Local musicians to perform at inaugural Connecticut Guitar Festival

All things guitar will be celebrated across several Fairfield County venues this weekend with the debut of the Connecticut Guitar Festival. Initiated by the Suzuki Music Schools of Westport and Orange, it is partnering with Westport-based Music for Youth, the Factory Underground Studio of Norwalk, the Westport Arts Center, Westport Public Library and Pequot Library in Southport to present a range of activities, including concerts, master classes, vendors and exhibits.

In explaining the concept for the festival, Dr. Andrew Smith, director of the Suzuki Music Schools of Westport and Orange, said, “The guitar is one of those instruments that crosses over all genres in terms of mutual appreciation from players, no matter the type of music. What we wanted to do is bring the guitar community together and present the very best in every style — classical, rock, folk, world music, jazz, blues. There is so much to celebrate about the guitar and Connecticut has so many fantastic guitarists in our own backyard, it seemed like a great way to bring the musical community together while exposing them to forms of music that might be new to them.”

The festival will kick off Friday, Feb. 2, at 8 p.m., with a free concert featuring Paul Nelson and Friends at the Factory Underground, 16 Isaac Street in Norwalk. Nelson is a three-time Grammy-winning guitarist, performer, record producer, and songwriter. He was the protégé of legendary blues rock guitarist Johnny Winter, becoming his band leader and producer. Suzuki guitar students will open the show, followed by Drew Pinto of Monroe, upcoming inductee to the Connecticut Blues Hall of Fame Tom Forst and headliner Nelson.

While the weekend event features two concerts, it is designed to be educational as well. Working with Westport Arts Center, for example, the Westport Library, at 20 Jesup Road, is presenting a weeklong exhibition on the history of guitars, and master classes will be offered for a daily fee to take any of a series of master classes being offered on a rotating basis; $25 on Saturday and $20 on Sunday, or $40 for both days. The classes will be offered at the Pequot Library and Suzuki Music School’s Westport campus, 246 Post Road East. Adjudicated auditions (registration required) will be the focus for Saturday workshops at the Pequot Library, with prizes for school-age guitarists.

The Saturday workshops at Pequot Library will conclude with a Music for Youth children’s concert by Jiji at 2 p.m. Jiji is a 24-year-old Korean classical guitarist who now lives in New Haven and took first prize at the 2016 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. She plays both acoustic and electric guitar, playing an extensive range of music, from traditional and contemporary classical music to free improvisation.

In addition to Jiji (Sunday only) and the Alturas Duo, master class instructors will include Ben Verdery, professor of guitar at Yale, classical and crossover; Daniel Corr, classical and Suzuki; David Madsen, professor of guitar at the University of Hartford; David Veslocki, award-winning music producer and guitarist; Drew Pinto, steel strings expert; Joe Kiernan, rock and jazz; and Sven Rainey, classical and Suzuki.

Also on Sunday, a free vendors expo will be presented at the Suzuki School from 11 to 3, featuring classical guitar dealer Joseph Burros, Florio Guitars and Nicholas Guitars. There will be demos on how to build a guitar, and if you have a vintage guitar and wonder what it might be worth, Mark Florio of Florio Guitars will help value it. And if you have an old guitar or other instrument you no longer want, it can be dropped off and will be donated to the KEYS (Kids Empowered by Your Support) program in Bridgeport, which provides music lessons and instruments to underserved youth in the community.

For additional information visit connecticutguitarfestival.com or call the Suzuki School of Westport at 203-227-9474.