By Zach Hagadone
Every summit needs ambassadors and, look as you might, you’re not likely to find better artists to represent the beauty, complexity and possibilities of the guitar than Leon Atkinson; The Tonedevil Brothers, a.k.a. Anthony and David Powell; and Mike Johnson.
These four masters of the instrument will come together for a series of concerts billed as Friends of the Guitar Hour Presents: Christmas Guitar Summit.
The kick-off takes place Thursday, Dec. 19 at the Heartwood Center, 615 Oak St., at 7:30 p.m., followed by appearances at the Jacklin Arts Center in Post Falls on Friday, Dec. 10; Holy Names Music in Spokane on Saturday, Dec. 21; and the Pearl Theater in Bonners Ferry on Sunday, Dec. 22. All shows at $25 and kids are welcome.
The invitation for children to attend is especially apt, as headliner Leon Atkinson can trace the origins of his long and prestigious career to an experience he had as a 3-year-old, when his father brought him along to a performance by folk-blues guitarist Josh White at the Apollo Theater in New York.
There, according to Guitar Summit organizers, “a light went on in Leon and still shines bright today. Leon’s love for the guitar has guided his path through life.”
That’s no exaggeration — Atkinson went on to become one of the preeminent classical guitarists in the country. From his studies in guitar at the age of 8 at the Henry Street Settlement, he fell under the tutelage of Cuban classical guitarist Albert Valdes Blain. He also attended the High School of Performing Arts — inspiration behind the TV show Fame — and rose to performing for figures such as poet Langston Hughes and legendary guitarist Andres Segovia, who said upon hearing Atinkson perform, “It is easy to see that you love what you do, muy bonita.”
After his time in Spain with Segovia, Atkinson served as chair of the Guitar Department at Jersey City State College and taught classical guitar in the extension division of Manhattan School of Music. Atkinson had his debut at Town Hall, New York City in 1974 and, a year later, played Carnegie Hall.
His work since then has included Broadway shows and ballet; he started the Classical Guitar Guild after moving West and has performed with the Spokane Symphony; started the Guitar Departments at Whitworth, Spokane Falls and North Idaho colleges; and heads the Guitar Department at Gonzaga University. Listeners to KPBX 91.1 Spokane Public Radio will be familiar with “Guitar Hour,” which Atkinson has long hosted on Thursdays from 11 a.m.-noon alongside Verne Windham.
Atop all that, Atkinson travels the world performing concerts and offering master classes to share his ever-brightly burning love for guitar.
As The Tonedevil Brothers, Sandpoint locals Anthony and David Powell have made their name as the best U.S. harp guitar manufacturer in more than a century. Their performances — conducted on their utterly unique instruments — combine original songs and arrangements drawn from the western swing, bluegrass, blues, singer-songwriter and Americana genres.
With Anthony on mandolin and vocals and David on the harp guitar, their “brotherly harmonies” mingle with a striking vintage sound that they have regularly brought to the International Harp Guitar Gathering and audiences throughout the western U.S.
Mike Johnson started his professional musical journey at the age of 16, when he began his studies in classical composition and theory at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Later transitioning to jazz composition and theory at San Francisco State University, in 2007 he founded the 8 Legged Monster — a 10-piece jazz ensemble that routinely sold out shows in San Fran’s hottest jazz clubs.
Drawing on his grounding in musical theory, Johnson accepted a commission from SF Jazz in 2010 to arrange and perform the work of iconic jazz composer Sun Ra, which he did to acclaim at the Amnesia Club.
Johnson went on to form more ensembles, including the 14-piece RayBand in tribute to Ray Charles and the 16-piece big band San Francisco Jazz Orchestra. He has called Idaho home since 2016, lending his talents to the regional music scene.
For more information on the Christmas Guitar Summit, visit xmasguitar.bpt.me.
Friends of the Guitar Hour Presents: Christmas Guitar Summit • Thursday, Dec. 19; 7:30 p.m.; $25. Heartwood Center, 615 Oak St., 208-263-8699, heartwoodsandpoint.com.
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