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Tommy Emmanuel comes back to Elizabethtown

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By Becca Owsley

Tommy Emmanuel will bring his fingerstyle guitar playing to town Feb. 14-16.

Tommy Fest 12 is a weekend full of concerts and workshops at the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center at John Hardin High School.

“Every year since we started in E’town I look forward to coming and playing,” Emmanuel said. “I love the folks of Kentucky and have a lifelong history with the state.”

The first American family he met back home in Australia were the Booths from Phelps.

“Their family and our family bonded instantly and became like one big family,” he said.

The two families had 10 kids total and they would play games, go to school, play music and have fun together.

“It was through them I got my first Merle Travis and Chet Atkins recordings. I learned about the history of the coal mines and stole as many good ideas as possible,” he said.

Hearing Travis and Atkins at such a young age set him on the path he’s on today, playing their music and telling the world about them, he said.

When he was honored by the Thumbpickers Hall of Fame in Muhlenberg County, he said the music reached him in Australia, stirred his soul and inspired him.

“Nowadays I feel a sense of belonging when I play in Kentucky or when I play a Travis tune,” he said. “It goes deep into my roots and even though I am an Aussie I felt a deep love for this music that is hard to put into words.”

Concert promoter Eddie Mattingly said music fans keep coming to Tommy Fest because Emmanuel’s performance goes beyond just being a guitar player.

“His personality invites his audience to join him in enjoying the night’s performance,” Mattingly said. “Everyone who meets Tommy for the first time leaves feeling that they have a new best friend.”

Greg Howlett, of Sonora, was introduced to Emmanuel in 1999 and was impressed with his talent.

“I have been playing guitar for 35 years and I have watched and listed to many talented guitarist,” he said. “When Tommy is on stage, not only is he in the moment but so are you.”

Howlett previously attended two of the workshops of Tommy Fest.

“He is a genuine guy and will gladly show you anything you want to know,” Howlett said. “Tommy Emmanuel is the greatest guitar player in the world and seeing him on stage is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Mattingly said the venue is a part of what makes the weekend special. Along with free parking, the PAC is “comfortable” and the “sound is the very best,” he said. 

The weekend consists of two concerts and guitar workshops.

This year’s guest is Martian Taylor, a Jazz guitarist from Scotland.

“I think the folks who come to the shows will get such a surprise when they hear us play together,” Emmanuel said. “It's a synergy of ’30s and ’40s big band era music played with energy and humor that I believe will lift the spirits and fill their hearts with good cheer.”

During the workshops, participants, no matter what their skill level, get to learn from Emmanuel.

“Tommy is able to reach out and give them something to take away from the workshop,” Mattingly said. “We have some attendees who are world class musicians themselves and we have others who play no instruments at all.”

When Mattingly is asked what the workshops are like he usually answers, “you are on the stage of the PAC with Tommy Emmanuel and his guitars for three hours.”

He said that’s usually enough information to inspire someone to sign up for the workshops.

The concerts are at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 and 15 and the workshops are from 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 15 and 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 16.

Tickets are $35 for each concert and $90 for each workshop.

For information, go to www.acousticguitarmasters.com or call 270-325-3958.

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.