The Bluebird is usually known more for its delicate song than its wingspan or high-altitude flight but the legendary Bluebird in Nashville, Tennessee is an exception. A small club south of downtown Nashville, the Bluebird Cafe has been hosting the country’s most successful songwriters in an intimate and almost reverential setting for over 35 years and the room is usually filled with lyrical flights of fancy.
The Bluebird flew a little higher Thursday night as ToneWoodAmp brought a world of guitarists to show off their magical little black box.
Even the sound check promised something different. Four guitarists in a circle, Cenk Erdoğan, Mike Dawes, Jake Allen, and Larry Mitchell were already working on a soundscape. Fretless nylon string wizard Erdoğan is discussing all the different ways to smack the bridge of a guitar with Mike Dawes, who’s guitar top smacking is already pretty impressive. The ToneWoodAmp is perfect for the sound obsessed player, so it’s no surprise that this is how the evening starts.
That’s not to say that the benefits of the ToneWoodAmp are limited to instrumentalists and sound obsessed 6-string mad scientists. This evening will prove that every guitarist will find something to love with the ToneWoodAmp.
Being at the Bluebird, I get to put on my songwriter hat and talk again about why I’m here, writing about the art and soul of music instead of about the black plastic box that every one of these artists has on the back of their guitar.
Cenk (pronounced “Jenk”) Erdoğan, all the way from Turkey, starts the festivities off with a piece he’s just co-written with Dawes, playing a nylon strung fretless. His setup allows him to play micro-tones and his playing has all the power of the best Gypsy jazz.
Jake Allen, returning after playing last year’s ToneWoodAmp sponsored “Toast and Jam,” combines two-handed tapping and harmonics with original songs. It’s flawless and transparent in the best way. If you take the time to wonder how he arranges and executes his songs you can drive yourself crazy, but the beauty of what he does is that it doesn’t matter.
Mike Dawes is also back for his second Bluebird show. His playing often reminds me of the best of Steve Howe (the legendary guitar player for the iconic English band, Yes). Dawes shows off the ToneWoodAmp at its best, with an approach that leaves enough space to really hear the device in action.
Larry Mitchell calls himself the one rocker in the room, but his playing is expansive and ethereal, like the other three. When the four of them are playing, the room is literally awash in layers of reverb.
The second round is more songwriter-centric, with Karla Davis, Kent Blazy, Keaton Simons, and Steve Mandile. All of the players are using the device as a DI, plugging through the ToneWoodAmp and using it as an effects unit. And although the individual players are less likely to do something surprising with the guitar, the ToneWoodAmp is doing what it does best again, just letting the player play.
Karla Davis’s delicate fingerpicking does a nice job of showcasing the range and depth of the reverbs and delays available in the basic ToneWoodAmp settings.
Steve Mandile, a contributor to the show Nashville (which has caused The Bluebird to achieve mythical status all over the country), starts off the second set playing his radio-friendly country with a tight reverb setting that gives the guitar a percussive vibe.
Kent Blazy, in true Bluebird Nashville songwriter fashion, pulls out the number one songs he co-wrote, and Keaton Simons, using the TWA to fatten the sound of his detuned acoustic, brings the punchy pop-rock.
It’s a collegial bunch, playing along on each other’s tunes.
Every player at the Bluebird is using the ToneWoodAmp, and this is a show designed to show off the TWA during Summer NAMM. Yet there is almost no mention of the device. No discussion of technical specs or settings. The ToneWoodAmp is doing exactly what its designer intended it to do, enhance the music.
I’m a fan of beautiful guitar playing. And after a lifetime of playing, I’m still capable of being surprised by feats of deterity. But I’m really a fan of music played as a portal into the infinite. And that’s what the makers of the ToneWoodAmp want to do. Give every guitarist a glimpse into the infinite.
There’s something special about the ToneWoodAmp and this Bluebird event. Everybody talks about being part of the family and everything becomes about the music.
If you are at Summer NAMM, come by booth 1301 and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
And if you happen to be somewhere else, check out the videos below. And then, join us as ToneWoodAmp.
Friday, June 29th
11 AM- Cenk Erdogan
12 PM- Mike Dawes
1 PM- Kent Blazy (live streamed on Facebook)
3 PM- Monty Montgomery (live streamed on Facebook)
4 PM- Keaton Simons
Saturday, June 30th
11 AM- Cenk Erdogan
12 PM- Karla Davis
1 PM- Mike Dawes
2 PM- Keaton Simons
3 PM- Larry Mitchell
Award-winning performing songwriter/guitarist, journalist, and music educator. Love somebody.