Q: How did GuitartownCT Productions come to be?
A: I decided in early 2008 to try and present my bluegrass hero, Tony Rice, in concert. I had seen him the year before at the Turning Point in New York, and it rekindled my passion for his music. The concert in May was a sellout at the Little Theater (Lincoln Theater) in New Haven. I decided to pursue more concerts and started GuitartownCT Productions, LLC, that summer, mostly to seem more “legitimate” in the eyes of agents. I also started our website and began online ticket-selling.
Q: What have you learned since the series’ inception about local audiences – in terms of supporting live music performances?
A: That it’s impossible to predict with any certainty how many people will come to a given show. Early on we were the only venue in Connecticut presenting the big bluegrass stars. Lately, everyone is in the game, and the audience is diluted. However, our fans are pretty loyal and we see many of the same people at our shows, which is very gratifying.
Q: How do you go about programming concerts and choosing which artists to present?
A: First and foremost, I choose artists that I like. The hardest thing for me is not getting carried away and doing too many shows. All the bluegrass agents know about GuitartownCT and are trying to get their artists gigs here. It would be easy to overbook myself. I try to present … six to eight shows a year. I’ve consciously tried to present the biggest and best bluegrass acts in America. Some are newer performers, some are legends. I’m generally, but not always, drawn to more traditional bluegrass rather than newgrass/jam bands. In terms of getting the people out, I do extensive e-mailing to several lists which I have accumulated. I also put up around 100 posters, with some volunteer help, for each show. We have had many of our performers interviewed on various Connecticut radio stations, although two big bluegrass shows are no longer on the air: The Black Diamond Show on WNHU and The Chris Teskey Show on WPKN. We’ve also gotten some great press from Connecticut Magazine and the local print media, i.e. New Haven Register. We’ve surveyed our patrons and most of them heard about the shows through direct e-mail from us.
Q: When and how did you develop an interest in bluegrass music?
A: I think I always liked acoustic music, although I was primarily a Beatles fan starting at age 10. I was a living-room guitar picker and was a big fan of people like James Taylor, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Jonathan Edwards. I used to go to the fiddle contest in Craftsbury, VT, and the Pickin’ Parlor and Enormous Room in New Haven. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album Will the Circle be Unbroken was a big influence. I also had a teenage friend who was a huge Norman Blake fan, he played fiddle tunes on the guitar, and he was the first person I knew with a Martin guitar. My real introduction to bluegrass was through the playing and singing of Tony Rice. I only recently “discovered” Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and the real pioneers of the music.
Q: How would you describe the bluegrass scene in this region? In other words, where have bluegrass artists found audiences to perform for and where have bluegrass fans been able to see and hear their favorite artists?
A: Connecticut has always had a pretty vibrant bluegrass/country music scene, dating back to the ’50s. My experience started in the ’70s with the Pickin’ Parlor on State Street, New Haven, and the Enormous Room on York Street. Connecticut has also been home to two wellknown bluegrass festivals, Podunk and Strawberry Park. When I started doing shows, the only small venue that I knew of in the state was the Salem Barn series run by Kim Cyr of the Connecticut Bluegrass Music Association. These days there are more than six Connecticut venues presenting bluegrass regularly. The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, Café Nine, Ridgefield Playhouse, Infinity Hall, Bridge Street Live, and Outer Space are some of the venues now doing bluegrass.
Q: To what extent do you think you’ve been able to introduce local fans of the music you present to artists they weren’t previously familiar with? What are some of the ways you stay up on emerging artists?
A: I’ve tried to especially bring in younger fans, by presenting up-and-coming bluegrass artists, with some success. I usually offer discounts, or in some cases free tickets, to teenagers. I think as word of our shows has gotten around the area, many people now come out to Guitartown shows even if they don’t know the artist, because they know that they’ll hear something great. In terms of emerging artists, I read the trade publications, follow music closely on YouTube, and now many agents will send me CDs of younger artists for my review. Nice! However, attracting the younger crowd is a huge challenge.
Learn more about GuitartownCT Productions at GuitartownCT.com.
Article by Hank Hoffman