Tonight, starting at 6:00 p.m., ELLNORA: The Guitar Festival kicks off with its traditional Opening Night Party, an all-ages celebration of everything we love about the guitar. There will be rock and gospel, blues and bluegrass, wah wah pedals and pedal steel. ELLNORA only comes around every two years, so by the time opening night rolls around, everybody is good and ready for a party. This time, we’ll be treated up front to some of the best acts that the festival has to offer: International virtuosos, Grammy winners and nominees, and musical journey[wo]men whose collective guitar wisdom spans several centuries and multiple guitar traditions. The Opening Night Party is just the beginning what promises to be an unforgettable weekend of music at ELLNORA, and at $5 a ticket, it also is a painless way for newcomers to investigate the festival and see what they’ve been missing out on.
Here’s a quick rundown of the acts performing Thursday night:
6:30 p.m.: Fiona Boyes Trio
The Fiona Boyes Trio will set the tone for the evening with their award winning approach to the blues. Boyes hails from Australia, but has made the study of the American blues tradition her life’s work. She can play and sing the blues as if she was raised in the Mississippi Delta.
7:00 p.m. & 9:00 p.m.: Stephane Wrembel and His Band
From Australia to France. French-born Stephane Wrembel will perform throughout the evening at the outdoor amphitheatre. Wrembel plays a mean jazz guitar—“gypsy jazz” as its called— and will serenade attendees who have stepped out of the building for a moment for fresh air or to dine on delectables from one of the lovely local vendors who will be serving food just inside the fest entrance.
7:30 p.m.: The Lee Boys
The Lee Boys bring to the festivities an eclectic mix of gospel, funk, and… pedal steel. The band, billed as “one of America’s finest African-American sacred steel ensembles,” began playing together in a Florida-based Pentecostal church. “Sacred Steel” is a gospel-based genre that draws influence from R&B, rock, blues, and hip-hop—a cocktail sure to get the ELLNORA crowd moving their feet.
8:30 p.m.: Sam Bush/Del McCoury Duo
In this not-to-miss show, bluegrass legends Sam Bush and Del McCoury come together for a unique duet performance. Del McCoury’s long-running (since 1967!), Grammy-winning family bluegrass band is one of the best in country. McCoury’s trademark high-and-lonesome voice and fine flat-picking guitar style represent the old guard of bluegrass greats. Sam Bush, on the other hand, was one of the first in the tradition’s “newgrass” movement. His mandolin playing and innovative approach to the genre has earned him three Grammys and world renown. Together, we’re bound to hear some great tunes, old and new, and a few corny jokes.
9:45 p.m.: Jonny Lang
I remember first hearing about Jonny Lang when he signed his first major label deal 1996. I was a senior in high school and Lang was two years younger than me. Since then, Lang has sold millions of records and become one of the world’s foremost blues performers. He’s a monster on the guitar and has the voice of one too. Lang rounds out a wonderful night of music at Krannert Performing Arts Center and sets the perfect tone for ELLNORA: The Guitar Festival. Hope to see you there!