>> Guitar hero Tommy Emmanuel is known to pick with the best
You’ve got to have serious chops if you’re going to match fingers on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Jake Shimabukuro. As displayed on many YouTube videos of the duo, Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, pictured inset, has shown he has them.
Emmanuel will play solo on Friday at Hawaii Theatre Center, and it promises to be a great show. He’s twice been named Best Acoustic Guitarist in Guitar Player magazine’s readers’ poll. With nearly 30 albums and two Grammy nominations to his credit over the last three decades, he’s shown there isn’t a popular tune he can’t reimagine into something uniquely his own.
Emmanuel drew inspiration from hearing the great guitarist Chet Atkins at age 7. On his own, he began to explore Atkins’ virtuosic fingerpicking technique and mastered it, even forming a mystical connection of sorts with Atkins to learn one of his techniques.
“I wanted so badly to be able to play harmonics, and I couldn’t figure it out,” Emmanuel said in an interview for the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society in 1997. “And I had had a dream, and in the dream Chet comes out onstage in a tuxedo, with a Gretsch guitar and he sits down and starts playing some of his greatest harmonic licks, and he walks off, and that was the end of the dream. The next morning I woke up and I could do it.”
Even though he often plays solo, Emmanuel sees himself as a bandleader, transforming his instrument into an ensemble.
“I think like a band, and that’s different about what I do,” he said at a TED Talk in Melbourne in 2014. “I think like a band when I play, and when I write, and when I perform. And that’s how I hear music.”
>> Where: Hawaii Theatre
>> When: 8 p.m. Friday
>> Cost: $39.50-$59.50
>> Info: 528-0506, hawaiitheatre.com
>> Justin Willman amazes and amuses
Magician/comedian Justin Willman already has one big fan from Hawaii: Barack Obama. Willman performed for the president and his family at the White House for Halloween in 2011.
“President Obama started a standing ovation, which was awesome, and was kind of like a positive heckler throughout the show,” Willman told the Dayton Daily News in 2013. “Stuff would happen and he would say, ‘Where did that bowling ball come from?’ or ‘How in the heck did you do that?’ Everyone got a kick out of the president getting a kick out of the show.”
Willman comes to The Republik for two shows with his latest project, “Magic for Humans,” now a Netflix series in its second season. The magic itself might be familiar — sleight of hand, illusions, card tricks — but his setups make for some great entertainment. He’ll convince someone that he’s made him or her invisible — he hasn’t — then watch as the person wanders around, goofing around with others in the crowd. Or he’ll have people fake amazement, then amaze them for real. It’s as much as about audience reaction as it is the trick.
Willman got started in magic after a childhood accident, in which he injured both arms. A doctor recommended learning magic as a form of physical therapy, and soon he was performing at friends’ birthday parties. The host of Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars,” from 2009 to 2013, he’s recently become a father and created “Drunk History”-like parodies in which he and his wife, photographer Jill Sipkins, talk about marriage and parenthood.
“MAGIC FOR HUMANS”
Featuring Justin Willman
>> Where: The Republik
>> When: 7 and 10 p.m. Friday
>> Cost: $29-$44
>> Info: 941-7469, jointherepublik.com
>> “Ode to Joy” inspires opera singer like playoffs
The Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra’s annual “Ode to Joy” concert is a bit late this season, but it will be worth it.
Ta‘u Pupu‘a, the former pro football player turned opera singer, pictured at left, has gathered fellow singers Marsha Thompson, winner of the Opera Orchestra of New York Vocal Competition and the Enrico Caruso Awards Competition, baritone SeungHyeon Baek and mezzo-soprano Maya Hoover, voice professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, to sing the triumphant Beethoven symphony this year. The Oahu Choral Society also performs, led by Esther Yoo.
Pupu‘a offered his talents and those of his colleagues to the symphony after organizing some holiday concerts here and then learning of the local tradition.
“The music itself is exciting, so it always puts the audience in a happy mode,” he said in a brief interview. “It’s the first piece I’ll be doing for the New Year.”
Baek, as the baritone, will be making the famous first vocal entry. Then, as the tenor, Pupu‘a will get “to shine a little” during the second aria. “It’s like a march,” Pupu‘a said of his aria. “The timing itself is happy. You just have to know your music and sing it with so much joy and happiness.”
This being the football season, Pupu‘a has also been keeping an eye on the playoffs, having played in the NFL before an injury cut his career short. He sees a lot of similarities between sports and opera: “You’re out there to entertain people,” he said. “In both, you’re on a stage. You put on a costume — one is a wig, the other is a helmet. And everyone in the opera world, I’ve noticed, everyone wants to be quarterback. They want to throw that touchdown.”
Symphony artistic director JoAnn Falletta, pictured inset above, returns to direct the symphony in Tchaikovsky’s diabolical tone poem “Francesca da Rimini,” inspired by the romantic tragedy from Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
“ODE TO JOY”
>> Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
>> When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday
>> Cost: $36-$95
>> Info: 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
>> Old Dominion dominates country music
It took some time for things to come together for Old Dominion, but when they did, they came together big time.
Many of the members of the Nashville-based group (they have ties to Virginia, hence the name of the group) had been writing songs for other, better-known artists. Matthew Ramsey, guitarist and lead vocalist, wrote “Chainsaw” for The Band Perry and “Save It for a Rainy Day” for Kenny Chesney. Trevor Rosen also wrote for The Band Perry, and Blake Shelton performed his “Sangria.”
Then they decided to play together.
Joined by drummer Whit Sellers, bass guitarist Geoff Sprung and guitarist Brad Tursi, the band debuted with an EP in 2014. It featured their breakout hit, “Break Up With Him,” with the opening line, “Hey girl — whassup?” That hint of hip-hop insouciance was enough to announce that this band would be something different. And while many of their songs also have that classic, country ballad sound, band members also mix in some pop and metal to go with their clever lyrics.
The result? “I went from being a broke songwriter to selling out arenas,” Ramsey recently told Rolling Stone magazine.
They’ve produced three hit albums, “Meat and Candy,” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Country charts, and two No. 1 albums, “Happy Endings,” (2017) and an eponymous album just released in October, which is still in the top 10. The album features the wistfully romantic “One Man Band,” which Ramsey has called the band’s first true love song, and “Make It Sweet,” co-written with Shane McAnally, which became the group’s seventh No. 1 single.
>> Where: Blaisdell Arena
>> When: 8 p.m. Sunday
>> Cost: $48-$63.50 (VIP $199)
>> Info: ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
>> Note: Old Dominion also performs Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center; visit mauiarts.org for information