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Concert Review:
Stephen Bennett and Tommy Emmanuel c.g.p.

By Tom Redmond

Stephen Bennett at Sound Check
On Saturday afternoon April 1st, 2000 at 5PM I was standing at the front door of the Yoder Barn, an old Dairy Barn in Newport News, Virginia, which has recently been renovated into a beautiful intimate concert venue. At 8PM the show would start - Harp Guitarist Stephen Bennett with guest Tommy Emmanuel c.g.p.

I happened to learn about the concert by sheer luck a few days earlier and had called Stephen Bennett to ask if I could come and interview him and Tommy for the website. Stephen was happy to oblige, and invited me to the sound check at 5PM. I was excited at the chance to see the two of them play together, having heard them each play separately in Nashville.

I actually beat Tommy and Stephen to the concert hall, and when they pulled up I helped them carry in the various equipment for the night: guitars, amps, CDs, dress shoes and assorted backpacks.

Once inside I tried my best to stay out of the way, as first Tommy then Stephen took the stage to play for sound check, and coordinate the lighting, sound levels and various other details many concert goers rarely think about before coming. Where each would be standing and moving, how would the sound need to be changed at the PA board? How much reverb was needed? Then how to accommodate each instrument. Both men were playing several different instruments, including regular acoustic guitars, steel resonators and Stephen's 100-year-old Harp guitar. I never realized the preparation that goes into a great concert.

Tommy Emmanuel c.g.p.
Stephen's wife Linda ordered out pizza for us and as we sat downstairs the hour before the show eating, Tommy and Stephen each allowed me to interview them. They were both open and willing to share their thoughts on playing. I only wish I had time to have asked for some playing tips! Earlier in the day I had packed my guitar up and had it in the trunk of my car thinking: "well maybe there might be time and things might be so relaxed that I could ask Tommy to show me "Road to Gundaghi" and "Dixie McGuire," but it never happened. From 5 to 8 we were all very busy and I was trying best to stay out of the way. I never went for my guitar. The concert hall had filled by 7:45, and I went out to my seat. The house lights dimmed, and Stephen came out first and played by himself. He started with a fingerstyle version of "Wildwood Flower" which turned into "America the Beautiful," then The J. D. Loudermilk classic, "Windy and Warm." Stephen played an old war tune, "Jersey Bounce," which you don't hear much nowadays, but it is a great fingerstyle song. Then he played an original tune called "Emerald City," during which the audience was incredibly silent. A beautiful melody was all that was heard. Each note seemed to bounce off the barn ceiling and I looked around at other fans. All eyes were fixed on Stephen, smiles on every face.

Tommy practicing before the show
I can't remember the exact order, but next came a very cool arrangement of Van Halen's "Girl, You Really Got Me," then "Maple Leaf Rag" (which he claimed to have co-written with Scott Joplin!!) He played a nicely melodic version of the classic, "The Water is Wide" and then took a bouncy trip to the Wizard of Oz, playing and singing "If I Only Had a Brain."

At one point, Stephen was tuning his guitar and couldn't quite seem to get it right…he stopped in frustration for just a moment and then began tuning again, determined to get it just right. Suddenly from outside, a loud ambulance siren was heard. Stephen looked up and said without missing a beat, "Uh-oh, it's the tuning Police!" The crowd went crazy with laughter.

He told a great story about the first time he had heard Tommy Emmanuel play and how he was so awestruck that he went back to his hotel and stood out on the balcony, contemplated jumping to the concrete below and ending it all! Instead, he wrote a tune for Tommy called "The Balcony Boogie"

Stephen finished up the first half of the show with the old Cole Porter tune, "This Thing Called Love"

After about 20 minutes of intermission, the crowd came back in and as the house lights dimmed, the crowd went quiet as Tommy took the stage. Tommy acknowledged the crowd and said hello to any and all that had never seen or heard of him and thanked them for coming. The next hour or so he made sure they would leave knowing who he was.

The exact order of songs is a pleasurable blur to me, but I remember hearing "Borsalino," "Mr. Guitar" and "To B or not to B" from his album with Chet, "The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World"

Tommy also played some new tunes from his solo new solo CD "Only." He played "Luttrell," a nice fingerstyle song named after Chet Atkins' birthplace, "Ole' Brother Hubbard" a Jerry Reed style song, and "Biskie"

He played his take on cover songs like "Blue Moon", "Mona Lisa" and "Old Fashioned Love Song" and a medley of songs which I recall contained small snippets of "Popeye the Sailor Man."

Tommy took a brief break from his incredible playing to talk of his childhood growing up in the Australian Outback, and recalled how his first guitar was strung up with fencing wire and had a mural of "cowboys sitting around the campfire" painted on the top. But as a boy, Tommy wanted desperately to have an electric guitar. After much coaxing from Tommy and brother Phil, his father finally saved up and bought Tommy and his brother electric guitars but he ran out of money and couldn't provide the boys an amp!

Tommy also played a great version of Arthur Smith's "Guitar Boogie", commenting afterwards that Smith was probably relaxing down in Florida somewhere saying "Hey, I wrote Guitar Boogie!"

Tommy showed the audience he is a master of not only guitar playing, but of showmanship as he entertained between songs with a Rodney Dangerfield-like string of one-liners. He kept the crowd laughing and having fun. His genius though, was in the emotion and percussive ingenuity he demonstrated in his playing. He seemed to feel every note, and he is very much a percussionist - he taps and bangs the guitar top, sides and scrapes the strings for added effect.

At one point he played The Beatles "Michelle" played completely in harmonics. He also played "The Initiation" - a strange, but moving song about a young Aborigine boy's initiation into manhood. The reverb on that song seemed to shake the roof of the old barn.

Tommy and Stephen close out the show
Tommy had worked the crowd to a fever pitch when Stephen Bennett returned to the stage. Then they played together. They fed off each other's chops and you could see that each man was having fun doing what he loves to do, make guitar music. They took John Lennon's "Imagine" and you could feel every note. Then to pump things up for the end, they played "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "Stompin at the Savoy"

When they were finally finished, the crowd of roughly 300 sounded more like 1000 as the ovation began and everyone stood in appreciation of a great night of guitar playing, entertainment and fun.

For upcoming concert information for either Stephen or Tommy, visit their websites at:

Stephen Bennett
Tommy Emmanuel c.g.p.   

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