As the sun sets on a beautiful summer & Toronto prepares for the inevitable winter, we are finding ourselves gravitating towards the neglected 6 strings lying forlorn beneath sofas & tucked away in dusty corners of our basements. After a summer of lounging by the lake & working Bar-B-Qs, The Sleepwalk Guitar Festival is back for our second year, to help pull us back to our nervous, noodling passion of bending & plucking strings.

This year’s lineup is a continuation of some of the themes presented at last year’s three-day guitar extravaganza at the same time expanding our minds & ears with the culmination of some of the world’s finest pickers. We are proud and humbled to present a collection of what can only be described as masters.

A few years back I was invited to take part in a guitar throwdown with the likes of James Burton, Albert Lee & Colin Linden, as part of the World Folk Alliance Conference in memphis TN. I hid my shock at being invited, just long enough to get through the most exciting hour of my guitar life. Licks were traded, classics butchered, nods exchanged and minds blown (mine). Since that day, it has been a dream to recreate in Toronto, at least some of what transpired that day in Memphis, if for no other reason than to prove it to myself that it came to pass in the first place. Of course, the magic that can happen on any given stage may never be replicated but we’ll do the best we can. With legends like Lee, Burton & Linden in the house, we have as good a chance as any to inspire the fireworks we know can happen when players of this calibre are united. Take a moment to Google James Burton… Albert Lee. They’ve kept the company of some of the greatest songwriters & singers of all time and invented, reinvented & redefined country guitar playing along the way. Colin Linden, although currently living in Nashville, is widely regarded as one of Canada’s preeminent curators of Americana–on both sides of the border. From his work with a late rendition of the Band, to his current role as a member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Linden is establishing a legacy that will outlive all of us.

Part of the Sleepwalk mandate is to pay homage not only to the finest players we can find but also to players who have contributed to the finest music we can find. Last year we had Richard Lloyd of Television & J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr–two players who elevated the songs of these great bands to otherwise unlikely heights. I have always been a Wilco fan. Right back to their first LP “AM”, I’ve been a devotee of their post-alt-country, crazier-than-Crazy Horse anthems. Enter Nels Cline… Cline has been pushing the boundaries of improvisational jazz & New York experimental music (Is there such a genre??) for decades. His whirling right hand is, in itself, a thing to behold. When coupled with the endless array of textures & sounds at his disposal, we are at a loss to call his music jazz, rock, fusion…your call. The union between the atmospheric majesty & sublime lyrical ambitions of Wilco with the bravery & mastery of Nels Cline was nothing short of musical epiphany to music fans of many stripes. He almost single handedly closed the door on the alt-country chapter of not only Wilco but an entire culture of imitators, leaving Wilco holding the mantle at the vanguard of honest, ambitious, uncharted song craft & soundscape. We expect all the aural gymnastics you can imagine when Nels Cline graces our stage.

Junior Brown straddles the line between pioneer of guitar wizardry and flat out showman. His ten gallon hat is eclipsed (barely) by his most unorthodox technique of playing a 6 string Telecaster & a lap steel guitar simultaneously–as they are built into one monster instrument known as the guit-steel. The juggling act itself is enough for many but I have always bristled at gimmicks when they stand in for music. Fear not. Brown would be welcome at Sleepwalk if he showed up with nothing but a beat up Tele–and no hat–as he is a master of the slippery western swing licks that have become his trademark, whether he is pulling them from the lap steel or the working man’s axe. He will no doubt awe us with both.

Cindy Cashdollar is one of the absolute gems in the massive crown that is the Austin, Texas musical legacy. From Bob Dylan to Ryan Adams to Levon Helm & Rick Danko to Paul Butterfield, Cashdollar has shined the rough hewn works of some true masters, making her one of their peers. She will inspire the very exciting Steel Away workshop which will include Burke Carroll, Don Rooke and Bob Taillefer in what should leave our heads swirling from all the sliding wonder of steel guitars.

A Toronto guitar festival cannot really be said to sing for the city until it manages to present Kevin Breit. I made the mistake of trying to keep up with him one evening at the Hillside festival in Guelph. It was a bloodbath that I have only recently recovered from. He has shared the stage with too many to mention, although you may have seen him with Norah Jones in the past, or with his group, the Sisters Euclid, where he could be found torturing his Telecaster to within an inch of its life. There may not be another player alive who can confuse all other guitar players. Some are fast. Some are obscure. Some are lyrical, or beautiful–dangerous. Breit can be all the above in a single song. He is peerless.

Vancouver native Paul Pigat has been mistaken for Rockabilly rebel, Bluesman, country hobo and consummate jazzman. The fact is, he excels at so many genres that it might be unfair to tie him down. The one thing that can always be said for Pigat is that he delivers it all with taste & maturity and a sense of levity. Even when he is burning holes in his fingers (and your mind), he never gives the impression that he is working. This is the clearest indicator that the man has a guitar in his hands more than you…or me…or anyone we know. He is an unsung hero to many and a gift to all.

As per last year’s festival, we will be presenting workshops, which, depending on those involved, will range from traditional guitar jams to clinics on the minutiae of squeezing tones from your fingers & toys. Colin Cripps will lead a tone workshop that should shine some light on what you may need to find the sounds you have always hear on your favourite records. There are few people around who understand the history of Fender, Gibson, Vox, Martin, Marshall etc better. The combinations of the above that are required to make the “skronk”, “twang” & “splay” we hear in our heads is a science & an art form that many of us grapple with daily. Colin may be the closest thing to a silver bullet you’ll find when searching for answers. Colin brings decades of experience playing with Blue Rodeo, Jim Cuddy, Sarah McLachlan, Bryan Adams, Crash Vegas and others.

As you peruse this formidable list of players, you might think I simply chose my top ten favourites and after a few phone calls we had our festival. However, Shauna de Cartier (Six Shooter Records) & I spent months digging through our little black books & barking up trees to compile this roster. There are a million great guitar players out there. Here are a dozen of our favourites. I’m not sure there will be a better collection anywhere in the world than at the Great Hall in Toronto on November 2, 3 & 4.

We look forward to seeing you all very soon.


Luke Doucet
Curator, Sleepwalk Guitar Festival

»»» Read 2011’s Welcome Address by Luke Doucet HERE