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Guitar proves a ticket to see the world

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Percussive acoustic guitarist: Mike Dawes

Mike Dawes never imagined his guitar would be his ticket to see the world.

He entertained refugees at a concert in Syria and performed for tourists on the Great Wall of China.

The 25-year-old has even strummed alongside a couple of celebrity fans in the US.

His next stop? The 12th Annual Bermuda Guitar Festival next week.

“Well first of all it’s going to be really fun because I haven’t played in the area before,” he said. “The first time is always special.

“My show involves creating more sounds than you could ever expect from an acoustic guitar. I have worked to become my own band.

“There is a lot of humour in the concert, but also moving moments.

“People shouldn’t expect a formal ‘sit down and shut up’ concert format. I try to engage with everyone in the room. It should be a lively, energetic and fun-filled event, I guess that would be my ‘family fun day’ tag line if I were to have one.”

Mr Dawes shot to fame three years ago after releasing a cover of Gotye’s hit song, Somebody That I Used to Know. To his surprise it went viral; the Grammy-winning artist himself reached out to show his support.

“Gotye really liked it and we ended up meeting at his studio in Melbourne, Australia,” Mr Dawes said. “We spent a few days making music in the woods there.

“I also found out that the guitarist from Maroon Five, James Valentine, was learning the percussive finger style I do from an app I made for the iPhone/iPad. We met up in Los Angeles and geeked out about guitar stuff. He’s a great player and super sweet guy. You never know who’ll hear your music when you put it online. Social media can be a wonderful thing.”

Mr Dawes’ father was a trumpet player and percussionist. He eventually picked up a guitar himself.

“The cool kid in school had one and when you’re that sort of age, that’s a big deal,” he said. “I realised instantly that it was the right medium for me.

“I was in a few high school rock bands but when I went to college I fell in love with acoustic music. There’s a master guitarist from France named Pierre Bensusan and I was exposed to his music through my godparents at an early age. At around age 17, I decided to totally dedicate myself to the acoustic guitar.”

He uses his instrument to create melody, harmony, bass and percussion — he’s one of just a handful of professionals performing and composing in this way. He said it’s a privilege to be part of the scene.

“Essentially it’s like a second family.

“I spend more time with some of these musicians out on the road than with my own family and friends.

“It’s a special bond we share, we all make a certain social sacrifice by spending ten months of the year away from home, but we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it.”

Mr Dawes was able to play in the first ever percussive acoustic guitar concert in Lebanon.

“I got to play for the Syrian refugees and aid workers out there. It was an inspiring moment and amazingly thought provoking to hear their own stories,” he said.

“Last year I did an impromptu concert on the Great Wall of China.

“A Chinese fan had travelled all across the country to meet me with the organisers.

“He had learned one of my pieces by ear and we played there on the Great Wall for the tourists and passers-by.

“I’ve also played at some dream venues in the USA like the Troubadour in Los Angeles and the Blue Note in New York City. It’s been a crazy few years.”

He said he’s excited to finally get to perform on the Island. He actually visited Bermuda for his 18th birthday because he has family here.

In fact, it was his uncle who told him about the Bermuda Guitar Festival and suggested he play in it.

“Bermuda is an inspiring place and I’m looking forward to showing people something a little different,” he said.

Mr Dawes will headline the May 30 event at St Andrew’s Church. It kicks off at 7.30pm. Adam del Monte, one of the world’s leading flamenco and classical guitarists, will perform on Friday, May 29.

Tickets are $30 for each night and are available at Bermuda School of Music, Music Box and www.ptix.bm.

Finger pickin’ good: Adam del Monte, one of the leading flamenco and classical guitarists, will be taking part in the Bermuda Guitar Festival, at St Andrew’s Church on Friday, May 29
<p>The man behind the festival</p>

Guitarist Stephen Crawford grew up attending music festivals throughout the UK.

Once he moved to Bermuda he was surprised to find there wasn’t anything similar for guitar lovers here.

Twelve years ago he decided to change that.

He founded the Bermuda Guitar Festival, a four-night event featuring local and overseas talent.

Next week’s event will include performances by world-renowned flamenco guitarist, Adam del Monte, and percussive acoustic guitar player, Mike Dawes.

Mr Crawford, a teacher at the Bermuda School of Music, will open the festival with the help of local artist Jerremiah Smith on Thursday, May 28. Local students will close out the event the following Sunday afternoon with a free gala concert.

Q: What can people expect from the 12th Annual Bermuda Guitar Festival?

A: Well, we try to make sure it differs every year. There are some things we try and keep the same, but I try to keep it fresh for the listeners and the Bermuda audience and give them some variety with the artists and genres. It’s not easy getting people out so much as it used to be. This is my 12th year so it’s something that always drives me to keep it going and make it the best I can.

Q: What inspired it all those years ago?

A: I used to go to festivals in the UK. I studied guitar myself and went to concerts and thought it would be a good idea to try and let something evolve here in Bermuda. Having done that I have met some of my great heroes and been able to get my students involved in playing with these guests. The best part is they get to hear first-hand what those professionals have to say about trying to develop themselves as a musician and it inspires them to go further in their craft. This kind of calibre of performer doesn’t just come over here on a plane each week, so this might be someone’s only chance to see some of these artists perform.

Q: What have been some of your favourite moments throughout the years?

A: One of the amazing guitarists I met was [Grammy-winning guitarist and composer] Andrew York and [guitarist] Matt Palmer, just to name a few. I like so many things about them — their great technical ability, the musicality and what they can do as players and composers. Another thing I enjoy is when the festival comes around it’s really lovely to see people come out to the concert and have a genuinely good time. It makes you feel somewhat proud of what you’ve set out to do and makes you feel confident about the longevity of it. I want it to be something that keeps going and maybe if I decide I’ve been doing it long enough, it will be able to continue with someone else involved. Overall it’s been a lot of fun.

Q: What would you say to encourage new people to check out one of these shows?

A: To keep an open mind. Even if you like music, but haven’t been to any guitar concerts it’s worthwhile coming out to hear what these guitarists can do and create. We have some really great players coming down and I think a lot of people might be surprised by just how much they can do with their instruments.

*Tickets, $30 for each festival event, are available at Bermuda School of Music, Music Box and www.ptix.bm. One lucky reader who e-mails nadia@royalgazette.com will win tickets for themselves and a guest to attend the opening night show.

Visit www.bermudaguitarfestival.com for more information.