Global guitarists hit Arcata: Two acoustic concerts feature musicians from around the world

Regardless of where the contemporary guitar first originated, renowned Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel said the instrument has now become a fixture in the international music community.

"It's such a universal instrument," Emmanuel said. "You see guitars across the world. Think about it. You don't see many top-notch accordion players everywhere as you do guitarists."

For two nights, Arcata will serve as proof of Emmanuel's statement when he and five other international acoustic guitarists will show off their musical abilities.

Though the musicians originate from different corners of the globe, they hold a common ground in that they play a unique style known as acoustic fingerstyle guitar. In this style, the guitarist goes beyond the six strings to compose music that encompasses all the musical elements of a song-- melody, harmony, bass and sometimes percussion -- normally achieved with a full band. To accomplish this, the guitarist utilizes traditional fingerpicking techniques along with unconventional techniques, such as hitting the guitar body to create a percussive sound, two-handed tapping and harmonic string slaps.

While these techniques have a strong visual allure, Emmanuel said they are tools for musical expression.

"When you're playing, basically, you're telling stories without words," Emmanuel said. "That's what instrumental music is. Just listen to the music, and the music should speak for itself."

Emmanuel is set to tell his musical stories tonight at the Van Duzer Theatre at Humboldt State University alongside acclaimed British jazz guitarist Martin Taylor.

"We have a good chemistry, even though we come from different musical backgrounds," Emmanuel said. "We love melody. We're both about melody and groove and having fun up there."

With Emmanuel's dynamic country, bluegrass and rock style songs and Taylor's jazz expertise, Emmanuel said they want to present "a repertoire of songs that takes the audience to different moods and places."

While Emmanuel enjoys standing center stage, he said his many experiences performing with Taylor since the 1990s brings him into a new and challenging role -- the accompanist.

"One of the things that working with a guy like Martin taught me is that you've got to really listen to how he phrases so you can be the right accompanist," Emmanuel said. "You can't rush. You have to let the melody breathe and feel good."

Beginning his musical career at age 6 touring with his family's band, the Australian guitar virtuoso now plays about 300 shows across the world, and has been hailed as the world's best acoustic guitarist. As a kid, Emmanuel said he heard country guitar player Chet Atkins. It was then that he started to become serious about the acoustic guitar.

"It was in the early 1960s that I heard Chet Atkins," Emmanuel said. "That was a life-changing experience for me. I was so fascinated and so inspired. That was my learning tool."

Whether playing at seemingly impossible speeds or performing a ballad piece, Emmanuel said, "You've got to stay focused on what's good. Everything you play, every tiny nuance, has to be good, and has to be right, and has to have strength."

As for the future of fingerstyle guitar, Emmanuel said the torch has passed to the younger generation.

"The younger guys are taking it to a younger audience," Emmanuel said. "Younger people need to see other younger people, because they need to see what's possible."

At 24-years-old, British guitarist Mike Dawes fits the description, and has the skills to prove it.

On Feb. 4, Dawes will play alongside three other guitarists -- Pino Forastiere of Italy, San Francisco-based Brian Gore and Quique Sinesi of Argentina -- for the International Guitar Night at the Arcata Playhouse.

Shortly after graduating with a degree in music, Dawes gained widespread attention after a video of him performing a cover of Gotye's widely popular song, "Somebody That I Used to Know" went viral in 2012.

"Once I released this single, it took off, and suddenly I had a certain amount of spotlight," Dawes said. "Gotye got in contact with me, and said it was his favorite cover of the song."

Since the release of the single, Dawes has released his first album, and is on his second international tour. With social media playing a large role in the popularity of acoustic fingerstyle and his own career, Dawes said that he is "excited for the future."

"Access is a very inspiring thing," Dawes said. "Everyone is now bringing something new to the table."

Touring with a team of renowned international guitarists, Dawes said he has played music he and the audiences never would have thought possible.

"We really do throw in some curveballs," Dawes said. "I'm really happy about this tour."

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or Follow him on Twitter @Will_S_Houston.