Grammy-winning guitar master Ed Gerhard played an intimate sold-out concert last Friday at Hilo Ukulele & Guitar for a crowd of about 50 people. Never using a setlist, Gerhard plays whatever comes to mind. His 90-minute performance was filled with beautiful melodies and background stories for each song.
For his Big Island debut concert, Gerhard brought with him two unique acoustic guitars – both made by Breedlove Guitars, the Ed Gerhard Signature Model guitar, and a Hawaiian Weissenborn style hollow-neck made from figured Myrtle wood. He held up the latter for the audience to appreciate its stunning craftsmanship. It was a treat since most of the time it’s either on his lap or off to the side in a stand. Using a steel bar slide for the song “Rye Whiskey Mash,” the Weissenborn’s bass notes resonated through a Bose subwoofer which was pure joy for those us in the first few rows.
Gerhard talked about his teenage years in Pennsylvania and when he first learned how to play the guitar. “I took lessons in a place not much bigger than this music store,” reminisced Gerhard. “It was in a stuffy backroom with Mr. Stewart, a nerdy type guy who wore a churchly-white shirt with a pocket protector.” Gerhard said he quickly grew tired of trying to learn songs with silly animal titles and from a book of Dylan tunes that had the chords wrong, adding, “It was probably written by some jazz piano player!”
Gerhard gave up on the music store and took lessons from a neighborhood college kid who turned him on to country blues singer/guitarist Mississippi John Hurt. “I gave up my dreams to be Segovia and wanted to become a 78-year-old black man,” joked Gerhard. The guitarist then segued into one of the first tunes he learned, “Great Dream From Heaven,” a folk song adapted by Joseph Spence.
In between songs, Gerhard sometimes picked up a nail file to make sure his fingernails, that double as picks, worked properly. “Sometimes it sounds like players have a lobster claw for a right hand,” kidded Gerhard. He asked if any guitar players were in the crowd, but only two people raised their hands. Most came to hear his interesting arrangements of songs like Joni Mitchell’s classic “Both Sides Now.” The New Hampshire guitarist said he hopes to include it on his next album, a collection of cover tunes.
Toward the end of his set, Gerhard mentioned the late Hawaiian slack key guitarist Cyril Pahinui, and how he got to hang out with him at the Southern California Slack Key Guitar Festival and record with him on Arlo Guthrie’s 1996 album Mystic Journey. While at the festival, Gerhard watched Pahinui play “Isa Lei,” a Fijian farewell song. He dedicated the tune to Pahinui who passed away last November in Honolulu.
Closing out his set, Gerhard performed the beautiful “The Water is Wide.” Applause and cheers followed along with shouts of “Hana Hou!” Confused by the Hawaiian phrase, he smiled, pulled back his long silver ponytail, and asked, “What’s that?” “An encore,” someone yelled from the crowd. Gerhard replied, “Oh,” sat down and played the touching “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.”
House of the Rising Sun | Brothers | Beatles Medley: If I Fell/In My Life | Rye Whiskey Mash | The Wayfaring Stranger/Shallow Down | Only A Hobo (aka Great Dream from Heaven) |On A Pennsylvania Hill | Both Sides Now | untitled | How Can A Poor Man Face Such Times and Live? | Killing The Blues | Isa Lei | The Water is Wide
Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Keep up with Ed Gerhard’s music and tours here: https://virtuerecords.com
Support local music instrument stores like Hilo Ukulele & Guitar: https://www.facebook.com/hiloukuleleandguitar/
Read my interview with Ed Gerhard here: https://bigislandmusic.net/talking-story-with-ed-gerhard/
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
All photos: Steve Roby