After last night’s rousing opening night banquet, raffle, open mic and socializing (btw, I added a couple more photos to that post), all and sundry gradually stumbled off to bed.

Next morning was the annual herding cats business to get everyone into the North Idaho College Boswell Hall Rehearsal Room to begin the festival.

I was there early to reconnoiter (or just “connoiter,” since it was my first time there?), prep my Powerpoint, help out as required.  Our first segment planned was an hour with harp sympitar guru Jeff Titus, who was already all set up with his wild Fred Carlson instruments, boxes, cables, pedals, electronics, and gear I couldn’t begin to recognize. His own slide show was up, ready to go – including an image of Fred in the corner of the screen.

Jeff Titus, with his presentation all ready to go, with his two unique Carlson instruments and a slide show with images of the Taproot build and “photo” of Fred

Suddenly Fred moved and spoke! I had heard a rumor that Jeff and the Powells had workedout a live Skype session so that Fred could be part of Jeff’s segment. And there he was, in PJ’s and (of course) the hat.  We all took turns going up to the laptop so Fred could see each of us to say hello.

Jeff and Fred then went through the slides of the genesis, design, engineering and building of Taproot, the new baritone harp-sympitar (and so much more!).  This instrument began some years ago with Jeff’s request for “a simple baritone sympitar” to ultimately become Fred’s most complex and fascinating instrument yet!


Thanks to Jeff and Fred for making the effort to make this live Skype-interview happen.  What a perfect start to the 12th Harp Guitar Gathering!

Next, Jeff demonstrated Taproot – with its sympathetic strings outside that could be plucked, hammered and “vibratoed” (custom half-step sharping levers) and the MIDI drum triggers.  He also played a Hedges piece (the Hatari Theme) with lots of embellishments.

Taproot is made of gorgeous koa.  Here is a top view of the “paper thin” leg extension.

Next up was “Harp Guitar as Second Fiddle.”  This was meant to show many styles of plectrum and fingerstyle accompaniment to voice and/or fiddle in this case.  It featured:

The always entertaining and incorrigible Dan Pease on Dyer with partner Bets Swarts on fiddle.  They also gave us a mini history lesson on American fiddle tunes.

Next up the Powell brothers (Dave and Anthony) partnered with Arvid Lundin for a different approach to intricate fiddle tune harp guitar accompaniment.

I next did a short (but surprisingly complete) history of the modern archguitar – the instrument invented by Peter Blanchette that has morphed along the way to include harp guitar variants.  I was pleased that the first words Jon Mendle uttered were “That was fascinating.”  I’ll have to turn this into an article somehow, as the story is not fully known and pretty interesting.

Our “classical” feature player this year was 28-year-old Jon Mendle, who decided several years back to pursue guitar and lute repertoire on an Alan Perlman 11-string arch guitar like James Klines.  He has the magic touch; I don’t think we’ve ever had so many glowing comments about a nylon-string harp guitar player.  You’ll see more of him (and the others above) in the next few blogs.

We then broke for lunch.  Meanwhile, Jon and Leon Atkinson traded their very different nylon-string harp guitars for a comparison.

Occasionally, as I do these Gathering reports, I feel like I imagine those of you who weren’t there do.  Since I can’t be in two (or ten) places at once at the event, it’s great fun to see what else went on through all the other attendees’ photos!  (Above, Claude Laflamme visiting with Leon)

(Speaking of which, thanks for photos: Linda Morgan, Stacy Hobbs, John Littel, Dave Powell, me)

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Next: Saturday Afternoon: Luthiers!