String Thing an exciting fling

Audience can ‘hang’ with musicians in stage setting

Bill Kirchen

Bill Kirchen

Doug Cox hopes to host a good old-fashioned guitar pull. Well, that’s what he says they call it in the south.

Cox cobbled together a handful of North America’s finest guitarists for A Mighty String Thing, where the musicians hang out and have a good time while the audience enjoys quality music.

“Sometimes those lead to the most magical, honest musical moments you’ll see,” said Cox, also the artistic director of the Vancouver Island MusicFest. “I’ve produced a lot of things and put together a lot of groups all over the world. It’s my favourite thing to do because it’s really fun to put together a group to go out and do a project and then it’s done.”

Prominent players Cecile Doo-Kingue, Kevin Breit, Mark Stuart, Bill Kirchen, Sam Hurrie and Cox himself, take the stage in the Dave Dunnet Community Theatre April 23.

“The resumé between us is extraordinary but we’re not going to be up there lecturing about anything, we’re just going to have a good time and do some playing,” Cox said. “It’s a cool combination. It’s going to be a pretty amazing display of instruments as well.”

Doo-Kingue is a talented writer, player and singer and the only female on stage. Her music is based in the blues, but it comes with a solid side of funk and there’s more than a dash of jazz in her changes up and down the neck. From New York, she moved to France and then Montreal in 1995, where collaborations include the Montreal Jubilation Choir, Blind Boys of Alabama, Michael Jerome Brown, Scarlett Jane and United Steel Workers of Montreal.

“It’s exciting to bring her out here because she hasn’t really made a splash yet on the West Coast,” Cox said. “It was really critical to me that we have at least one woman in the group. There are definitely not as many female pickers as male pickers, but there are a lot of great female musicians. Cecile is as good as it gets on the guitar.”

During his days at University of Michigan, Kirchen picked up banjo and guitar and formed a band that ultimately turned into Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. The country, honkytonk, blues guitarist now lives in Austin, Texas. He’s recorded with Nick Lowe, Emmylou Harris, Doug Sahm, Elvis Costello, Gene Vincent, and Link Wray.

“The guitar heads will all be really excited to know he’s coming. He’s a really fun guy to hang out with, and it’s really important that we all have some laughs and a good time,” Cox said.

The final three have “played with everybody,” Cox said, and they round out what he envisions to be an entertaining lineup on stage. They certainly have the tales to share.

Breit hails from McKerrow, On., just west of Sudbury. He taught himself to play the guitar and grew up jamming with his brothers before heading to Toronto at 17.

Since then, he’s recorded and/or toured with more then 100 artists, including k.d. lang, Hugh Laurie, Natalie McMaster, Lou Reed, Holly Cole, Bill Frisell, Roseanne Cash, Celine Dion and his sister Sue. Recordings he’s worked on have won 13 Grammy Awards for artists like Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones. Along the way, he’s also become proficient on the mandolin and the banjo.

By the time Stuart was 15 he was doing high school by day and playing guitar by night in his dad’s band in honky-tonks and beer joints around Nashville. At 17, he found himself in ever-increasing demand to go out on the road as lead guitarist and vocalist for acts like Freddy Fender, Jonnell Mosser and Joan Baez. One of his fondest memories is touring with Steve Earle in the 1990s as one of the Dukes, appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and doing gigs with Neil Young.

Hurrie grew up in Toronto, by the mid-’60s, he had an R&B band hot enough to be the house band at one of the hottest clubs in New York City. People like John Lennon and Paul McCartney came to hear them and he found himself jamming with Jimi Hendrix and opening for his idol, Muddy Waters.

Cox himself was the first featured dobro player at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and the first Canadian invited to Dobrofest in the birthplace of the Slovakian brothers who invented the Dobro. It’s one of several stringed things he’s good at, including the Weissenborn, mandolin and guitar. He’s brought these musical voices to projects like Slide to Freedom (with Indian mohan veena player Salil Bhatt and tablitha Ramkumar Mishra), Strung (with fiddler April Verch and guitarist Tony McManus) and his own solo projects.

He hopes to see the series of concerts repeated annually with a “revolving cast” that simply has a good time on stage.

“It’s not going to be a library-like guitar show. This show is more like an in-the-round performance at a festival. We take turns sharing music with each other. It’s what most performances should be all about.”

A Mighty String Thing is at the Dave Dunnet Community Theatre at Oak Bay High April 23. Tickets are $30 in advance from Lyle’s Place, Ivy’s Bookshop, Long & McQuade and McPherson Box Office or at beaconridgeproductions, .com, and $35 at the door.