A female electric guitarist is being featured as an Artist-In-Residence for the first time this year at the internationally acclaimed Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival & Workshop August 24-31 in Bigfork, Montana, this summer – and she’s American Blues Scene cover girl Ana Popovic!
In a real nod to Popovic’s stature as a guitarist who can hold her own with the world’s best, she joins the exclusive ranks of previous Artists-In-Residence (AIRs) like Robben Ford and Joe Bonamassa.
Although the Crown Fest clearly respects the blues, it also brings in the world’s finest jazz, classical and acoustic guitarists. Arriving this year to teach clinics and perform will be jazz/fusion superstar Mike Stern, rocker Dweezil Zappa, Americana singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne, session legend Lee Ritenour, classical guitar master David Leisner, and blue-eyed-soul hit-maker John Oates of Hall & Oates.
Oates also has a deep appreciation for the blues, as shown by his excellent solo albums Mississippi Mile (2011) and The Bluesville Sessions (2012), and songs like “Lost in Louisiana” from 2013’s Good Road to Follow. “Before I met Daryl Hall,” Oates tells American Blues Scene, “my roots were in traditional American music — everything from Appalachian to Delta blues and early R&B. To me it’s all one big melting pot.
“I had the good fortune to take guitar lessons from a guy named Jerry Ricks in the mid-‘60s in Philadelphia,” Oates continues, “Jerry worked at the Second Fret Coffee House and became friends with many of the folk and blues performers who came through the city. Many would stay at his house while they were in town, so I got to sit in the living room with guys like Mississippi John Hurt, Doc and Merle Watson, Skip James and others.
“When Daryl and I recorded our first album in New York we asked Jerry to play on a few songs, and he brought Mississippi John’s Guild guitar (given to him after John Hurt passed away) to the sessions. I played that guitar on all the acoustic songs on the first two Hall & Oates albums. So this music is very near and dear to my heart, and when I perform solo I always include a lot of traditional material.”
The nonprofit Crown of the Continent Foundation gives scholarships to rising young guitar stars, and this year’s breakout scholarship student just might be Harlem’s “King” Solomon Hicks, a teenage prodigy whose website proclaims he is “carrying on the torch of the blues.” He’s been the lead guitarist for the Cotton Club’s All Stars Band since he was 13 and is already blues/jazz phenom with real showmanship, musicality and soul.
Hicks told American Blues Scene, “It will be my first show in Montana so it’s going be memorable for me. I plan to give the audience a taste of what a born-and-raised NYC musician/entertainer has to offer!” Hicks added, “I’m excited about discovering my own voice musically, along with writing my own music–learning how to put my own taste, soul and spin into what ever song I play, whether it be one of my original songs or a cover song.”
As for Popovic, she will encourage Crown Guitar Workshops students attending her clinics to develop their own signature sound. As the Serbian slinger notes, “That’s what the great blues players I admire had. They had signature phrasing and tones that identified each of them as unique guitarists. You can identify B.B. King or Albert Collins almost immediately. Same goes for Robert Cray or Stevie Ray Vaughan.”
Popovic will share insights into how she blends jazz and funk influences into the blues to make it her own. “It’s very important to be different, to come up with your own sound and phrasing,” Popovic explains. She suggests that guitarists “try to listen to many other instruments, not just to guitar players. Try to nail down a saxophone solo or a piano solo. You’ll come up with unique ways to phrase.”
Finally, she adds, “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, no matter what level you are at. If you seeking to play as yourself and not trying to mimic someone else – you are already offering something unique–and that already makes it good!”
If you’re as passionate about the guitar as Popovic and Hicks are, you might consider attending Crown this August. Morning workshop classes, afternoon AIR clinics and evening festival concerts are all held at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge, a family-owned luxury dude ranch that has hosted presidents and gangsters (it was a favorite hideout of Bugsy Siegel) with equal panache since 1945. Founder David Feffer and his staff have attracted top-notch faculty—including Matt Smith, one of the best blues/slide guitar teachers around. The guitar geeking continues late into the night with open mics and jams at local watering holes and at the lodge.
Meals are taken family-style in the log cabin main lodge, which encourages a lot of easygoing interaction between students, teachers and AIRs. The Lodge is on the banks of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. It’s also around thirty-five minutes from Glacier National Park–one of the most spectacular natural environments on earth, and the reason this region is called the “Crown of the Continent.”
To register for this year’s Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop & Festival, visit Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop & Festival Official Website.
The Crown Guitar Festival Official Line-Up Video
Solomon Hicks – Live in Denmark
Matt Smith – Slide Guitar Lesson