It is very difficult to put into a few words what our experience at the Jason Becker Festival in Amsterdam was like but I will try. Roughly 3 months ago I was contacted by one of our columnists and traveling partner for this event, Mike Blackburn. In short, he wrote me saying “I am about to book my tickets for this. Would you consider going to cover the event?” I first thought about finances for that kind of trip, then being away from my family for a week then yelled “HOW CAN I NOT DO THIS!!!!!!!!!” so I replied “Yes” and booked my trip.
We landed in Amsterdam 3 days prior to the festival with the intention of just covering rehearsals and trying to interview as many of the players as possible but that first night the host was gracious enough to invite us to dinner with some of the early arrivals: Andy James, Stéphane Forté & Franck Hermanny of Adagio, Daniele Gottardo and Atma Anur. A great meal was enjoyed along with some fantastic conversation and later some Kodak moments.
Fast forward to the next morning – I won’t bore you with the fine details of downtown Amsterdam (Hmmmmmm!) – needless to say it is Amsterdam. Rehearsals start off with Timo Somers and Barend Courbois with Atma Anur on drums.
After a great jam with Timo, we move on to Marcel Coenen and Joop Wolters, local guitar stars who have both generously donated their time to the incredible cause. At first we were told let’s try to give the guys some space to get comfortable, so we did but shortly thereafter I was asked to start filming as much as I could. So I did, and the following is just some of what went down.
The day saw a mass of brilliant moments between Barend who graciously donated his studio for these rehearsals and Atma with Andy James, Marcel and Joop. I have to note that Andy James’ rehearsal was incredible as it was the first time he had been performing his instrumental music with a band rather than a backing track and it brought an intense, hair-raising emotion to the set as you can see in the captured video.
After Andy we move onto Daniele Gottardo who is just this incredible little Italian power house of a player filled with speed emotion and feel, for this portion of rehearsals Franck Hermanny (Adagio) took over the bass duties and I have to say it was a true pleasure to watch and hear this man. I had the great pleasure of spending some time chatting with him as well. They were also joined by Jam Central contest winner and amazing player Martin Miller of Germany.
By late in the day you could tell that the fatigue was setting in for Atma who had now been going solid for over 8 hours but still managed to squeeze out some energy for Stu Hamm and Mattias IA Eklundh whose comedic entry had him doing a rendition of La Bamba!!! This was insanity!
Michael Lee Firkins’ slot was next and oh man was that amazing! All but two of these guitar players were playing through other people’s gear and in most cases not really their signature tone but Michael’s tone was astonishing from the moment he plugged into a Framus head and Cabinet with his stickered Strat and then this incredible Resonator Telecaster that he made, and then broke into his version of War Pigs!!!!!!!!! What an amazing way to cap an already unbelievably cool day. Already after midnight, we decide to head back to the hotel and rest for the evening.
Day Two of rehearsals saw performances from the incredible Stéphane Forté who performed some material from his amazing new CD ” The Shadows Compendium” and took on Jason Becker’s Opus Pocus as well. Marco Sfogli was up next with his melodic insanity and technical prowess.
They were not in the room for more than a minute after I helped Guthrie out with some minor effect loop difficulties when they broke into a beautiful version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and moved into what could only be described as an astonishing rehearsal of Guthrie and Stu’s music.
All that was left was some time for Kiko Loureiro’s rehearsal but that would have to move to the stage on show day as Atma had reached his physical limit for that day and wanted to provide Kiko with a better set.
Day two of rehearsals was finished off with an amazing chinese dinner at a local chow house with everyone and let’s just say that there were more than a few conversations that could be described as epic. The term “Unload” came to mind when I thought about dinner afterwards. Through the whole two days of rehearsals I can honestly say that everyone involved left their egos at the door and this event was clearly about helping a fellow musical inspiration –they all stepped up!!!!
Forward to show day when it is all the buzz, people running around and everything getting set up for the guitar event of the year, Guthrie, Atma and Stu getting in a little more rehearsal followed by a mind boggling rehearsal with Kiko Loureiro and guest player Hedras Ramos who can’t be more than 16 years old and just rips!!!!!!!!
Show day was not without adversity, understandable when faced with organizing a set of this magnitude but I will pass the torch on to Mike. He was able to really watch the show, while I was busy filming.
Also, check out part 3, the gig, and some interviews with the people involved HERE