Guitarfest: Organization, event nurtures the art of performance

Published 5:49 pm Monday, January 4, 2016

On Jan. 9, the Beaufort County Traditional Music Association will host a Guitarfest, a nearly all-day event boasting guitar-centric soloists, duos and trios. It’s an expansion of past two highly attended, guitar-centric shows, featuring talent from across eastern North Carolina.

But among the chords and riffs filling the Turnage Theatre gallery that night is a purpose beyond giving people a place to go to hear some good music. It’s about nurturing talent and giving musicians the opportunity to do what they do best: play.

“When I was growing up in Philadelphia, there were family restaurants and bars on every corner. They always had live music. Musicians today, they really don’t have that many opportunities,” said Jay Costello, BCTMA board member and the Guitarfest organizer. “In Washington, there are one or two places. In Greenville, maybe three or four. A lot of musicians today don’t get the opportunity to play.”

Costello said that’s one of the focuses of BCTMA, one in addition to promoting traditional music: giving people a chance to perform at their twice weekly jams or the monthly variety shows, all held at the Turnage Theatre gallery.

“It’s kind of morphed into a place where musicians of all different talent levels, from beginning to expert, have a place to go. They have a place to perform, where they probably wouldn’t have a place to do it steadily,” Costello said. “I’ve played in a lot of places with a lot of great musicians, but I’ve never been with an organization that just accepts people for what they are and how they play like the BCTMA.”

Through his involvement with BCTMA, Costello said he’s watched people with only a three-chord repertoire come to their first jam, sit in the corner and play as quietly as possible.

“Over a year or two, they gain this confidence,” Costello said. “You really don’t become a performer until you’re actually performing.”

Guitarfest is the opportunity to hear some of those people who’ve mastered their instruments — and love to perform.

“All these guitar players are really terrific,” Costello said. “They’re all doing it on their own, nobody’s getting paid and they all jumped at the chance.”

Local performers include Bob Daw, Don Skinner (and family), Bill Walker and Lyle Carlson and the Wayne Stoeckert Trio. From Edenton, come Mark and Tina Sclafani. From Greenville and its environs, are Steve Creech, Emery Davis, John Bradley and Mark Rutledge, J.D. Joyner, and John Benson and J.B. Mayes, who will joined by vocalist and Riversong Trio member Pam Cox. With so many performers, the show was bound to expand, and this year’s performance will run from 3 p.m. to a 9 p.m. finale featuring a jam with whoever’s still around.

“By expanding it, we were actually able to mix a lot of different types of musicians, a lot of different musical genres,” Costello said.

“It’s like a nice ménage, or menagerie, actually,” he laughed.

There’s also another purpose behind Costello’s mini-music festival:  promoting Washington business and the town as an arts destination. Costello has teamed up with La Bella Pizzeria — waitstaff will be taking orders at the Turnage gallery so attendees can either have it waiting for them at the restaurant or pick it up to take back to the performance.

“People can come and go, go and come as they please,” Costello said.

Admission is free for the event. Opening act, and emcee, Bob Daw will go on at 3 p.m. The Turnage Theatre is located at 150 W. Main St., Washington. For more information visit