Candyrat Records Guitar Night Tour at The Tralf Music Hall in Buffalo, NY on Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Ken Bonfield did a presentation for the Rochester Guitar Club on July 19, 2010 titled “The History of American Fingerstyle Guitar”. Among the numerous topics discussed during said presentation were some of the pivotal moments in our recent history, including the impact of certain record labels, the first of which was a label called Windham Hill. Founder and guitarist, William Ackerman, brought players such as himself, Alex de Grassi and the late, great Michael Hedges to the foreground of what was then called “New Age” guitar, a term that not many of the artists pigeonholed by it really enjoyed. Slowly the term “New Age” faded away, and after the death of Michael Hedges in 1997; so did the pop culture presence of what eventually became known as “Contemporary” or “Progressive” Fingerstyle guitar.

For nearly a decade the genre was experiencing a very underground type of existence with almost zero mainstream exposure. Flash forward to late 2006, when Candyrat Records label founder Rob Poland decided to film some of his artists’ performances and post the videos on the website YouTube. One of those videos was Andy McKee’s performance of “Drifting.” The video went “viral” (as they say) and within a week was on the YouTube homepage. To date, that video has been viewed nearly 39,000,000 times. Some of Andy’s other songs as well as other label mates have also received impressive viewership. Rob Poland’s Candyrat Records label appeared to have in one fell swoop made solo instrumental acoustic guitar “cool” again.

On the wings of their newfound, well deserved, and well overdue notoriety, some of Candyrat Record’s artists have joined forces and taken to the road to further promote their extraordinary talents. The inaugural Candyrat Records Guitar Night Tour made a stop at The Tralf Music Hall in Buffalo, NY on Tuesday, May 24, 2011, and I was lucky enough to be right in front of the stage to see four of the world’s finest acoustic guitar soloists play their hearts out for a crowd of adoring fans.

The evening began with Craig D’Andrea introducing the first act, Boston, MA area native Peter Ciluzzi. Peter is a very melody driven player with a playing style characteristic of Michael Hedges. His usage of extended techniques such as tapping and percussion are calculated and used to enhance the piece as a whole, as opposed to flash for the sake of showmanship. His demeanor while addressing the crowd was as soft as his music as he introduced himself stating that he would “…start the night off on a more lyrical note. The playing will only get more extreme as the night progresses.” Most of his music had a very laid back sort of feel, even somber at times, yet played with intensity and emotion. Highlights were his tune “Soliloquy” (my personal favorite) and his closing number entitled “March,” which he had written as a tribute to Hedges.

After Peter’s set, he introduced the second act of the night which was also the evening’s emcee, Craig D’Andrea. Craig was promoting his new album titled “…and the B.L.T.’s,” showing us the chops that helped earn him the title of 2007 Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar competition champion. If Ciluzzi were to be described as coming from the Michael Hedges School of guitar, I would say that D’Andrea comes from the Don Ross School. It appeared to me that in addition to an expanded arsenal of techniques, Craig’s songwriting has also evolved and matured since his first two albums. Each song was preceded with an anecdote giving back-story into the title and inspiration for the piece. His music and his storytelling kept the crowd laughing, smiling and tapping their feet. Even the presence of a heckler wasn’t enough to throw him off his game, quipping back and forth at each other in a playful and comedic point/counterpoint fashion in response to Craig’s story behind the song “Morrison County.”

After a good laugh and some incredible performances, Craig then introduced his personal friend from Wales, (UK) Gareth Pearson. Again; if Ciluzzi and D’Andrea represent the Hedges and Ross schools of guitar respectively, then Pearson would likely represent the Tommy Emmanuel School. A rather unassuming looking young man; he comes out, smiles at the crowd, tinkers with his rack-mount guitar effects processor for a second or two, and then delivered one of the single most in-your-face performances I have ever heard! He opened his set with the Merle Travis song “Blue Smoke” played at breakneck speed and arena rock volume with flawless technique and infectious energy. In addition to some of his original songs, (my personal favorite being the ballad “The Beauty of Discipline”) he also performed arrangements of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Billie Jean,” complete with authentic MJ choreography, including the Moonwalk! He closed his set with the Jerry Reed classic “The Claw” and set the stage for the fourth and final performer of the night.

Exit Gareth Pearson, and enter Toronto, ON Canada’s Ewan Dobson. I have likened all of the other performers from this night to other more established players, but really have no one to compare Dobson to. He’s a different animal all together. He has won almost every major guitar competition in Canada in multiple categories. Almost robotic with his precision, synchronicity and rhythm; it also seems that he has no governor on his speed. With his thumb pick being so heavy and steady as a metronome, his staccato style is perfect for techno/electronic type grooves as well as heavy metal music. As unlikely a combination as that seems, it really is quite amazing to hear. He performed a new song to appear on his next album titled (not positive on the spelling) “Acousticus Metallicus Plectrus,” translated “Acoustic Metal with a Pick” that he played using a flat pick and hybrid picking. Sort of a “What if Yngwie Malmsteen played Fingerstyle guitar?” style piece. It absolutely astonished me on a technical level, but was enjoyable on a musical level; something Malmsteen never really did for me (personal opinion). Another song called “Pickle Groove” was very reminiscent of a Don Ross tune, and the closing number titled “Time 2” utilized a delay effect creating a trance-like vibe. His eclectic set list really showed is range and flexibility as well as his raw talent.

When all was said and done, the performers came out on stage and the crowd gave them a standing ovation as they took their bows. They then manned their merchandise table and took the time to say hello to everyone who stopped by. They were all very personable, witty, down to earth gentlemen, surprisingly humble despite their world-class talent. Their tour is now over, and I can only hope they do it again soon. And if they do, I can say with a great deal of certainty that I will be there to see it.

—Mark Grover

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