Mark Stewart (left) and Jimmy Vivino play guitar at City Winery's Guitar Mash Urban Campfire
The seventh annual Guitar Mash Urban Campfire was a big success yesterday afternoon at City Winery, where featured participants Ani DiFranco, Biodun Kuti, Fernandito Ferrer, Jimmy Vivino, Kat Edmonson, Toshi Reagon and Marc Ribot demonstrated guitar technique and sang songs relating to this year’s theme “Songs for Change.”
Backed by a stellar house band led by Guitar Mash Artistic Director Mark Stewart (music director for Paul Simon and founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars), the event played to an enthusiastic all-ages crowd, many bearing their own guitars (there were also loaners on hand).
Then again, the Urban Campfire is a uniquely immersive instructional offering bringing virtuoso artists and aspirants together in group performance. To accommodate them all, City Winery removed all the tables and replaced them with rows of chairs.
Following the popular lead-in “Musical Speed Dating” lightning rounds of private three-minute master classes (taught by Guitar Mash alumni David Broza, Delicate Steve and Kaki King), the main event commenced with Jimmy Vivino, a most versatile guitarist (and Conan show bandleader) who straddles all genres, notably including blues.
“Glad they had a metal detector at the door to keep the [blues] harp players away,” Vivino joked, then performed The Beatles’ “In My Life”—hardly a surprise in that Vivino is set to return to City Winery for six nights with his celebrated Beatles group The Fab Faux at the end of December. Fernandito Ferrer also performed a Beatles-related song in his Spanish version of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” fitting in with the “Songs for Change” focus on the power of music to generate awareness and bring people together.
Biodun Kuti’s choice of Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” made sense in that Nigerian guitarist was hand-picked by Simon to join his band for his final tour—replacing his longtime guitarist Vincent Nguini, from Cameroon, who died last December. Toshi Reagon relied on guitarist and Guitar Mash teen director Alex Nolan for guitar backing on her stirring performance of Bob Marley’s freedom anthem “Exodus.”
Meanwhile, Joey Farber and James Soren, the winners of the second annual My NYC Song Teen Songwriting Contest (presented in collaboration with New York’s Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment), performed their winning entry “Back Home,” and the Guitar Mash Teens (with teen co-chairs Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Chloe Hennessee and Evie Dolan) performed fun.’s “Carry On.”
Ani DiFranco closed the show with Woody Guthrie’s much-covered protest song “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” and “(What’s So Funny `Bout) Peace, Love, and Undestanding,” hewing to writer Nick Lowe’s original version instead of Elvis Costello’s more famous cover.
All the songs were accompanied by an overhead projection of play-along lyrics and chords—and the correct fret placement for capos. As Guitar Mash is geared to all proficiency levels, artistic director Stewart at the outset made a point of dispelling any notion that use of a capo is an enabling device used solely by beginners. Then the irreverent Vivino emerged, and in reference to capos--and before sounding his first note--asked, “Do we all agree that we’re cheating?”