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Kalamazoo reigns as ‘Fretboard Capital’

Every string will be attached and they will all pass over fretboards in a musical way when the Kalamazoo Valley Museum hosts its fifth annual Kalamazoo Fretboard Festival March 19-21.

Free to the public and nothing to fret about, the annual salute to the community’s legacy of “pickin’ ‘n’ singin’” will feature concerts, workshops, hands-on activities for children, vendors, and presentations over the three days.

The trio Four Finger Five will kick off the festival on Friday (March 19) with a pair of concerts at 6:30 and 8 p.m.

The celebration of Kalamazoo's history of stringed-instrument design, manufacture and performance continues on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a full day of concerts and workshops.  Sunday, designated as Family Day, runs from 1 to 4 p.m. with three hours of hands-on crafts, workshops and more performances.

            Participants can meet instrument designers, learn about their trade, watch some of them in live performances, and pick up some tips on how to play the guitar, mandolin, banjo, and other fretboard instruments.

            It is sponsored by the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Foundation.  The events will be held in both the downtown-Kalamazoo museum and the college’s Anna Whitten Hall next door.

            Following the opening-night music of Four Finger Five, among the other performers on Saturday and Sunday at this mecca for stringed musicians will be:

            ♫ Brothers Kalamazov, one of whose members, Jay Gavan, originated the first festival while a member of the museum staff.

            ♫ Portage-based Joel Mabus, the nationally known fretboarder and veteran of past festivals with his alluring repertoire of bluegrass and folk originals.      

            ♫ Patricia Pettinga and Bill Willging and Friends,  who specialize in traditional blues and folk music.

            ♫ The duo of String Cheese with Ali Haraburda and Diana Ladio on the fiddle and cello .

            ♫ Gerald Ross of Ann Arbor, a virtuoso on the traditional Hawaiian steel guitar.

            ♫ Ren Wall and Friends (Richard Butler, Don Bradford, Rod Wall and James Bradford).

            ♫ Celtic Roots.

            ♫ Mark Sahlgren and Friends.

            ♫ Two Track Mind

            ♫ Kalamazoo Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra.

            The new wrinkle for the 2009 festival " and repeated for the fifth " was a “play-in” competition in which local musicians vied for a chance to perform as part of the festival line-up of concerts.  The “play-in” was held March 5 at the museum.

The winner of that was the country-and-Southern rock sounds of Small Town Son, a Kalamazoo-based quintet featuring Kris Hitchcock, Dan Anspaugh, Ian Szarafinski, Billy Justice and Susan Belliel.

            Several of the performers will double up as leaders of workshops on their specialty instruments, including the dulcimer, upright bass, bass guitar, bottleneck slide, mandolin and classical guitar.

            In between workshops, performances and demonstrations, visitors will be able to view exhibits. 

            Among those sharing their knowledge and their wares will be professionals who make brands of stringed instruments such as the Big Bend, Mark Ferenc Guitar, Swavson, Charters, and Bloom’s Old Time banjos.         

            The first festival in May of 2006 attracted about 800. It was switched to a March date in 2007 to avoid competing with the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International and future conflicts with the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. 

            The 2007 turnout that packed the museum and Anna Whitten Hall led to the decision to move to being a two-day event.  Now expanded to three days, the festival has tripled its attendance.

            Participants are also invited to bring their instruments for some impromptu jamming with others who appreciate the genres of music created by fretboard instruments.

For more information and events scheduled for the fifth Kalamazoo Fretboard Festival, call (269) 373-7990 or visit this website:  www.kalamazoomuseum.org.  Information is also available at the festival’s Facebook page.

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