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Festival Review: Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival

Posted By Connie Sheu, Monday, November 19, 2012

Crown of The Continent Guitar Festival

by Aaron Green

Last August, I had the great fortune to spend a week in one of the most beautiful and inspiring places on earth. Beautiful in scenery and inspiring to be among those who love guitar as much as I do. I am speaking of the Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival in Bigfork Montana, on the shores of the majestic Flathead Lake.

The Festival has taken the basic mold of the National Guitar Workshop and successfully expanded on it in many significant regards. That which stayed the same is the guitar being represented in all it’s incarnations and the world class status of the teaching staff. Many NGW teaching alum such as Jody Fisher and Andrew Leonard. Matt Smith, Mark Dzuiba and James Hogan are on staff and with guest artists such as Dennis Koster, Lee Ritenour, Julian Lage and Patty Larkin. Previous years have seen such artists as Scott Tennant and Pat Metheny, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Lukather among others.

The Crown of the Continent Foundation has set their sights very high and it shows in every facet of this annual weeklong guitar celebration. The workshop and festival takes place at the Flathead Lake Lodge, a world class retreat with cabins for guests, gourmet meals, thousands of acres of woods and fields. For those not attending guitar classes there is horse back riding, fishing, swimming, boating and all of 45 minutes away, Glacier National Park, from which the Crown of the Continent got it’s name.

Every evening there was a concert to attend, held in a massive festival tent. These concerts were very well attended not only by those taking part in the workshop but also people who lived in or were visiting the area. Julian Lage, Dennis Koster, Lee Ritenour, Sonny Landreth, Chris Hillman Herb Pedersen, Patty Larkin along with special guest Dave Grusin all gave stellar performances. To attend these concerts night after night was a real treat and the response from the crowd made sure the artists knew that. There was also a student concert so those attending could show off their stuff and that was not only fun but impressive as well.

The 3rd annual Yamaha six string theory competition finals were held during the festival, at a beautiful art deco inspired theater in downtown Bigfork. The competition is for all styles of guitar, broken up into 6 categories, blues, rock. acoustic, jazz, country and classical. The event was open to the public and the venue was packed. I was most impressed with all the finalists and did not envy the judges the job of trying to determine who was the winner. After all was said and done, the winner who emerged was Karl Marino, from Quebec, classical guitar. Congratulations Karl!

One aspect of the Festival very much worthy of note is the scholarship program for gifted young guitarists who otherwise would not be able to attend. In classical guitar there were two, both extremely talented guitarists, one from Japan and the other from New York. They took daily classes with Andrew Leonard and Dennis Koster and by the end of the week had assimilated many years worth of insight and musicality. The classes were conducted in a group setting a la Masterclass with these young virtuosos sitting side by side with older and avid afficianados. This underscored the feeling of the entire week, which was one of mutual support and enthusiasm across all genres, it was kind of like a little bit of heaven.

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