Seven takeaways from the ELLNORA Guitar Festival


Elisabeth Neely

Samantha Fish performs opening night on Sept. 14, 2017 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts during ELLNORA Guitar Festival.

By Aaron Navarro, On-air news editor

ELLNORA, C-U’s biennial guitar festival, had its seventh birthday this weekend at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Founded in 2005, the festival has developed quite the knack for bringing in some high-profile guitarists, from Buddy Guy in 2013 to Jeff Tweedy this year. Here are the seven best things we saw and learned at the festival.

1. James Jones Trio and Samantha Fish

Right away, ELLNORA kicked off with a bang. Starting with the tight-wheeled James Jones Trio in the main lobby, and then going into the illustrious Samantha Fish on the side, the opening celebration to the festival was a perfect indication of the talent that was about to come. The James Jones Trio gave an encompassing performance, incorporating some classic blues sounds, downright jams and even a Jimi Hendrix cover. Samantha Fish kept the party going, driving the crowd with a great set, including some horns that popped out within every song.

“Samantha Fish was excellent. I love these small acts that we catch out here in the lobby,” said Nicholas Puddicombe, co-director of patron services at Krannert.

2. Voices

Speaking of Samantha Fish, some of these voices at ELLNORA were downright dominant. Ruthie Foster and Jeff Tweedy are a great example of some great pipes. An overlooked part of a festival focusing on guitar, these voices do a great job of cutting through the jams and noise and hitting you right in the soul.

3. Krannert Center is beautiful with great acoustics

It helps, dealing with voices and electric six-strings, to have an acoustic haven like Krannert. Right away, the perfection of the building’s acoustics hits you even in the main lobby. But it’s when you get to the separate venues that really sets Krannert apart. From the massive, main Foellinger Great Hall to the Studio Theatre, the center has a total of six venues. It’s nothing too busy for the center though, with the festival workers being comprised of volunteers and Krannert employees.

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4. Diversity

From the lineup to even the crowd, ELLNORA boasts a wide set of different artists and concert-goers.

“The beautiful thing about ELLNORA is that we really try to program across this incredible spectrum around the world, ” said Bridget Lee-Calfas, Krannert advertising and publicity director. “And I think because of that, we’re able to attract really diverse audiences as well.” 

Though the bulk of the crowd was definitely older C-U residents, Lee-Calfas said that growth of students attending has been strong the past couple of years. But with the lineup itself, the festival works with David Spelman, ELLNORA’s artistic director, Mike Ross, Krannert director, and Tammy Kikta, booking agent, to bring a diverse set of sounds to the center.

“We just put it all together to give a cohesive package,” Lee-Calfas said.

5. Ruthie Foster

This crowd was surprising with their energy, especially during Foster’s Friday night performance. Clapping, cheering and moving, the crowd responded to Foster’s every move. A blues-folk singer from Texas, Foster brought the house down with her set and her energy. The standout? An acapella performance of her song “People Grinnin’ in your Face.”

6. Jeff Tweedy

Tweedy showed on Saturday night that he may be the most well-rounded musical artist out of Chicago. The Wilco frontman kept it simple: just him, his guitar and occasionally a harmonica. But each song, as he kept strumming and singing, became larger than life. Comprised of a set of solo and Wilco songs (to extreme delight of the audience), you really got to see the genius songwriting ability of Tweedy. But the most surprising part of the rock veteran might have been his humor. Cutting through some heavy music, Tweedy often kept the crowd laughing with his stage banter. After revealing his sister and aunt were in the crowd, Tweedy was quick to stop the crowd’s clapping.

“Don’t clap. My aunt and sister, they’re already cocky enough,” Tweedy said.

7. Spontaneous Combustion

It may not have been the highest billed show at the festival, but if there was a performance that captured the essence of diversity and the celebration of the six strings, it was Spontaneous Combustion. A later and more low-key show, the performance was essentially an improvised jam of four world-class guitarists. ELLNORA’s 2017 Ambassador Artist Kevin Brent, Lulo Reinhardt, Daniel Stelter and Rez Abbasi all brought their talents to the table. From some hypnotizing noodling during a Django Reinhardt melody, to just sliding the strings of an electric on their jeans, the four of them showed just how much you can do with six strings.

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