Apr 192009

Last night I went with some friends to see Orrin Star and John Seebach play a concert in Herndon VA.

Orrin is a great flatpick guitarist and has published some outstanding instructional material in straight-up flatpicking. He understands the styles of Doc Watson, Norman Blake, and the like and can just totally play in the flatpick tradition. I have taken in a few guitar workshops with Orrin in the past and have seen him perform a few times as well. All around a very knowledgeable guy, and someone I have learned a lot from just by chatting with him here and there.

Last night’s show was a lively and fun performance. The duo played standard stuff for this configuration. Some fiddle tune medleys, some traditional songs like “Worried Man Blues” and “East Virginia Blues,” and a few extra oddities thrown in. Orrin really was flying on Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” on his mandola. A few mandolin duos, some solo things, a finger-picked blues. Very good stuff.

The thing about good flatpicking is that it is universal. People who know how to put a melody out there and then really jam on it–that’s jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, rock all at its basic level. No screaming fiddle, no train-engine banjo, just two guys flatpicking. I love the bluegrass bands with the fiddle, banjo, strident vocals, all that crazy stuff, but I’m just pointing out that the sound of flatpick guitar is just more accessible and maybe more universal in many contexts.

I love how hard Orrin plays. His notes are loud and clear, and I find that to be rare among flatpick amateurs. A lot of pickers keep trying to find a louder guitar, I guess because they can’t get enough volume from the right hand. A good bluegrass dreadnaught should be loud, but it should also be sweet and balance. I’d rather play my dread with its rich tones than some others that have a louder bass but less nuance. Heck, Norman Blake plays 000s exclusively nowadays from what I’ve heard. Orrin really owns up to his part of the sound by just playing hard and strong. I love that and keep trying to put that big right hand sound into my playing.

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