If the Acoustic Guitar Project demonstrates nothing else, it offers a potent reminder that no matter where you live there’s nothing like an impending deadline to provide motivational power. A global concert series that’s taking place in 43 cities around the world, the AGP proceeds with a simple conceit. Every selected artist gets a guitar for one week and a commission to compose and record one song on the instrument in that time period, no editing allowed.
What started as a one-instrument lark in New York City in five years ago has quickly ballooned into an international undertaking, with the second Bay Area installment premiering next Saturday Aug. 27 at Freight & Salvage. Curated by Berkeley musician Steve Gallup, a guitarist who spent years touring with the roots rock band Hipshakers, he tapped five local singer/songwriters for the project, including Jessie Bridges, Steve Meckfessel, Jeff Desira, DB Walker, and Jill McAnally. The videos that each artist recorded of themselves playing their song are posted on the project’s website.
“I’ve always liked all kinds of music, but the curatorial process was kind of intimidating,” says Gallup, who settled in North Berkeley about three years ago after decades in Half Moon Bay. “The first person I contacted was Jill McAnally. She and her husband had a big rig they drove for 15 years out of Texas. She’s the real deal and comes by her voice and music in such an authentic way.”
Looking for a broad range of artists, Gallup reached out to other well-informed figures for suggestions, like Oakland singer/songwriter Tom Rhodes and Freight & Salvage’s Sharon Dolan. As a curator he “didn’t want to make so much about what I wanted,” he says. “I wanted to talk to people who love songwriting, who I could ask, who do I not know anything about?”
After selecting five artists, Gallup handled the logistics, delivering the guitar to each songwriter and picking it up at the end of the appointed week. Donated by luthier Victor Long’s Minor Bird Musical Instruments, the guitar gets signed by each musician before it’s passed on. The Aug. 27 concert features each songwriter performing a brief set of three or four songs with the guitar, including the AGP commission.
For Jessie Bridges, who last performed at the Freight opening for her father Jeff Bridges at an April fundraiser for the Berkeley Rose School, the commission came at a propitious moment. She released her first full length album Let It Breathe in 2013, but had eased off of performing in the past year after suffering a concussion. Unfamiliar with deadline-driven composing, she took on the AGP assignment with a good deal of self-doubt and anxiety.
But upon receiving the guitar, she immediately sat down to get acquainted with the instrument, and “started playing this little walk down to G minor,” she says, “and I had a song written in 30 minutes! I blew my own mind. How am I responsible for this? It pulled something out of me.”
Her song “Now You Are Mine” is a gorgeous meditation on choosing to care for someone. Well, since it was inspired by her rescue dog, that should be choosing to care for some pooch, an undertaking that raised serious concerns for Bridges, who spends her days working at Standard Fare in southwest Berkeley.
“Could I do it on my own?” Bridges says. “I had all these questions bombarding me. But what’s so cool about songs is that anyone can interpret it their own way. It can be s a story about a love interest, about being confused about a relationship.”
According to Gallup, the APG was born out of an effort to facilitate creative completion. Launched in New York in 2012 by David Adams, an an ad copywriter with several musician friends who had trouble finishing their songs. He lent one of them his guitar with an assignment, finish a song by the end of the week.
“He loved the song that came out of it,” Gallup says. “Before long a lot of people were asking to get involved, and he started doing it in multiple cities. Last year there were 43 cities on six continents. Some of the songs are fantastic, some not so much. The idea is to try to create this community around songwriting, to give people a deadline and see what happens.”
Recommended gigs: Guinga / Ray Charles Project
Guinga is one of Brazil’s most celebrated composers. His songs have been recorded by international stars such as Elis Regina, Sergio Mendes and Ivan Lins (a great songwriter in his own right). In town for Brazil Camp in Cazadero, Guinga, a brilliant guitarist, performs Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory with pianist Stefania Tallini.
Across the street on Saturday, the Ray Charles Project celebrates the music of Brother Ray with a stellar cast including present Santana keyboardist David K. Mathews and former Santana vocalist Tony Lindsay. With blues master Chris Cain on guitar, bassist Dewayne Pate, and the prodigiously grooving drummer Deszon Claiborne, the band boasts a top-shelf rhythm section.
Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. He also reports for the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED’s California Report. Read his previous Berkeleyside reviews.
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