Brian Gore, founder of International Guitar Night (IGN), is the pied piper of guitar. In the 20+ years he’s been curating IGN, he’s brought together some of the most enchanting acoustic guitarists in the business to exchange musical ideas and perform their original compositions around the world.
Gore (third from the left) began the international touring act in a converted laundromat in San Francisco in 1995. At the time, he was performing in underground venues, coffee houses, and playing guitar with beatniks in the Bay Area.
As IGN grew in popularity, he decided to take the show on the road and grew the event in small communities and local theaters. He spent 15 years building IGN before taking it to New York or larger markets.
“We go to these places that some people might think are a bit out of the way, but you are going to meet just as many interesting, unique and sophisticated people,” Gore said. “You can build an audience and build a good base there.”
Billings’ Alberta Bair Theater was one of the first stops on IGN’s tour when they started booking larger venues and theaters. They first played the Alberta Bair in 2002.
Gore, with guitarists Lulo Reinhardt, Mike Dawes and Andre Krengel (pictured above) are in Billings tonight, performing at the ABT. “I’m just amazed at the enthusiastic responses,” Gore said. “The people in the arts community in Montana are very dedicated and idealistic, and that is great to be around.”
The success of IGN is due in part to Gore’s curation and the constant evolution of the group. Each year the show is different. “I’ve been pretty lucky in what I do,” Gore said. “I don’t make any compromises when it comes to quality.” Gore describes IGN as providing some of the finest musical experiences, bringing arts and cultural opportunities to areas that may not have as much access.
Art—even if you never become a professional—is a staple. It’s like food. Once you get the bug, you realize it’s something that we all need in our lives at some level.
Gore derives motivation to continue IGN from the players he collaborates with and the audiences that enjoy their sound.
“It’s a really wonderful balance of being able to play and develop my music, being able to be in the best theaters, and also being able to support other people in my show,” Gore said. “These guys are hard-working people who have made a lot of sacrifices for their music, and they deserve this.”
Gore describes the solo guitar atmosphere when he first started as highly competitive. He decided to create a different atmosphere with IGN, one that is more collaborative.
“My philosophy has always been to try to find a way to help people connect with one another and create and more supportive environment,” Gore said. “If you want to have more audiences for guitar, you need to break through these competitive attitudes. That is what we’ve done with the show and whey we’ve been successful.”
International Guitar Night, returns to Alberta Bair Theater on Saturday, February 20 at 7:30 p.m. On this tour guitar poet Gore teams up with Lulo Reinhardt, Mike Dawes and Andre Krengel.
On the morning of Dec. 3, David Harrington was hailing a cab in San Francisco to take him to the recording studio. His quartet was to finish a 75-minute arrangement for strings. They spent the entirety of the previous day in the studio, and upon leaving late that night were hit with the news that 14 people had died and 22 others were wounded in a mass shooting in San Bernardino.
On the morning that followed, the collective trauma of Americans was thick, coating every aspect of interaction. There wasn’t a quiet news outlet in the country—and not a bit of understanding why this happened. Why this keeps happening. The shock and trauma of the incident had yet to be used to sharpen political battle axes. We didn’t know who. We didn’t know why. There wasn’t a way to grieve this loss. It was just real, raw, and vivid.
As Harrington went along his morning commute, we spoke of his music with Kronos Quartet and how that incident in San Bernardino affected the music he was about to make.
“What we need to do this morning is the most tender, gentle, incredibly beautiful music,” he told me. “I’m sure that the effect, the waves that occur from a tragedy like that—I’m sure that will enter the performance and the music and what we’re trying to find to communicate. I’m sure that will be a part.”
Harrington channels the energy and occurrences around him into music. In 1973, when he founded Kronos Quartet, he did so in part because of “Black Angels,” the Vietnam War–inspired work by George Crumb.
“I was looking for the right music to play—music that felt like it belonged within the context of what I was feeling, what seemed to be going on in our society and what I was seeing in the news.”
This piece continues to provide Harrington and Kronos inspiration. In late 2015, the group performed “Black Angels” on the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier that served three tours of duty in the Vietnam War.
“It was an astonishing experience to take that music to that place,” Harrington said. In the silence of “Black Angels” the boat—decommissioned in the Hudson River in Manhattan—creaked, its walls echoing the sound of strings.
Music has the ability to connect people through a language of sorrow, of growth, and of connection. Its universality comes from the collective sum of what we’ve learned and what we’ve experienced.
“Every note that we get to play is another opportunity,” Harrington said. “I think all of us in Kronos feel that very strongly. I know that our composers do. Every composer that has ever written for us is trying to make something that they’ve never done before. They are tying to find a new alignment, something to share that maybe they didn’t know existed within them before.”
Harrington started playing violin in public school when he was 9-years-old. At age 12, he stared his first string quartet group.
“As a kid, that’s all I wanted to do,” he said. “I’m still the same kid I was at 12.”
Harrington founded Kronos in Seattle in 1973 and moved the quartet to San Francisco in 1977. The group is composed of Harrington on violin, John Sherba (also violin), Hank Dutt on viola, and cellist Sunny Yang. The group has produced more than 50 recordings and have commissioned 800+ works.
Looking back at 43 years of making music, Harrington said the energy that he gets from music and the creative situations he’s in makes that aspect seem very natural. “Time just seems to be flying by,” he said. “It may seem like it takes a lot of energy, but I feel I get more energy than what I’m putting out. I’m the recipient of so much from other people,” he said.
Kronos is synonymous with collaboration. Working with various composers, they’re able to learn new things about music and performance. “It’s really wonderful how one thing leads to another in music,” Harrington said. “We just try to keep our imaginations free and open and ready for the next adventure.”
“Looking over the programs that we’ve planned, it’s some of our very favorite music,” Harrington said of the Montana performances. Harrington plans to opening the programs in Montana with music by Aleksandra Vrebalov, from the Sea Ranch Songs. Vrebalov is one of the first 10 composers for Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, a series of fifty works commissioned by Kronos that will be made available to young and early-career professional string quartets.
Each of the fifty works will be a brief yet artistically complete composition. Digital versions of the scores and parts, recordings, and other materials will be offered to the public for free.
“I can’t wait to play Fodé Lassana Diabaté in Montana,” Harrington said. His piece, Sunjata’s Time, was one of the first received for Fifty for the Future project. They recorded the piece in late December, and by the time it debuts to Montana artists, it will be available to every string quartet in the world.
Among other selected works, Kronos will be performing a composition by Bryce Dessner, the Brooklyn-based composer and guitarist of The National.
“He is one of our favorites,” Harrington said. Kronos released an album on Dessner’s compositions, and is hoping to do an album of quintets with him.
Harrington is extraordinarily passionate about taking his music to the stage. “We spend a lot of our time rehearsing music and recording—things that are private,” he said, “but when you get to take the music out there for family and friends and the audience…For me the audience becomes like another instrument that basically pulls the sound out of us. The audience is absolutely essential to the music we play.”
Harrington has personal ties to Montana. His family homesteaded in Ridge, Montana. During Harrington’s last trip to Montana, he visited the family homestead and spent time in the various areas where his father grew up. As a teen in the 1930s, his father moved to Billings to attend the Billings Polytechnic Institute (today’s Rocky Mountain College campus), and in the latter part of the depression moved to Portland, where Harrington was born.
Our bodies tell many stories. Stories of heritage, of pride and of culture. Of enthusiasm and exuberance, anguish and remorse. Our bodies shelter our love and hold our loss. We are etched with scars from violence, abuse, addiction. We are pyramids of redemption and choice.
We all have our stories to tell. Lula Washington tells hers through dance. Founder, creative director, and main choreographer of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Washington spoke to me prior to the company’s appearance in Billings.
“The works I create… are a part of who I am and where I come from.” When she was first exposed to modern dance, she knew. This would be her life’s work. Read the full interview here >>>
Dance performances by Lula Washington Dance Theatre were at times jolting, at others so vivacious it seemed strange that we were not leaping to our feet (ahhh, the reservations of polite audiences in theater seats). I left feeling like I’d been witness to the most private moments in someone’s life.
Lula Washington didn’t grow up going to ballet on Saturday mornings. So when she first saw live dance, she was mesmerized.
“It was never part of my upbringing,” Washington said. She was the oldest of eight children growing up in poverty south Los Angeles. “The only dancing we did was in the living room around the radio or television.”
Washington was 22—a junior studying nursing at Harbor Community College—when a professor took her class to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. While watching the performers, Washington realized she wanted to dance professionally. Her application to UCLA’s school of dance, however, was rejected, because she was “too old” to begin a dance career.
Reflecting back, Washington said, “I did not need to allow my goal and my quest and my desire to dance hinge upon someone else’s opinion. I just felt very strongly that (dance) was what I really wanted to do, and decided I was still going got pursue it.”
Washington appealed the decision and was granted admission. She established the Black Dance Association at UCLA and founded the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Theatre, later renamed to the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, in 1980 with her husband, Erwin. Their goal: to provide a creative outlet for minority dance artists in the inner city.
“Part of the reason I did not discover dance growing up is that I don’t recall it being readily available to me in my community. Neither were the arts prominent,” Washington said.
The contemporary modern dance company performs globally Washington’s own experimental works, as well as the works of legendary pioneers in African-American dance. Washington is the founder, creative director, and main choreographer.
“The works I create happen because of what I have experienced personally in the life that I have lived so far,” Washington said. “They are a part of who I am and where I come from.” The company’s choreography includes ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, fusion movement styles, and traditional African dance.
In addition to Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Washington established an inner city-based school in South Los Angeles.
“It is very important that young people explore the art of moment, whether they want to be a dancer or not, because dance is a very healing art to explore at all ages,” Washington said. “It was extremely important to be able to provide this in my community.”
The organization holds an after school dance program that provides low cost and free dance classes to neighborhood children. The program, called “I Do Dance, Not Drugs!” has taught dance to more than 45,000 inner-city students.
“I believe that all the arts play a key role in motivating young people,” Washington said. “When youth have the opportunity to take part in the arts, they will naturally gravitate to what it is that will touch and motive them.”
Lula Washington Dance Theatre Company company’s performances—thought-provoking and high energy—are designed to motivate and inspire. Dancers perform works from the company’s repertoire at the Alberta Bair Theater on Wednesday, Nov. 4.
“We enjoy the opportunity to share our dance stories and be a source of inspiration, as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was for me when I got a chance to see them,” Washington said.
Prior to the performance, Washington will give a talk on Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Billings Public Library. Tickets at AlbertaBairTheater.org.
Above photo courtesy Alberta Bair Theater: Lula Washington, at left, and members of Lula Washington Dance Theatre pose with students at Billings West High School on Nov. 2, 2015.