April 19, 2024
The lineup coming to 3 Bay Area shows includes such fret masters as Luca Stricagnoli, Thu Le, Minnie Marks and Marco Pereira.

The secret sauce that makes International Guitar Night far more than a showcase for individual six-string virtuosity is the unpredictable pairings that emerge over the course of a tour.

The latest, 24th edition of the show hits the Bay Area in the midst of a 40-city North American run, with dates at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre (Feb. 22), Livermore’s Bankhead Theater (Feb. 23), and the Montalvo Arts Center’s Carriage House Theatre in Saratoga (Feb. 24).

Curated by founder Brian Gore, this year’s lineup features Italian maestro Luca Stricagnoli, who’s earned a vast online following with videos of his jaw-dropping performances on self-designed double and triple-neck guitars, and Vietnam’s Thu Le, a prodigy who started her studies at the age of 7 as the youngest musician ever admitted to Hanoi’s National Conservatory of Music.

The tour’s newcomer is rootsy Australian slide guitarist Minnie Marks, who gained recognition in 2011 by winning the Bluesfest Busking Competition. She’s found a game collaborator in Brazilian master Marco Pereira, a Guitar Night veteran who helped build Gore’s creation into a global brand with five tours across two decades.

Born and raised in São Paulo, Pereira is heir to the glorious Brazilian guitar lineage of Baden Powell, Luiz Bonfa, and João Gilberto. While deeply influenced by jazz, his music is unmistakably Brazilian in its rhythmic flow and sumptuous melodicism.

He first participated in the event’s third season, “playing four concerts and staying with Brian in his little apartment,” he recalled. “This time I come for 40 shows! It’s amazing how it got big.”

The concerts settled into a durable format years ago, with the first half featuring each guitarist playing two or three tunes solo, and the second half pairing off players in different combinations (with an all-hands-on-deck finale). For his solo presentation, Pereira prepared “six possibilities, all Brazilian,” he said. “The last two or three concerts I played an original choro and a medley of Baden Powell, the greatest Brazilian guitarist.”

Over the course of the tour he’s worked out a piece with Marks, who as a busker honed a one-woman band approach playing a vintage 1956 Gibson ES-295 Goldtop guitar while beating out grooves with a foot -powered drum kit.

“Minnie is amazing,” he said. “I had this idea I proposed of her singing a Brazilian song. For me, what I like most is to accompany singers. The voice is so spectacular.”

She’s reveled in the opportunity to spread her wings in unexpected directions. “I love playing the duet with Marco,” she said. “I didn’t grow up with that rhythm, and he pushed me into a world where I’m learning these rhythms, really feeling them. The blend of the Gibson and acoustic guitar is beautiful.”

Gore launched International Guitar Night in the Bay Area in 1995 when he struggled to line up gigs and attract audiences after releasing his first instrumental guitar album. Presenting a diverse array of guitarist soon became more than a booking strategy as the shows took on synergistic power where “the collective force of the musicians playing solo and together guaranteed standing ovations and requests,” he said.

Changing the personnel every few years meant that venues would book the event package tour after tour, which cultivated a scene where fans of, say, jazz guitarist Ralph Towner would get introduced to the music of Hindustani classical artist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Malagasy guitarist D’Gary, or Brazilian master Badi Assad.

Gore, who relocated from Santa Cruz to Portland, Oregon, several years ago, hasn’t performed as part of Guitar Night since 2016 because he took his music in another direction. After years of focusing on songcraft he released his singer-songwriter debut, “Seek the Love You’re Yearning,” last March. He’ll be presenting those pieces at the Lost Church in San Francisco March 13 and the Lost Church in Santa Rosa March 14, exchanging solo sets and duets with electric bass maestro Michael Manring.

Working with the Herschel Freeman Agency, Gore continues to oversee his creation, configuring each tour not just for stylistic diversity, but also so that rising artists like Minnie Marks can work alongside veteran masters like Marco Pereira.

Now 73 and retired from his long-time position teaching harmony, composition, arranging and improvisation at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Pereira wasn’t well known in the U.S. when he did several tours with Ralph Towner (who was already a revered figure for his acclaimed solo releases on ECM and many decades with the seminal world jazz combo Oregon).

“Ralph said ‘It’s incredible how this project that Brian invented, with four guitarists, can go so well,’” Pereira said. “‘If we tried to go alone or with a different combination it might not work.’ I’m quite honored to come back, and there’s the real possibility that this will be my last big tour.”

Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected].


When & where: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco; $50/$60, omniconcerts.com; 8 p.m. Feb. 23 at Bankhead Theater, Livermore; $35-$65; livermorearts.org; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at Carriage House Theatre, Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga; $64; my.montalvoarts.org