(Last week Adrian shared the story of a mysterious benefactor who donated to him a harp guitar. We pick up the conversation in progress, Hamburger Patty’s cheesy dance music in the background and soda and iced tea flowing freely.)
Adrian Bellue: One of my goals is to fly into Kansas or Canada to compete in the big fingerstyle guitar competitions they have out there. I think that would be really good air time for me. It would build a fan base and be somewhere new, too, which would be nice for me. I’ve always been stuck here in California, so…
Why It Matters: Where? Kansas and where?
AB: In Winfield, Kansas, there is the biggest international fingerstyle guitar competition. It’s held every year. They have multiple categories, everything from flat picking to fingerstyle to autoharp and mandolin. It’s a really well-known competition. A lot of my favorite cats entered that and won or placed high, and that’s how they kind of got a lot of their popularity. Andy McKee, Don Ross, Stephen Bennett, Antoine Dufour, they all placed second or third in that competition, which is pretty big.
And then in Canada there’s a fingerstyle competition that’s not international. Anyone can enter, but it’s not advertised as an international competition. I’ve thought about doing that one just because it would be a new country and there’s so many talented musicians in Canada. I’ve noticed a lot of the best fingerstyle guitarists for some reason come from Canada.
WIM: A lot of time indoors, maybe.
AB: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. Those closet players.
WIM: So what’s your connection to the guitar?
AB: It’s always been my way of escape, my meditation. Up until recently when someone actually noticed [my talent] and said “you should go do this,” that’s when I realized, “Oh, that’s why my music has an effect on people.” They feel what I feel, because it’s as entertaining for me when I play as it is for other people.
One of the themes in my music is that I can just play and not have to think anymore. I think that’s part of the whole flow method, so to speak, that they teach in martial arts. You’re supposed to not think about it….
WIM: That’s right. When did fingerstyle become such a big thing? I’m from a different generation, and we were the oddballs – the guys who liked Michael Hedges and Leo Kottke. And it was…
AB: It was before its time.
WIM: …even though Michael Hedges was huge within….
AB: …his community….
WIM: …nobody else knew who Michael Hedges was.
AB: Exactly. People still don’t know who he is. I talk about him a lot at shows — I have a couple of songs that I dedicate to him…
WIM: But now there’s international competitions?
AB: Yeah, and I don’t know when it really happened, but I do know that a lot of musicians and luthiers are calling today the golden age of guitar, or the golden age of acoustic guitar, because so many new guitarists are emerging that are better and better and the bar is just raising higher and higher. That’s one of the reasons that I got in touch with [luthier] Jay Buckey, because he thinks that the harp guitar is going to blow up again soon.
And that’s when I realized that this is what I need to be doing. I’ve always had the same connection with the guitar, but I think YouTube has really blown [fingerstyle guitar] up. Andy Mckee pioneered YouTube, especially the guitar section…
AB: …I think he has a collective 250 million views, which is amazing for solo instrumental video clips. That’s not something that everyone can appreciate.
AB: I mean, I’ve played some shows in a bar setting where not too many people are paying attention. That’s just part of the gig. But there’s also been times when I’ve played at bars and clubs where — I played at this big underground warehouse. A bunch of kids were there and they were making and selling booze. Big underground party, it was pretty bad. There was a big art show, a bunch of people walking around. I was all the way in the back.
I started playing and I kind of got lost because a lot of times I kind of black out when I play. I don’t remember where I am, and I think that’s kind of where the magic happens. Anyway, I looked up and there were a hundred people in front of me dead silent and staring.
AB: Some people were crying, and it made me realize, “Oh, the music really has an effect on people whether they realize it or not.
AB: I’ve played at bars where everyone is being loud and partying, and then I’ve looked up to see them all silent and watching me play, so It’s made me realize that there’s an effect, and that as a musician it’s your job to be a healer. That’s ultimately what you’re doing — you are healing people, whether it’s soothing the soul or inspiring. I feel like one of the themes of my music is for meditation, healing, inspiration.
WIM: I keep a quote on my desk from Martin Scorsese that says something along the lines of “your job as an artist is to make your audience care about your passions.” For some reason your explanation reminds me of that.
AB: It’s along the same lines definitely, and I think that’s where I can transcend the barrier with the kind of music that I do because it’s really based on an intimate setting, up close and personal. It does fine as background music, but when you really connect with it at home or on the road — that’s where it works for me. It’s kind of a constant meditation.
(Next time: Adrian Bellue, Tuvan throat singer?)