ELLNORA music festival celebrates past, present, future of the guitar

Cliches and proverbs often talk about the “international language.” Some say it’s love, some say it’s math, but David Spelman argues that guitar is in fact the language shared by people and cultures across the world.

From Vietnam to Mali to Argentina to every corner of North America, the ELLNORA Guitar Festival, held bi-annually at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, aims to reveal the guitar’s journey — where it began, where it’s traveled to and, to some degree, where it’s future may be, said Spelman, artistic adviser of ELLNORA and founder of the New York Guitar Festival.

Rather than focusing on showing people what they already know they want, he said, the festival aims to bring together diverse genres, allowing listeners to explore and discover through performances at various venues on campus.

“I think it’s a place for people with curious and hungry ears to be surprised,” he said.

The three-day guitar festival kicks off Thursday, Sept. 8, with the Opening Night Party.

Bridget Lee-Calfas, public information director for Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, said the party usually turns out to be her favorite night of the year.

With people listening and performing indoors and outdoors, at Krannert, on the Main Quad and in parking garages, the party sets the tone for the rest of the festival, she said. “It brings together a diversity of audience members … and the energy is incredible.”

On Friday and Saturday, guitarists of all backgrounds will perform with styles ranging from rock to bluegrass, Latin to jazz and everything in between.

For the first time ever, the festival will host an artist-in-residence, who will perform several times and also collaborate with other artists.

This year, the artist-in-residence is Luther Dickinson, who is a true collaborator, Spelman said.

“He’s an ambassador for the festival … a musical personality and program thread that will be woven throughout in ways that are both planned and completely spontaneous,” he said.

The festival will also host the world premier of Bill Morrison’s new film, “The Great Flood,” which depicts the Mississippi River Flood of 1927.

The devastation and ruin was vast and during this time, many African Americans moved north, Morrison said. With them, the blues also migrated north, he said.

Vastly different from a traditional documentary, the film has no voice-overs and limited text.

The rare footage accompanied by music, composed by Bill Frisell, communicates the great, lasting affects of the flood on music, Morrison said.

The film also allows viewers to link 1927 to now, he said.

“In 1927, a lot of wealth was concentrated, and then it was broken up … We can look at ’27 and 2011, the flooding, the political climate, and draw connections,” he said.

No matter what genre of music they favor, Spelman said he encourages students to come check it out, because the festival is three days of discovery.

“It gives students a chance to experience the excitement and the joy that music can create, and also to encounter and learn about new artists,” he said.

Admission for each individual concert varies, but for University students, the cost is never more than $10.

Many of the performances are even free, Lee-Calfas said.

Discounted prices are also available for those who purchase tickets for all nine ticketed events, she added.