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Monster guitar: Tommy Emmanuel outplays his audience

Tommy Emmanuel threw notes into the crowd with his hands like Zeus threw bolts of lightning from Mount Olympus.

A "who's who" of Central New York musicians were among the June 5 crowd at the Syracuse Center for the Arts. The Guitar League's big gun guest originally from Melbourne, Australia, Tommy Emmanuel, was back in town. One man on one instrument never sounded so good.

He told the audience that when he was 7 years old, he was out in the streets of Alice Springs performing while his dad passed the hat. It made sense he plays the guitar like he was born to it, like he has slept with it. He knows the instrument backwards and forwards, up and down and inside and out, and from top to bottom too. He makes use of every precious note that can be wrung out of, in his words, "A wooden box with strings."

CNY's premier finger-stylist, Loren Barrigar, opened and on any other night it would have been thrilling. But the anticipation of hearing this Emmanuel, Barrigar's champion, was too much to settle down and have a listen. Emmanuel brought a young guitarist Kieran Murphy from his hometown of Melbourne. His songs were each like a symphony. He was young and brazen and walked tall. But the anticipation for Tommy was still too much.

"Those are two of the hardest people I've had to follow in my life," Emmanuel said. "You've had an awful lot of guitar, so I am going to just ease into it."

May had just closed with its second full moon, so it was fitting he opened with "Blue Moon." He lulled his audience into thinking he was just a good old boy, dressed in his Sunday best with a crisp white shirt and vest.

Finger styling on the guitar is best described as playing the instrument more like a piano -- for Emmanuel make that a band. Really, there were times in his nearly three hours on stage that he sounded like a full on orchestra with bass, percussion, rhythm and lead guitars. He made the guitar sound like a harp. He made it sound like a fiddle. At one point he performed a piece as if he was the whole cast of "Stomp," yet his feet never left the stage.

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