Korean Guitarist Bokyung Byun

A world class guitar festival is returning to the region on the weekend of September 25-27. The University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival, now in its 5th year, will bring internationally recognized artists to a three day online conference, featuring workshops, masterclasses and performances.

We spoke to Festival Director Adam Levin, who shared some Festival highlights.

“My longtime teacher, mentor, guide, and American guitar virtuoso, Eliot Fisk and his wife, Zaira Meneses and their daughter Raquel Fisk are teaming up, Saturday September 26, for a power-packed evening of music. I’m also excited to expand the bandwidth of the festival by including American blues guitarist, Corey Harris. Being a Chicago native, I have a natural affinity and appreciation for Blues. This guy can really play and sing. I’m also excited for the Kora and guitar concert that will come at the conclusion of the festival on Sunday, September 27. South African guitarist, Derek Gripper, and Malian kora player, Yacouba Sissoko will perform beautiful music from their respective countries.

Planning a full fledged music festival, even a virtual one in these times is a challenge, Levin explained.

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“Usually when we are all together on campus, we are dealing with one time zone, but with an international roster of artists, we are dealing with six time zones. This equates to lots of coordination. Another unusual challenge is creating camaraderie amongst participants and artists. One of the key selling points of this festival is that its a platform for students, teachers, and performing artists to mingle, all while enjoying the laid back ambience of Rhode Island. In this virtual world, we will rely on people chiming in during performances and leaving their feedback. During lectures, participants can ask questions by raising their virtual paw. We will also host pre and post performance artist/audience virtual gatherings, allowing fans to interact with the artist and ask them questions.

The past six months have been a difficult time for performing artists, and streaming online shows presents numerous challenges for artists. I asked Levin how they were coping.

“Artists are eager to engage with audiences. The lack of concert activity during the pandemic is a major void in a performing artist’s life. During this difficult time, I find artists to be more open about their struggles, honest with their audiences, and engaging.  I will say that some artists are still evolving with the times and have yet to secure the appropriate equipment to stream and/or record, or are not yet comfortable with the medium. It’s a major shift in the industry that will have repercussions for years to come.”

In addition to streaming performances, the Festival offers a variety of educational opportunities. “We offer our participants a unique opportunity to work with the guest artists in both a public virtual masterclass format and one-on-one across the myriad of online platforms. Our greatest achievement is making this festival an educational platform for artists and students to freely exchange ideas, ultimately allowing students and enthusiasts to grow. To this end, I have assembled a panel of experts to lecture on diverse topics, including the music of Paraguayan composer and performer Agustín Barrios-Mangoré with Frederick Sheppard, the polyrhythmic guitar with Derek Gripper, branding and self-promotion with Patricia Price, tone colors with Scott Borg, and creating community through the guitar with Matthew Rohde.”

The Festival is open to the public. Student guitarists, enthusiasts, and professionals can register for the concert on the website at www.uriguitarfestival.org/registration.