HGG14: Andy Wahlberg, Overachiever

After Stanley Alexandrowicz’s historical presentation, our last event of our action-packed Saturday line up for the 14th Harp Guitar Gathering was an old friend.

Those of us who answered Stephen Bennett’s beacon call in 2003 to attend what would go down in history as the first annual Harp Guitar Gathering have fond memories of those first wonderful discoveries and surprises.  Arguably, nothing was more dramatic than our first glimpse of that enigmatic figure, Florida’s “Harp Guitar Guy.”  Six foot seven inches tall with an incredible basso profondo voice, affable and often hilarious, he pulled out his trusty antique Dyer harp guitar (more like a “harp-ukulele” in his hands) and played.

One of only a handful of harp guitar players at that time with a web site, he had been laboring for almost thirty years –  alone – or so he thought!  He’s said many times that he felt like he had discovered his long lost family.  A lot of us did, that weekend…and the harp guitar community was born.

Andy has been to every single Harp Guitar Gathering since (he hosted #4), and since the inception of the non-profit Harp Guitar Foundation has been a valuable member of the Board of Advisors.  All this time, he’s been one of the extremely few who we not only offer, but insist, play in the Saturday night concert every single year.  He’s just too damn entertaining!

In one sense, he is a throwback to (or perhaps the next wave of) Vaudeville.  Broad comedy, chameleonic singing voice, vocal sound effects, and offhand instrumental virtuosity.

He’ll then do a 180 and play beautiful and often complex instrumental solos that show him to be as imaginative and chops-worthy as any of the younger contemporary players.  And he continues to surprise us – the entire “Bohemian Rhapsody” on solo harp guitar being a more recent example.

We thought it was time to feature him again, giving him a whole hour on Saturday to perform old and new pieces and present his current “state of the art.”

Example: He not only played “Bennett Diction,” the wonderful piece he wrote for Stephen Bennett, but then played “Harp Guitar Guy” – the even trickier piece Stephen had composed for Andy.

My favorite was a gorgeous and sophisticated new composition called “The Colonel Waller Suite” – this was the flea-bitten motel we all stayed at for our first Gathering (and two more times).  It’s also my favorite tune on his brand new instrumental CD String Theory.

 

 

 

Behind the scenes, Stephen had proposed to his fellow board members sometime back the concept of a  Lifetime Achievement Award.  This clearly gelled with the charter of the Foundation, was something well within our means and purview, and Stephen’s nomination of Andy as the first recipient was approved unanimously.

A custom, professional plaque was crafted by Joe Morgan, and at the close of his segment the entire board presented (and surprised!) Andy with the honor.

He was for once speechless, and quite moved I think, though being a true pro he quickly recovered to preen and pose for the camera.

Watch Linda Morgan’s video to see him choke up.  I think he also worriedly asked “This doesn’t mean I have to retire, does it?”!

Trust us, Andy – this is just a mid-career highlight!

Next: An inspiring post-Gathering story from an attendee

  1. Stephen Silva Says:

    Very cool! What a pleasure it has been for me to get to know this guy, harpguitar or not!

  2. Andy Wahlberg Says:

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of these wonderful years of music and friendship. Receiving this award was the highlight of my day, week, month, year, century. My music has been elevated higher than I ever imagined it would be due to my association and relationship with my fellow harp guitarists. Keep up the creativity.

  3. Dan and Bets Says:

    Nothing we can think of could have been more appropriate and richly-deserved than Andy’s honor. Gregg’s analogy between Andy and a true vaudevillian is most apt. One of the most riveting and astonishing musical moments of my life, right up there with seeing Buddy Holly and the Crickets in 1958, was at our first HGG, in Williamsburg on Halloween weekend, when this towering, costumed figure came onstage and knocked “Bohemian Rhapsody” out of the park.

    Thank you, Andy, for being!

  4. Stephen Bennett Says:

    Bravo!!!

    You’re one of a kind, Andy! A truly great player of these instruments we all love – and one of my (all of our) favorite human beings too. No, this does NOT mean you have to retire! Rather, it means you have to keep upping your game, pal!

    The vaudeville comparison is most apt. Like Tommy Emmanuel (who sadly hasn’t learned to play our full-size instruments yet – but still, is a mighty fine example of a world class player of the smaller versions), you are much more on stage than just a great player. Tommy was Entertainer of the Year multiple times in Australia. You’ve got that same thing going on: watching you play is always a treat musically and the odds are good that you’ll have me laughing my butt off too!

    Another excellent write-up, Sir Gregory. Thank you.

  5. Tom Cook Says:

    One of the most talented, entertaining, skilled, lovable persons Mary Pat and I have had the opportunity to meet and hear at the harp guitar conventions. And a bonus to get to hear in Florida as well. There is no other line Andy! Congratulations! You have earned thus and deserve it. We look forward to many years of the “non-retirement” ahead. 👍🏻🖖🏻

  6. Randall Sprinkle Says:

    Congratulations Andy!

    You are a great asset to the harp guitar world, your award was much deserved. Jayne and I enjoy your playing and your presence on and off stage.

  7. Drew Baldwin Says:

    Back in the late 70’s my then-girlfriend invited me to come to Spartanburg SC to hear a guitar player. I thought I was pretty good back then (boy, was I naive), playing bass in a fairly popular band as well as performing solo acoustic. Little did I know my entire life was about to change. I was fascinated and humbled by this guy performing on this cool guitar with extra bass strings and making it all sound so beautiful. Andy was just as kind and gracious then as he is now, and he spoke with me for some time after the show. I left that night determined to become a harp guitar player, and began actively searching for one the next day. Although it was 1991 before I found my first, I’m so grateful to Andy Wahlberg for introducing me to the greatest instrument in the world. Thank you, my friend!

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