JACKSON TWP. When he hit upon the idea of a weekend long festival celebrating all styles of guitar playing, Kent State at Stark adjunct professor Adam Larison’s goals were simple, albeit, lofty ones.
"I went into it completely blind, but I knew it was the only time anything like this had been done in the area – maybe in the country," said Larison, who has been teaching at Kent Stark for the past year. "It is such a mix – classical, jazz, whatever Neil Zaza is."
The three-day event, held Sept. 30 through Oct. 2, featured intimate concerts and hands-on workshops from some of the most respected guitarists in Ohio and across the country.
Events included workshops and performances from Akron-born Zaza, who has performed on albums by Dweezil Zappa, Eric Carmen, Michael Stanley and Stewart Copland while forging a successful solo career in the wake of his rock band, Zaza – one of the most popular touring bands in the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s; instructor and performer Isaac Bustos, whom Soundboard magazine called "one of the best … everything one could want"; renowned jazz guitarist Ben Monder, who has appeared on more than 130 albums as a sideman and has released five as a leader; instructor and author John Covach, who has published dozens of articles on topics dealing with popular music and authored the textbook What’s That Sound? An Introduction to Rock Music, recognized internationally as the authoritative text on the subject; and a concert of new music for guitar with other instruments by the internationally acclaimed Ritsos Ensemble.
Guitar Weekend also included a community concert with the newly formed Canton Youth Guitar Ensemble; the McKinley High School Guitar Ensemble – led by Canton City Schools music teacher George Dean; and guitar students from across Stark County.
Larison said Guitar Weekend’s collaboration with the Canton City Schools was particularly significant.
"To get that kind of interaction was big," Larison said. "And the kids were really into it."
Zaza’s weekend-closing concert – which, in true rock-n-roll fashion, preceded the guitarist rising at 5:30 a.m. Oct. 3 to embark on a series of shows in China – featured the consistently melodious shredding that put him on the international map nearly 30 years ago.
"We have seen so many different guitar styles this week, that it’s almost hard to believe," said Erin Vaughn, lecturer of music, guitar coordinator, and studio ensemble coordinator at Kent State Stark, in his introduction of Zaza’s rock trio, which included bassist Raymond Liptak and drummer Joe "Franci" Czekaj. "Neil has been with us all weekend and now we are going to finish off with lots of notes."
Vaughn said that while there were some first-year growing pains, the weekend was a great success overall. Given that the Music Technology degree is one of the Stark campus’s two largest degree programs, Vaughn said, he expects the Guitar Weekend festival to continue – and grow.
"The goals are to give not only students, but the whole community the chance to see some really first-class guitarists," Vaughn said. "I was very pleased with the student turnout and the community attendance, I would say, was (made up of) people who are really fans of music; I saw a lot of the same people attending a lot of difference workshops."
Apart from taking the inaugural event and "building the better mousetrap" in years to come, Vaughn said the Guitar Weekend was as exciting for him on a personal level as it was on a professional one.
"The takeaway for me, just as a guitar player, was how simply amazing it was watching a classical guy like Isaac Bustos, or (attending) the really outstanding workshop Ben Monder put on; to really get inside his brain and see how he thinks about practice," Vaughn said.