We now continue our HGG10 series with Saturday morning.

For the majority of you not in attendance, this may be one of those “You had to be there” moments.  But let me try to give you a sense of it nevertheless, as it was an amazingly successful surprise.

After host Joe Morgan welcomed the group to the theater (where the rest of the weekend would take place), he introduced me for the first segment:

I don’t recall what joke we were sharing here, but I’m sure it was at my expense.

As scheduled in the Events program (online and in the packets) I was to give a theoretical (and theoretically entertaining) “10th Anniversary Highlights of the Harp Guitar Gathering” presentation.  I even had the first slide up:

(Me: “Our motto: What happens at the Gathering, stays at the Gathering”)

But then I immediately did a bait and switch, while Jaci handed out Kleenex to Stephen and Nancy Bennett, whom we had placed front and center.

By their faces, I see that they weren’t sure whether I was planning to make them laugh or make them cry (hopefully, a bit of both).

For what I would next present was a Harp Guitar Foundation fundraiser (100% proceeds go straight into it) in the way of a top-secret compilation CD over two years in the making, called: The Water is Wide: A Tribute to Stephen Bennett.

I think Stephen thought it might be a private gag for a while, but by the end of it, he realized it was the real deal – and then some (yes, the CD is available here).

Naturally, the question was “Why?” – as I admitted to the audience that normally a Tribute Album is only done for A) Someone actually famous, and B) No longer with us.

As to the “why,” this slide was revealed bullet-by-bullet, with parentheticals timed for maximum effect:

Stephen seemed to get it:

After discussing how there were more introductions in the keepsake booklet (Andy McKee, John Thomas, myself) than actual music, we proceeded to present the roster, with some of us performing our surprise tunes.

I was first up, as “The Tunesmith” – something I came up with 2 years ago that instigated the idea – opens the CD.

Andy Wahlberg spoke about his piece “Bennett Diction.”

Don Alder was next, telling the back story of his introduction to Stephen, and ultimately, his tune “Man from Lady Lane” (a brand new version which appears as Track 3).  Incidentally, Don only made the Gathering at the last moment (thanks in part to Holloway Harp Guitars), so had recorded a special video tribute that we would have played in his stead (~5 minute download available for those interested).

Mike Doolin (Track 4) played his original tune which he said was inspired by SB’s own tunes “November” and “Jonathan.”

Pete Bradshaw (Track 5) was first to (bravely) volunteer to tackle a Bennett cover.  He adapted the 6-string “Waltz for a Maple Tree” for harp guitar and acquitted himself spectacularly.

My assistant produced Frank Doucette wrote a new groove-oriented tune called “G Wiz” in honor of Stephen, “wizard of the high G sub-bass.”

The next 3 artists were unable to attend: Carter Lancaster (a new original), Jim Bennett (Stephen’s brother, covering “Elephant’s Dance” on piano), and Larry Berwald (a bold experiment of I Knew It Was You on bottleneck resonator guitar with my backing on HG).  I read all their tribute blurbs from the booklet.

Hiro Takai was next, but because he was doing his own full feature right after lunch, we saved his tune “Yokohama SB” for that time, though we read his heartfelt blurb.  As it was Joe and Stephen’s idea to have Hiro back for the 10th (while I purposely acted disinterested and nonchalant), I knew it would be amazing and wholly appropriate for SB to now discover Hiro included on our album.

Next up was our own Joe Morgan, who composed a rare harp guitar solo especially for Stephen.  But he was too exhausted to contemplate playing it for us (but everyone bought the album, right?).

The final 3 soloists were also unable to attend: Scott (Holloway) Burwell (an original solo), as Jen is expecting any second now; Tommy Emmanuel (the classic “Aura Lee” recorded this July just for SB), and finally, Kim Person, singing “You’ve Got a Friend” (unable to attend due to the hurricane).  Again, I read their blurbs to give Stephen and the audience their full impact.

But wait – there’s more!

I had decided that the CD would have to end with a grand finale of “The Water is Wide” (only after the tune inspired the artwork did I decide to name the CD after it).  Not only did all the soloists have to keep quiet for two years, but another several dozen had to keep the secret for 6 months plus.  And they did!  65 participants total (along with Andy McKee and another dozen who couldn’t make it for one reason or another) were in on the surprise (apologies to any of you I may have omitted).

So next, I played the finished track over the PA (nice and loud) while Frank up in the booth ran the slideshow.  The tune starts with SB’s own recording from No Net (as I told him, he could sue me later…).

Next came all the participants:

These folks are all archived here on the Harp Guitar Music listing backup page, by the way.

Next in the slideshow were past Gathering scenes of the soloists (playing “with” Stephen) of the next 4 verses:

Nancy finished with a beautiful vocal of the main lyrics, then we all came in for the final verse and tag.

We closed with the best (and tricky) part: a morphing photo of the now revealed cover that ended just as the tune did.  Depending on your computer, you should be able to click here and then download/open in Powerpoint.  Wait a few seconds on the opening black screen, as it should be now running automatically (when done, hit “Escape” to exit).

Applause, applause (Stephen got a standing ovation):

Another first.  And as anticipated, Stephen was (and remains) overwhelmed.  Obviously, I’m super proud of it, and I know the many contributors are too.  Thanks to you all!

Copies available now:

Next: Not another bait and switch?!

HGG10 blog series starts here