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  • Writer's pictureMary Ann

New York Guitar Festival Kicks Off 20th Anniversary Celebration | June 1st

Saturday, June 1st, 2019 Brookfield Place's Waterfront Plaza, NYC 7 PM | Free

The New York Guitar Festival and Arts Brookfield will present “Memphis Minnie: In Search of the Hoodoo Lady,” a free, outdoor concert celebrating the life and music of influential blues guitarist Memphis Minnie. The Saturday, June 1st, 7pm event will be held at Brookfield Place’s Waterfront Plaza in lower Manhattan. 

The concert will feature musicians across an array of genres and will include Marc Ribot, Rafiq Bhatia, Rachael & Vilray (featuring Lake Street Dive’s Rachael Price), Nicole Atkins, Binky Griptite, Kaia Kater, Jontavious Willis, Toshi Reagon, Brandon Ross, Amythyst Kiah, Alsarah and the Nubatones, Brandee Younger, Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure, Banning Eyre, and Grammy Award-winners Vernon Reid and Fantastic Negrito.

A supremely influential and pioneering blues guitarist, Minnie was one of the first blues artists to go electric in 1942 and is considered a crucial link connecting acoustic Delta blues with the electrified Chicago sound. Chuck Berry, Big Mama Thornton, and Muddy Waters have acknowledged Minnie’s influence. Bonnie Raitt called her one of American musical history's most vibrant and pioneering artists," and Langston Hughes described a 1943 performance of hers in the Chicago Defender as “a musical version of electric welders plus a rolling mill” that made folks “holler out loud”!

A gifted blues guitarist who played on Beale Street in Memphis – both in the clubs and sometimes on the street itself -- Memphis Minnie’s place in the guitar pantheon is criminally understated, even as her influence is hard to overstate. Minnie started recording in 1929, and she had a huge impact on the sound of the blues. Minnie helped define the sound that brought us Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. The sound that later brought us The Rolling Stones and Cream and a host of others. Her song “When The Levee Breaks,” highlighting her relentless, rolling guitarwork, was redone in 1971 by a quartet of English lads calling themselves Led Zeppelin. And that version of the song has now been sampled more than 100 times, including by Dr. Dre, Beyonce, and Eminem. Minnie’s 1941 hit, “Me And My Chauffeur Blues,” featuring Memphis Minnie’s sly, forceful vocals, has also had a long afterlife, including covers by Nina Simone and Jefferson Airplane. 

Memphis Minnie was, in the words of the Grammy-winning singer and guitarist Fantastic Negrito, “a genius that was hiding in plain sight.”  Another artist joining in this year’s tribute, the guitarist and musicologist Banning Eyre, describes her this way: “Elegant, stylish and tough as shoe leather, she epitomized everything the world loves about America’s most enduring folk music.”  But by the time she died in 1973, she was largely forgotten. 

“Somehow it just feels right to kick off the New York Guitar Festival’s 20th anniversary season on the 90th anniversary of the start of Memphis Minnie’s recording career. Lucinda Williams sees Memphis Minnie as ‘the most important female singer, songwriter and guitarist in the history of Delta blues’ yet there’s been scant notice on the New York cultural scene of her achievements. We’d like to change that,” says Festival artistic director David Spelman, noting that additional NYGF anniversary events at various venues will be announced throughout the year.

In her final public remarks as first lady, Michelle Obama said, “Our glorious diversity—our diversities of faiths and colors and creeds—that is not a threat to who we are; it makes us who we are.” The New York Guitar Festival’s 20 years of wide-ranging programing embody that “glorious diversity.” Festival co-founder Spelman adds, “Art—and especially the guitar—transcends borders, languages, and cultures. The NYGF is one of the most vibrant, inclusive, and stimulating guitar festivals in the world . . . for this generation of music lovers and the next.”

About the New York Guitar Festival:

Exploring virtually every aspect of the guitar’s personality, the New York Guitar Festival, since 1999, has presented many of the world’s most influential guitarists at Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Sawdust, (Le) Poisson Rouge, 92nd Street Y, Brookfield Place Winter Garden and other iconic venues, large and small. From multi Grammy-winners to emerging artists, NYGF performers have included masters of the classical repertoire (Pepe Romero, Christopher Parkening, Ana Vidović, Nigel North) as well as blues & jazz (Taj Mahal, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bill Frisell, Sonny Landreth), pop & indie rock (Vernon Reid, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Iver, Andy Summers, Thurston Moore), and folk & Americana (Levon Helm, Emmylou Harris, Cindy Cashdollar, Leo Kottke) as well as sounds of Central & South America (Badi Assad, Yamandu Costa, Vinicius Cantuária) and genre-defying innovators (Kaki King, David Torn, Daniel Lanois, Bryce Dessner).

Festival highlights have included multi-genre tributes to the musical legacies and cultural impact of iconic rock musicians (Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, George Harrison, and Jerry Garcia), experimentalists (Brian Eno, John Fahey, and Michael Hedges), blues and jazz legends (Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Reverend Gary Davis, and Django Reinhardt), and pioneering women artists (Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Elizabeth Cotten).  Additionally, the NYGF has presented day-long marathon concerts exploring J.S. Bach, the raga tradition of South Asia, and in-depth explorations of the music of Spain, Italy, and Brazil. 

A champion of new artists and nascent work, the Festival has commissioned multi-media works and scores to classic client films by artists including Bryce Dessner, Bon Iver, Daniel Lanois, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, David Bromberg, and Kaki King. 

Building on the festival’s success in New York, it has collaborated on the creation of partner festivals in Urbana, Illinois, Amsterdam, Adelaide and Toronto. 

Additional 20th Anniversary New York Guitar Festival events will be announced soon.  Stay up to date at


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