open stage and performing in the competition, they get a chance access to an entire network of musicians. The competition is fierce. This year, 24 young guitarists from Canada, the U.S. and Australia (and elsewhere?) performed. Some of the competitors, like last year’s winner Ewan Dobson, will return to perform at the festival in subsequent years. Some get invited to future gigs, are offered access to other festivals or find recording opportunities in Canada.

I had a chance to chat with some of the performers about their careers and plans for the future. I wanted to know how they work, how they promote and manage themselves and what their long term plans are. Based on the few conversations I had, a few key themes emerged. Above all, they are dedicated to their craft and passionate about creating and performing. They seem to confirm the theory that success is primarily due to hard work and being in the right place at the right time. You have to have some talent, of course, but even the dullest stone can be polished to a bright luster with enough effort. In addition to selling disks and merchandise, some of the musicians earn money by teaching guitar and giving workshops. Most have a manager and/or a recording label. Promotion is often handled by the record label and gigs are organized by a manager. Those I spoke to all used some sort of social media channel (blog, Facebook fan page, YouTube, Myspace) to build their fan base or simply to share their recordings and schedules with the public. I couldn’t find any who are doing all of this by themselves, although I suspect some of them do. I spoke with the event’s founder and organizer Del Vezeau about factors for success and he agreed that what young artists must have, in addition to drive and talent, is the ability to conduct themselves like professionals — that is, be organized, show up on time and be ready to perform. I can’t over emphasize this point. When offered the choice between two relatively unknown and similar talents, people in the industry will invariably go with the one who conducts himself professionally and can be trusted to meet his commitments. This is an important factor for all emerging artists to take into account.

If you like good music and a great atmosphere (not to mention exceptional value), you owe it to yourself to attend this festival. The Canadian Guitar Festival takes place every year at Loughborough Lake, near Kingston, Ontario.

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