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.
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.
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: