Hood River will get to see a bit of sun and warmth in the form of music from Hawaii this January. Not one, but two Hawaiian slack-key/fingerstyle guitarists will be in town on Jan. 15, and after all this rain and snow, I’m sure looking forward to this.
One of the players, Adam Werner, uses a pretty rare form of the guitar – the Harp Guitar. In all my days, I’m pretty sure that except for some TV or video, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone seriously play one. I’ve only seen a few in museums (the Martin Guitar Factory Display Room comes to mind) and you’re sure to find a picture of one in the “American Reader’s Digest Compendium and World Book Encyclopedic Photographic History of String Instruments and Related Objects.” Invariably, there will be a photo taken in 1857 of a rural Appalachian String Band Ensemble that consisted of mandolins, violins, mandolas, octave mandolas, sub-octave tenor guitars, a mando-bass, a 12-string bouzuki, and of course, a homemade Harp Guitar.
I don’t think Harp guitars originated in Hawaii, but it sure is interesting that this eclectic instrument has travelled overseas to the Big Island.
It’s just more proof that no matter what instrument you play, its musical origins can be traced back through the ages, and beyond.
Or, at least back to 1857.
Chris Yeaton and Adam Werner will be at the Columbia Center for the Arts on Friday, Jan. 15, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 available at Waucoma Bookstore.
Interview with Chris Yeaton and Adam Werner
CY: Chris Yeaton
AW: Adam Werner
1. You guys are playing a concert representing Wood Song Acoustics. How did you guys get a gig in Hood River and what are your touring plans this winter? How often are you guys on the road?
CY: Woodsong Acoustics was created in Pleasant Hill, California, but we're now based in Hawaii on the “Big Island.” I have an old boss, Dan Gleasman, that I worked for as a commercial diver in the islands who later became a close friend. Years later he and his wife, Jody, relocated their family out to Hood River and I came to visit. We've been in love with Hood River ever since.
For this tour, we have 15 shows planned, and we usually go about setting up these shows in areas where we have our friends living or where we can find really cute little theatres. That’s our starting plan for these kinds of tours.
AW: I'm living in Southern Calif. (and HI part-time) and we are on the road a few times a year.
2. Adam lists a "harp guitar" as one of his instruments. Surely, this may be a first for an official Hood River show. (I seem to recall that musician John Doan may have played in The Dalles a few years ago.) Anyway, is your particular instrument an antique or did someone build it for you - and where on earth do you buy strings for such an instrument?
AW: My Harp Guitar is NOT an original (antique) although it's falling apart like it is. LOL!!! It was made in the late 1990's by a company in Northern California who sells them through a catalog. There are more and more luthiers who are building Harp Guitars nowadays, but they are still special orders or one-offs and not mass-produced yet. But thanks to the late Michael Hedges, Harp Guitars are becoming more and more popular today.
3. I actually know a few folks around The Gorge who really like to listen and play Hawaiian and fingerstyle guitar. Describe the basics of what's going on here (tuning-style etc) and tell us what drew you in to performing this music.
CY: The first guitars were left on the islands back in the early 1830's when the Spaniards came out to show the Hawaiians how to manage the cattle that were given to King Kamehameha the III as a gift by Capt George Vancouver. The only problem was that in most cases they weren't shown how to tune or play the guitar. If you were new to the instrument and didn't know how to play a "standard tuned" guitar just strumming the strings openly sounds less than pleasant to the ear.
So they took the guitar and tuned the strings down (slack) so that they resonated with each other. They would find a combination of the strings that sounded pleasant to the ear when strummed openly and musical chords flowed from there. Meanwhile in other parts of the world these "open tunings" were already being used by great bluesmen and other similar musicians, giving proof that music truly is a language understood and spoken by different tribes worldwide. I was drawn to the simplicity and sheer beauty of the music.
A.W.: Our "styles" are similar, in that, we both play in altered tunings and we both play with our fingers (no pick), but Chris' style is based on the traditions of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, while my style is based on the traditions of American Fingerstyle Guitar.
I coin the phrase, "Progressive Fingerstyle Guitar" because I use a lot of other elements with my style to take it a step (or two) beyond the traditions of American Fingerstyle Guitar, such as, I use an eBow on some tracks, I utilize the element of percussion, I use both hands on the fretboard and other various techniques to create the sound I have. Chris will do the same.
So, when Chris and I play together, the two styles coalesce into one beautiful style that incorporates many of our individual techniques, which are similar, but based on two totally different traditions. It's just something that you would have to experience first hand to understand.
4. Tell us a little bit about what's going to be on your setlist - originals? covers? vocals? solo/duets?
CY: There will be many originals and some covers from well known slack key artists. Adam and I perform a couple of numbers together as well bringing together both worlds of music. Our favorite piece to play is one called “Lele ma Luna o ka Aina hou” or “Over a new Land.”
AW: I usually don't know what I will be playing until I get out there and feel the vibe of the place and people. There are a few staples that I tend to play each show, but it depends on the show. What I can tell you is that it will be Fun, Exciting, Emotional, Diverse, and Complimentary with the two styles of music being played.
5. I ask this question a lot, but I think it's still fun. Who’s on your (iPod/music player) nowadays?
CY: Keola Beamer, John Keawe, Adam Werner, Michael Hedges, William Ackerman, Alex de Grassi, Kiss, Poison and an assortment of “Books on Tape."
AW: LOL!!! I've got WAY too many to list. I'm a COMPLETE music lover, but to name a few, I've got pretty much EVERYONE in the Fingerstyle Guitar world, as well as Dream Theater, Megadeth, Josh Groban, Norah Jones, Steelheart, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Samite, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Dixie Chicks, etc......I've very nostalgic, so I have EVERYONE I grew up with and more recent stuff.
6. What do you guys like to do when you're not playing music?
CY: I enjoy immensely spending time with my new family, writing new songs, and yardwork is a form of past-time for my wife and I.
AW: Play music. :-) I spend a lot of time with my family at the beach.
I know I don't "LOOK" like it, but I'm the "land shark" while my family shreds the waves and surfs! I love watching them surf!
7. Any new CD or recording projects underway?
CY: I have two CD's right now and I am almost finished recording the third called "Hana Lima." "Hana" in Hawaiian means to work, while "Lima" refers to the hand. So, it means "Working Hands."
AW: Yes. I'm currently working on my next album, which should be done in 2010. Chris and I are working on a duet album. I'm working with another guitarist friend (Adam Howe) on some music and there might be a Holiday album in the mix for next year. Can't tell yet, but that might happen.
8. Finally, and this may be the most important question so far - will the show include dancing hula girls?
CY: If I can get Adam to stop being so darn shy we might all get lucky -otherwise we would have to rely on someone there in the community to step in with some dance routines for us. I would be honored to play for them while they dance!
Thanks Chris and Adam for your time!