Guitars are lifeless, resonant boxes of engineered wood and strings, tuned in fourths, in the corner of the stage, collecting dust, instruments of torture (in the wrong hands) that make you want to pay your tab and split.
But every so often, the right player picks one up, their practiced fingers fly up and down the neck, and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. There’s a hybrid human/machine going on, which instantly becomes the worthy object of praise and hyperbole.
One of those players is Robert Messore, a New Haven resident and the founder of Fabulous Guitar Night, a ten-year-old celebration of the guitar and some of the best six-stringers around at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Messore, who plays in several local bands, moved to Elm City 1995 and quickly made it his goal to help develop a local acoustic-music scene.
“I put on festivals, small shows,” Messore says. “Now I’m doing a lot less organizing but there’s a lot more going on... I don’t think I was a huge part in generating that, but I think I was a small part in getting some of that together.”
This year’s lineup includes blues guitarist Ron Anthony, world-music mavens Judy Handler and Mark Levesque, bluegrass players Betsy Rome, Dan Carlucci and Korey Brodskey, lap steel player Dan Bonis and several other top-shelf acts.
“It’s one of the only events that I find myself genuinely motivated to grow,” Messore says. “I really see it take on a life of its own. The performers love it, and the audience gets into it.”
Fabulous Guitar Night has outgrown its space. Last year was standing-room-only, and this year is on pace to repeat. Messore says the event probably should be a two-night festival in a larger hall, but he wanted to feel the energy of a small, familiar setting one last time. “I don’t know if it will sound cheesy, but I want to encourage the performers to use it as an opportunity to connect with each other and with the audience, to stay for the whole night even if they are only playing for a few minutes,” he says. “One of my favorite things about Fabulous Guitar Night is to see the performers in the back of the room enjoying the music.”
Guitarist Shawn Persinger, one half of Prester John (David Miller is the other half), has been on board since the first year. “I had known [Robert] for three months,” Persinger says. “He told me he was doing this guitar thing. There were probably 40 people in the audience in the side room of St. John’s Church, very intimate. I can’t remember how many performances there were. The next year, there was a slightly bigger crowd. Three or four years ago, we moved into the main area of the church, and there were 300-plus people there. It was jam-packed.”
What’s most interesting, for Persinger, is the variety of styles represented, from bluegrass to heavy metal to Schubertian art songs. Messore, he says, is a “an odd mix of modesty and -- I don’t want to say ego, but before the first guitar night he said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be on the radio. Would you like to come and play?’ We did Steve Winters’ WNPR show, and all I could think of was, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you got me on one of the biggest shows on the radio.” … It’s the magnanimous generosity of who Robert is and I’d like to think that if I got invited to do a radio show, I’d bring someone else.”
Messore’s fairly certain the allure of the guitar, at least as far as players are concerned, has to do with its flexibility.
“The more people innovate and develop ideas about how the guitar can be expressive, the more interesting it becomes,” he says. “There’s all this potential for expression and different kinds of music, and it’s still very portable.”
10th Annual Fabulous Guitar Night, Dec. 3, 7 p.m., St. John's Episcopal Church, 400 Humphrey St., New Haven
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Robert Messore's Fabulous Guitar Night gears up for its tenth anniversary
Robert Messore. (Marilyn Catasus Photo)