World guitarists to be in C-U’s backyard

Some of the world’s most prominent guitarists can be found in one place this weekend in Champaign-Urbana. The biennial ELLNORA Guitar Festival officially begins Thursday at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

ELLNORA, named after Herman Krannert’s wife, is a celebration of the diversity of the guitar with internationally known patrons and artists.

With headlining acts such as Buddy Guy, Lucinda Williams, Johnny Lang and 24 other performers, the festival features a varied range of unique styles.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of ELLNORA, which began in 2005 as the Wall to Wall Festival. This year’s events got an early start Tuesday with pre-festival events, including Local Heroes Night, a concert featuring Champaign-Urbana musicians. Today the festival officially begins, showcasing musicians from across the globe, united by their love for the guitar and its technique.

Started by Krannert Director Mike Ross and his collaborator and New York Guitar festival founder, David Spellman, ELLNORA’s purpose is to provide a global perspective on music and an eclectic take on the guitar. This is achieved through the festival’s assorted lineup, with performers traveling from places as far as India and South Africa to those from the U.S.

“ELLNORA is something special and something the community should take pride in,” said Bridget Lee-Calfas, advertising and public relations of Krannert.

Lee-Calfas said the festival provides the community and students the rare opportunity to see huge names and talents for an affordable rate. Many of the performances are free, and the ones that are not are only $10 for students.

“It’s a great opportunity to sample artistry too,” Lee-Calfas said. “Some of these people might be household names and others may be artists you haven’t heard of. But it’s a great opportunity to discover them and get to see them for little or no cost and really find out something special.”

In a letter on the ELLNORA website, Spellman discusses ELLNORA’s significance.

“Wherever you are on your journey with the guitar, you’ll find both familiar haunts and new destinations here at ELLNORA,” he wrote. “Travel — musical travel — enriches and changes us, and those who make the trip to this festival will leave as expanded and deepened human beings.”

Lee-Calfas said that she, along with Ross and Spellman, hope ELLNORA gives people an opportunity to discover something special and fall in love with new types of sounds and artistry.

Tim Donaldson, curator of the Local Heroes Night, played at ELLNORA two years ago with his band Timmy D and Blind Justice.

“ELLNORA enhances the Champaign-Urbana music community. It’s the most vibrant music community per capita in the area,” he said. “The live music scene here is huge, so ELLNORA compliments the scene very well and brings people out.”

Donaldson said festivals such as ELLNORA foster aspiring young musicians and that it is important for them to see other bands. The music scene in C-U and festivals like ELLNORA provide such opportunities, he said.

Young local musician Justin Rondón, a student from Parkland, can be often seen around campus playing his guitar. He has never been to ELLNORA in the past but said he would be attending this year.

“I produce folk/rock/jazz sound with my music, and I have played open mics around the Champaign-Urbana community all the time,” Rondón said. “I haven’t made it out before, but I definitely hope to make it out this year though.”

Intermezzo will premiere new custom coffee blends and coffee drinks during ELLNORA events. Attendees can enjoy these new drinks while viewing the free live-video streaming in the Sonic Garden of Krannert, which will begin Friday. In addition, the Krannert lobby will host a guitar-themed community art project to be completed by the end of the festival.

Tonight’s opening night party will kick start the three-day festivities with a quadruple lineup including Johnny Lang. Tickets are $5.

Saher can be reached at [email protected]