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VCU's Guitars and Other Strings series highlights a variety of strumming styles.

A Meeting of the Strings


Fans of guitar music should check out the four-concert lineup for Virginia Commonwealth University's Guitar and Other Strings series this month. This is the series' eighth season, and each show features local and national guests performing in a variety of styles that should please a range of tastes. In addition, a guitar workshop is planned for players looking to improve their own licks.

Folk singer George Turman and multistylist Stephen Bennett open the series Friday, July 7, with a mix of vocals and instrumentals. Turman is a longtime Richmond-based performer who has been playing folk music for nearly 30 years. His take on the folk genre is wide-ranging, and he performs his new and traditional tunes in an engaging and warm style. Among many musical achievements, Turman has recorded four albums, composed music for The Discovery Channel and appeared on National Public Radio's "The Folk Sampler." He's shared the stage with national folk artists such as David Mallett, Bill Staines, Patty Larkin and Bill Morrissey, and he periodically performs with other area musicians in "Among Friends."

Virginia resident Stephen Bennett has also been playing for three decades, and he's shown his instrumental prowess on six-string, National steel resonator and harp guitars both here and abroad. Bennett won the National Flatpicking Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan., in 1987, and he's the only guitarist to win awards in both flatpicking and fingerpicking at this competition. Bennett is one of the few players in the world who performs on the harp guitar, and he's arranged classics and original material for the instrument. His beautiful arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite is a well-appreciated alternative to the traditional version.

In addition to sharing the bill with Turman, Bennett will hold a guitar workshop Saturday, July 8, at 11 a.m. The workshop is open to the public, and those interested are invited to bring a guitar. Bennett will offer critiques and suggestions to players of all abilities.

The second concert of the Guitars and Other Strings series features The Nashville Bluegrass Band on Friday, July 14. The quintet is acclaimed for its harmonies as well as its instrumental abilities, and the band's talents won it opening spots for Lyle Lovett and Mary Chapin Carpenter on past tours. Each of the band's albums received Grammy nomination honors, and the group is the only band to win back-to-back Entertainer of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association. The group has played countless festivals and has several Grand Ole Opry shows to its credit. Nashville Bluegrass sold out a Carnegie Hall performance and also has toured Europe, Iraq, Israel, Brazil and Japan. Each group member boasts impressive musical credits, and playing collectively as the Nashville Bluegrass Band, they make some of the sweetest sounds in the business.

Jazz singer Rene Marie with Jazzbone and guitarist Kevin Harding headline the series' third concert on Friday, July 21. Marie — formerly known as Rene Croan — burst on the jazz scene only recently but she's quickly gained critics' raves for her vocal chops. Born in Roanoke, Marie has no formal training but says she's been a lifelong student at "Fitzgerald-Vaughan University." She's often compared to those aforementioned jazz heroes, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, but Marie's style is all her own. Her new CD, "How Can I Keep From Singing" also received positive critical notice. Jazz and blues guitarist Kevin Harding will be a featured member of Marie's band. Harding is a 1998 VCU graduate who currently teaches at the University of Richmond.

The final concert of the series is Sunday, July 23, and it showcases the Virginia Commonwealth University Community Guitar Ensemble. Primarily composed of talented, nonprofessional musicians, the 20-member ensemble will perform a variety of music including bluegrass tunes, Baroque classics, compositions by Gershwin and Ravel, and a newly commissioned folk-based piece. The ensemble was established in 1986 although only one or two original members remain.

Guitars and other strings
All concerts will be held in the VCU Performing Arts Center concert hall, 922 Park Ave. Call 828-1166 for details.

Friday, July 7, 8 p.m. — George Turman and Stephen Bennett, $10
Saturday, July 8, 11 a.m. — Stephen Bennett guitar workshop in room B-15 at the VCU Performing Arts Center, $15
Friday, July 14, 8 p.m. — The Nashville Bluegrass Band, $15.
Sunday, July 23, 4 p.m. — The VCU Community Guitar Ensemble with guests, free

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