Concert Review and Photography By: Craig Hunter Ross
The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia has long been considered one of the nation’s legendary music halls.
On this spring evening, one legend would play host to another as The Birchmere welcomed Tommy Emmanuel for the second of two sold out shows.
Emmanuel brought with him a career spanning five decades and guitar skills that are second to none.
Presented the honor of Certified Guitar Player by the late Chet Atkins in 2001, Emmanuel’s talent is not limited to the fret board; he is also a master showman.
Opening the show fast and furious with instrumentals including “Guitar Boogie” and “Classical Gas,” Emmanuel had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand as he led the crowd on a musical journey both through time and around the world.
Explaining that every guitarist need times of special inspiration, he shared that his often comes from The Beatles, including an occasion on tour in Liverpool in which he felt moved to write a song after watching a documentary about George Harrison.
The song was written in the car on the way to the gig by Emmanuel and the title was taken from the street sign on the corner outside the venue…”Hope Street.”
The Harrison inspired instrumental led into a lengthy medley of Beatles/Harrison classics including “Here Comes the Sun,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Day Tripper” and “Lady Madonna,” each with a special Tommy Emmanuel flair and flavor.
While the evening was full of familiar hits and tributes (a crowd favorite was a montage of Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed numbers), the most powerful song of the evening was a song Emmanuel had written for a Native American Society fundraiser.
The purpose of the song was to collect financial aid for the Navajo to pay for students to attend university.
“The Trails,” inspired by the atrocities committed against the Navajo, was a percussive and ethereal piece that included the use of a drum brush striking the guitar and even a few head buts to the microphone in perfect rhythm.
The audience was taken away to a land they had only read about in history books, as the beat of the guitar strikes and cry of the strings echoed through the otherwise hushed hall.
There aren’t many artists with the ability to hold an audience in a one man show, but Tommy Emmanuel isn’t an ordinary artist.
This was more than a man and his instrument in front of an audience; this was a master of his craft sharing an evening with friends.
There were just as many smiles coming from the artist on the stage as there were directed at him.
It was difficult to tell who enjoyed the evening more, the guitarist or his audience…and isn’t that really how it should be?