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He comes from “a land Down Under” and even played on recordings by the ’80s Aussie band Men at Work, but Tommy Emmanuel also feels his roots extend to the Bluegrass State.
“It’s a bit of a homecoming for me,” Emmanuel said.
Emmanuel performs in concert and leads workshops beginning tonight during Tommy Fest 11, part of an annual concert series at the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center at John Hardin High School.
Kentucky always has been close to him, he said, because he has many friends from the state. In fact, he has been named an honorary citizen of LaRue County — where Tommy Fest organizer and friend Eddie Mattingly lives — and he is a Kentucky Colonel.
Mattingly, who said he’s traveled the world with Emmanuel, said the guitarist gets closer to the audiences at Tommy Fest than anywhere else.
“He’s always had a special place in his heart for Americans,” Mattingly said, explaining Americans helped care for Emmanuel and his siblings when the children were touring as a band and supporting their family.
Emmanuel even has been inducted into the National Thumbpickers Hall of Fame in Greenville, becoming the only non-American honored.
Then there’s his guitar music, for which he uses “fingerpicking” style.
“That music comes from Kentucky,” he said.
Born in Australia, Emmanuel got his first guitar at the age of 4, and he has been making music ever since. He became a working musician at the age of 6, when he and his siblings formed a band that ultimately became the sole income for his family for years.
Air Supply, Men at Work, Olivia Newton-John, Sheena Easton and Al Jarreau are just some of the artists for whom Emmanuel has played or written songs. His world travels and musical work span some five decades, include two Grammy nominations and resulted in numerous honors and awards.
Emmanuel still performs 300 or more concerts a year.
“I don’t like a lot of down time,” Emmanuel said.
While he enjoys recording music, Emmanuel also enjoys workshops and live performances. The workshops, he said, give him an opportunity to help aspiring musicians by sharing his real-life experiences in the music industry as well as provide a way for him to relate the history of the music.
“It’s like a family, and people come back year after year,” he said of Tommy Fest.
Live performances hold a special place in Emmanuel’s heart, though.
“There’s nothing to take the place of doing it right now,” he said.
The atmosphere of Tommy Fest, Emmanuel said, is a big reason they come back.
“It’s the kind of entertainment that people can bring their families to,” he said.
Mattingly estimated attendance over the three nights of concerts in 2012 to total around 1,600. This year’s event has two nights of concerts, and ticket sales have been “brisk,” including a sale from Perth, Australia, he said.
Tonight’s concert was years in the making, pairing Michael Kelsey, “the best acoustic guitar player in America,” with Emmanuel, “the best acoustic guitar player in the world,” Mattingly said.
“This will be a very special show,” Mattingly said.
Saturday’s show will be all Emmanuel, he said.
The concerts and traveling also provide a chance for Emmanuel to meet a lot of other musicians, which he finds inspiring. Meeting people in general, he said, can spark creativity.
“Being a songwriter, you’re always waiting for something to inspire you to write,” he said.
The profession also creates special relationships he appreciates.
“Music gives you a family wherever you go,” he said.
Emmanuel doesn’t seem to be slowing down when it comes to producing music, either.
Due out at the end of the month is Emmanuel’s album “The Colonel and the Governor.” The work is a collaboration of duets with musician Martin Taylor.
The title of the album refers to his being a Kentucky Colonel and Taylor being the “governor,” an English term for the boss, Emmanuel said. Emmanuel also is in the process of producing a live concert DVD, which will feature a performance in Pensacola, Fla.
Until then, he said, Tommy Fest audience members can expect a special event for which he will give as much as he can. It’s also a chance for him to get feedback.
“I’m looking forward to unleashing my new songs,” he said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.