New Zealand’s Mark Mazengarb and Elbridge’s Loren Barrigar create a musical marriage of guitar greatness
The key to many great musical acts is balance. Not just how the instruments or singers complement each other but how the backgrounds, experiences, inspiration and personalities of the performers blend and harmonize. The transoceanic pairing of guitarists Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb is a perfect balance: two fast friends brought together by their love for the music they play, each the perfect counterpoint to the other.
Just back from Nashville, Elbridge native Barrigar and New Zealander Mazengarb are the headliners for the American Festival this weekend at Kellish Hill Farm, 3192 Pompey Center Road, Manlius. While in Music City, they performed a high-profile, main-stage show at the prestigious 27th annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society convention, a Mecca for finger pickers from around the world. Fittingly, it was that event that cemented the bond between these two gifted players, leading to a solid partnership that most recently produced an acclaimed CD, recorded at Sub- Cat Studios, and this summer’s whirlwind tour of the Northeast, part of the three months the duo will spend together while Mazengarb visits the States.
Since first being introduced by famed guitarist Tommy Emmanuel in 2005, they’ve regularly renewed acquaintances in Tennessee. “Mark and I were able to keep in touch and in 2008 and 2009 we were able to meet up in Nashville at the Chet Atkins convention,” Barrigar explains in a phone call from Nashville. “The Chet Atkins thing has definitely helped launch the excitement and the contacts for some of these shows that we have now. We actually have a booth at the festival this year. We have a nice presence there, a four-color banner, the new CD.”
The duo’s trip north will keep them plenty busy playing shows and promoting their selftitled CD, released in May. “We’re just trying to make as much racket as we can and turn as many heads,” Barrigar says, “then hopefully latch on with somebody as an opening act. In the meantime we’re just doing our own thing, too. We’re doing concerts in seven states this summer.”
The current tour is a treat for Mazengarb, who amazingly found his perfect musical partner nearly 9,000 miles from home. “It’s like anything in life,” Mazengarb philosophizes. “There’s certain people that you cook with more than others. With Loren and I, from the start, we just seemed to cook straight away. We just randomly do the same thing at the same time, we just think along the same wavelengths. It’s just one of those rare things. I travel across from the other side of the world because I love it so much.”
Barrigar, whose maturity and experience come after an amazing career starting as a child prodigy in a very musical, upstate New York family, finds his strong connection with Mazengarb—the young, city kid from Down Under who earned a degree in classical guitar performance as the only musically gifted member of his family—hard to explain, but thoroughly exhilarating. “When we play, there’s something else happening and we don’t really know what that is,” Barrigar concedes. “It’s something that makes people happy and it certainly makes him and I happy. It’s something we can’t put our finger on, but it’s there and we sure do enjoy it.”
That natural creative process made recording sessions last July for the duo’s CD flow very smoothly. “We came off the Nashville thing and on the way back we got lots of calls to perform and we went out and performed every night,” Barrigar recalls. “But we stopped at the studio for a couple of three-hour sessions in the morning, which might not be the best time when you’re running ragged, but we laid down the tracks for this and that was it. We both listened back and it’s very seldom that you’re really happy with a recording, but SubCat did a great job. Derek Yackel engineered the sessions. Other than tweaking a couple songs that we produced up a little bit with some percussion, another rhythm track, we just kind of left it like it was.”
For whiz kid Mazengarb, it was a chance to add his own flourishes to songs he loves. “I listened to Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins, so I was familiar with songs like ‘Cannonball Rag’ and ‘Whiskey Before Breakfast,’” he explains. “We did our own arrangements, which is something that I find really fun. We’d heard it before, but we put our own spin on it. There’s a lot of players out there that just copy. I think it’s important to make the song your own. I’m not really a purist in that sense. I don’t think it’s good to copy note for note or to learn songs exactly as they were recorded.”
Several of those songs figure to work into the set list when the pair step into the spotlight on Kellish Hill Farm’s kitschy stage on Friday, July 22, a performance both anticipate enthusiastically. “That’s such a unique place,” Barrigar raves. “Mark and I have always loved going out there. They let the musicians come first, do what they love and then the people follow.”
Meanwhile his partner is hoping for cooler weather under the deciduous canopy in Manlius than what they experienced in steamy Music City, where it was 100 degrees during Chet Fest week. “It’ll be nice to get back up North,” Mazengarb sighs. “I really like the Kellish Farm. I love that bond where you feel like people are just coming along to have a good time. It’s not pretentious at all. It’s very down to earth. There’s just a good atmosphere there. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Festival organizer Kathy Kellish is guaranteeing a great weekend in no small part due to the headline act. “Those boys, when they come your jaw just drops to see how effortless they play,” remarks the perpetually bubbly Kellish, “and how well they play off each other and the fun that they have.”
The festival will also have plenty of opportunities for musicians to play and jam, while food and crafts vendors will be on hand and Civil War re-enactors will be camped out on the grounds. Musical acts will include an impressive list of some of the region’s best bluegrass, folk and acoustic acts, with such diverse touches as a jazz act, a fiddle workshop and performance, a Native American drum circle and the Silverwood Clarinet Choir. WCNY-Channel 24 will be shooting film for a possible documentary. But don’t wait for the movie; plan a visit by reviewing the complete schedule of events on the Kellish Hill Farm website, rhbamericana.com.
Any fan of guitar music would be wise to be at the farm on Friday as there will be limited opportunities to see Barrigar and Mazengarb play in Central New York. After a busy tour that takes them from New Hampshire to North Carolina this summer, Mazengarb will be heading home. “I’m here until the end of August,” he says. “I’ll make the most of every day and get as much playing in as we can. I’m looking into how I can come back for longer and longer. It’s very hard with the visa situa tion.
It’s extremely hard to get into this country to work. There’s a lot of paperwork and fees to pay. So hopefully if it all goes through I’ll come back.”
Meanwhile he’s negotiating with his partner to get him to pay a visit to New Zealand by raving about the wonders of his homeland, where summer comes during New York’s winters. “New Zealand is a very beautiful country and I absolutely love it there,’ he says. “But there’s only 4 million people in the whole country. It’s hard to do music full time, playing the stuff that you love to play. Because the industry’s so small, you have to do a lot of playing in pubs, at weddings and private functions, concerts and to teach and do a lot of things because it’s the only way to scratch together a living. I really want to get him out. I don’t think we’ll make a lot of money there, but I know he’ll have a great time.”
Although New Zealanders are largely unfamiliar with the music the duo plays, a few shows by Barrigar and Mazengarb may win some new fans. “We don’t really have any of that music in New Zealand.” Mazengarb moans. “Country music is not big at all in New Zealand. I’m trying to change that—anything I can do to get more young people into it.”
Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb take the Kellish stage on Friday at 8 p.m. Other local performances are scheduled during the Sunday blues brunches at the Empire Brewing Company, 120 Walton St., on July 24, July 31 and Aug. 7 at 12:30 p.m.; at the gazebo along Main Street in Weedsport, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m.; and in the village of Fayetteville Aug. 20 at 7 p.m at a site to be announced. More dates are on their website, lorenandmark.com.
Friday, July 22. Talent show (open to anyone), 5 to 6 p.m.; Bells & Motley (aka John and Sondra Bromka), 6 to 7:45 p.m.; Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb, 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 23: Fiddlers Day, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Workshops start at 10 a.m., with demonstrations of various fiddle/violin styles. Among the musicians: Oswego Fiddlers, Jonathan Chai, David Deacon, Keith Hunt, Susan Barrington and fiddle-based bands including Tumbleweed Gumbo, Salt Potatoes, Lost Boys, Larry Hoyt and the Goode Acoustics, Joe Davoli, Harvey Nusbaum, Diamond Someday and Irish Sessions, plus an all-star jam and a drum circle.
Sunday July 24, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Bands include Wild Honey, Dusty Pas’cal and Family, Mark Zane, The Embellishments, Bill Ring and Don Fenton, Kenlock Nelson, Jass Jam Band, Greg Hoover and Friends, Silverwood Clarinet Choir and Two Feet Short.
Food will be sold and vendors will be on site. Single-day tickets are $15, with $25 for a three-day pass. For more information, call 682-1578 or visit www.rhbamericana.com.
More Jazz on Tap
Jazz in the City, the groundbreaking urban outreach series that hosts free weekly Thursday concerts in each quadrant of the city throughout August, is set to bring even more jazz to neighborhood backyards. Acts for the 10th annual program were announced during a July 12 press conference at Eastwood’s Pomco Group, 2425
The series kicks off Aug. 4 at the South Side’s Dunk & Bright furniture store, 2648 S. Salina St., with The BlackLites with Rev. Blessed Sikhosana and the Voices of Africa and the Syracuse Gospel Workshop of America. The BlackLites started in 1973, and have since opened for acts including Earth, Wind and Fire, K.C. and the Sunshine Band and Aretha Franklin.
Eastwood hosts the Aug. 11 edition, which takes place in the parking lot across from Cummings Field, with saxophonist Marion Meadows taking the stage. Meadows got his start with drummer Norman Connors after studying at Berklee College of Music and SUNY Purchase School for the Arts. He got his big break in the late 1980s when he broke out his sax in New York City’s Grand Central Station and his sounds fell on the right ears. TV composer Jay Chattaway was so impressed, he hooked up Meadows with keyboardist Bob James, who then signed Meadows to his TappanZee label. Meadows released his first album, For Lovers Only (Jive/Novus), in 1991; his recent CD, Secrets (Heads Up Records), was issued in 2009. He has performed with artists including Brook Benton, Eartha Kitt, Jean Carne, The Temptations and Michael Bolton.
Skiddy Park, on the West Side’s Oswego Street, will offer Salsa Son Timba on Aug. 18. The energetic 12-piece Latin “Timba” orchestra will bring their salsa rhythms with jazz, funk, soul, blues and Cuban rumba together for a wild show. Local piano impresario Tom Witkowski directs and arranges the group, fronted by three vocalists hailing from Cuba, Chile and the United States.
The final event is slated for Wednesday, Aug. 24, in order to avoid competition with the next day’s opening of the New York State Fair. The North Side’s Little Italy district, on the 400 block of North Salina and Division streets, will present the Toronto-based Four80East, which brings contemporary jazz and pop styles together to create a danceinfused sound. Sharing the stage will be Marcus Anderson, composer, saxophonist, flutist and the 2009 winner of the Capital Jazz Fest Challenge. His new album Now (Marcus Anderson Music), released June 28, has his saxes singing like vocalists over dynamic, funky grooves.
This year’s series is dedicated to Dr. Billy Taylor, creator of the Harlem Jazzmobile; started in 1964, the Jazzmobile took concerts to urban communities, and serves as an inspiration for Syracuse’s own Jazz in the City.
All concerts run from 7 to 9 p.m. Audiences should bring lawn chairs, although coolers and pets are not allowed. For more information, visit www.cnyjazz.org/jazzinthecity.aspx.
Boots and Saddles
The Syracuse summer of sounds has been full of jazz and blues but on Sunday, July 24, cowboy-hatted musicians take center stage during the 30th annual Texaco Country Showdown, beginning at noon at the Regional Market on Park Street. Country-format station WOLF-FM 105.1 will host the event, featuring 20 local Central New York competitors picked from more than 50 entries.
Competing bands such as Bill Bowering, Chris Taylor, The Beadle Brothers, The Urban Cowboys and Brianna Jessy will perform on the J&J
Automotive Stage, with prizes in the offing and the opportunity to perform at the showdown’s statewide level. State winners will then move on to a regional competition in the fall; five regional winners from across the country will win an all-expense paid trip to the national final to compete for the $100,000 grand prize. Local favorites J.D. & Rollin’ South open the daylong event with a pre-competition set. Admission is free; for more information, visit www.wolf105.com.
The Music Buzz
• For more than 13 years and 1,900 concerts, Dark Star Orchestra has been channeling the spirit of the Grateful Dead, by bringing entire set lists to life for Deadheads everywhere. For more on how they do it and what it’s like pumping out hundreds of shows a year, check the exclusive interview with guitarist and vocalist Jeff Mattson on the Upbeat blog at www.syracusenewtimes.com. Find the blog tab on the top navigation bar of the page. Dark Star’s original booking at Baldwinsville’s Paper Mill Island on Wednesday, July 20, has been rerouted to an 8 p.m. gig at the Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St. Tickets are $25 and available at www.dark starorchestra.net.
• Another jam session with guitarist Mark Hoffmann takes place on Saturday, July 23, 8 p.m., at the Inn Complete, Skytop Road, on Syracuse University’s South Campus. Working musicians can meet to play and fans can come to dance, with raffles, food, beer, T-shirts and hats proclaiming “Support Local CNY Music” and an overall cool vibe all on the premises. Admission is $5; call 427-3899.
• Josh Patch, a 2001 graduate of Central Square’s Paul V. Moore High School, will compete with his group, known as The Clatty Lads, during a battle-of-the-bands brouhaha on national television. On Thursday, July 21, 8 a.m., the Lads will perform during Imus in the Morning, Don Imus’ gabfest broadcast on ABC Radio and cable TV’s Fox Business Network. Viewers can vote for the band at www.imus.com.
Following his Moore years, Patch graduated with a recording arts degree from Florida’s Full Sail Real World Education in 2004, and worked with Salt City-based Red Brick Records before landing an audio engineer position with Fox News Channel’s Times Square office. While a singing career might well be in Rupert Murdoch’s future, several employees on the Fox payroll flesh out the Lads lineup, including Patch on guitar, harmonica and vocals, Adrian Sharkey on guitar and vocals, Christian Mintiens on drums, Dave Yesner on electric guitar, Justin Brewer on bass and Matt Knapp on pedal steel. For more information, visit www.the clattylads.com.
—Compiled by Jessica Novak