Guitar wizard of Kansas
From the November, 2013 issue
Google says there are an estimated fifty million people worldwide who play guitar, twenty million in the U.S. alone. Acoustic guitarist Andy McKee's 2006 solo live performance of his composition "Drifting" has been viewed on YouTube, to date, by nearly forty-eight million people. OK, I know ... not much next to Justin Bieber's "Baby," now pushing a billion views. But the "Drifting" video was made with just a single, unmoving camera unblinkingly focused for three minutes and nineteen seconds on McKee playing his acoustic guitar. I'm guessing that at least some of those millions of McKee viewers are guitar players, from beginning amateurs to seasoned professionals, who looked at "Drifting" and said, "Oh, you can do that with a guitar?"
Most of McKee's videos--they're all so plain it's obvious no digital special effects were used--have garnered viewers in the multiple millions. McKee's playing uses a set of unique digital special effects, and few guitarists are as much fun to watch. His performances are a visual delight, both hands moving over every surface of the guitar, strumming, brushing, picking, plucking, tapping, snapping, and slapping the face, back, neck and strings.
There's a saying among guitarists: the left hand is the technician; the right hand is the artist. In other words, the hand that sets the strings in motion is the one able to elicit the dynamics, the infinite tone variations that make one's playing expressive and unique. Not so with McKee. Both his hands are setting the strings--and the sound box--in motion. He uses every trick in the guitarist's book--hammer-ons, pull-offs, harmonics, slap harmonics, false harmonics, open tunings, alternate tunings, capos, banjo capos--and has added some new chapters.
The whole time McKee's arms, hands, and fingers are creating his aural and visual wizardry, the Topeka-born musician is wearing an open, aw-shucks look on his face. As if he's musing, "Andy, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
But don't get the wrong idea; McKee is not simply a lots-of-tricks
pony. His compositions, while highly guitaristic, are no sleight-of-hand, prestidigitation shell games designed to merely manipulate or impress. They have substance, bear repeated listening, and are genuinely musically moving.
McKee comes to the Ark on November 16. He's played the Ark before, in 2010 and 2011, each time as one of a trio of guitarists with the Guitar Masters tours. No disrespect intended to the guitarists who shared those tours with him, but McKee alone is more than enough for a spectacular evening of music.
[Originally published in November, 2013.]
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