The people of Jamestown were treated to a night of enchanting guitar and intriguing storytelling at Infinity Cafe on Friday.
Acclaimed guitarist, Richard Gilewitz, of Tampa, Fla., brought his musical skills and humor to Infinity Performing Arts for a series a workshops and a live set.
According to Gilewitz, his performances can be described as a nervous breakdown happening in slow motion. But, every night he plays is almost the same at the end because he puts on his manager hat and begins to evaluate everything he did.
“What I do during the break is almost like a football coach at halftime talking to his team about how the game is going,” said Gilewitz. “So, I think of it like a game, and the job is to win. You don’t want to call the audience your opponent, but in way you could envision them that way. It’s not you against them, but it’s you trying to bring them up. There’s always going to be some people who it doesn’t register with, and then there are always going to be the ones that just go nuts and love it.”
During the course of his performances, Gilewitz picks reactions up from the audience to gauge what is going over well. One tune that he played that he felt was well received included “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” which drew sighs of enjoyment.
“That’s when you know you have them and you try to tap into that,” said Gilewitz.
When he knew he had the audience, he tried out several of his originals, including “Mr. Sputnik” and “Tater Gun Strut.”
“Those are fun to try because I know that having the opportunity to play them on stage adds live ingredients to the mix – it’s like they are cooking in a different way that they can’t at home.” said Gilewitz.
“Mr. Sputnik” is a song that Gilewitz wrote after a friend of his told him a story about a dream he had when he flatlined for eight seconds. While dead, Gilewitz’s friend experienced a dream in which everyone was a robot. When he awoke, he was afraid that he would be a robot too, and if he was, he preferred to be called Mr. Sputnik.
He also performed a tune entitled “Spanish Two Step.” The song was played in honor of the man who inspired Gilewitz to learn his finger-picking style of guitar, John Fahey. Mention of Gilewitz’s guitar teacher, David Wahlbert, came during the second half of the show before he played the song entitled “Echoing Gilewitz.” There was even a tune by Elizabeth Cotten, some Johann Sebastian Bach and a short rendition of “Here Comes The Sun” by the Beatles.
Jeff and Maureen Dimas, of Jamestown, who attended Gilewitz’s performance, were astounded by the level of talent that they were able to be exposed to thanks to Infinity, they said.
During the entirety of the show Mrs. Dimas sat with her eyes closed, a smile on her face, slowly nodding her head and tapping her foot to the beat.
“Jeff told me that it would absolutely take your breath away, and it did. I love this kind of music,” said Mrs. Dimas.
Dimas, who attended Gilewitz’s workshop both this year and last, did so because he has a strong desire to learn finger-picking style, he said.
“The way he broke it down in the workshop made it so simplistic – I absolutely learned a lot,” said Dimas. “I first saw him perform at Trinity Guitars two years ago, and at that time I recognized that he is one of the best guitarists in the world. We are blessed to have him here again.”
Shane Hawkins, executive director of Infinity, was also pleased with the results of the workshop.
“The workshops were great,” said Hawkins. “We had a lot of new faces come in, and many of them were adults.”
“The workshops were good last year, but I think this time in particular they went event better,” added Gilewitz. “People were trying things, asking questions and coming up to me with comments about things they liked. One guy who could already play was interested in my hand stretching. It’s not all about the physical playing, it’s also about keeping your hands loose before the set and relaxing your body. He realized how stiff he was and chose to now share that with his students – I like that domino effect.”
Hayley Restivo and Ryan Hawkins, students of Infinity who perform in Chautauqua’s Got Talent as SYMBA, opened Gilewitz’s Infinity Cafe show with a couple of tunes before he took the stage.
“For a young musician it is very inspiring to see someone grown up who is living out their dream,” said Restivo. “I went to one of the workshops because I play guitar, and I actually learned quite a bit about finger-picking and his style of music.”
Ryan agreed, stating that she was surprised by Gilewitz’s mastery of the guitar. She said his finger-picking style made it appear as if he actually had speakers in his fingers.
“It was groovy, man, because he is a groovy man,” said Ryan.
Ryan’s brother, Alec, put Gilewitz’s skill level up there with greats such as William Shakespeare and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
“It was super, spectacular and awesome,” said Alec. “I don’t even think he is human.”
The sound for the evening was provided by Cliff Obrist, of Buffalo, who regularly helps at Infinity’s events and is a recording class instructor. The experience was just as inspiring to him as it was to everyone else who had the opportunity to interact with Gilewitz.
“We spent a lot of time perfecting the guitar tone before the workshops and the performance,” said Obrist. “He is really particular about his sound, but it comes out really good. It was a great experience, and I think we kind of connected because it’s nice to have someone who as particular about sound as I am.”
The evening wrapped up to be an all-around success, and Gilewitz was invited back for future performances and workshops.