Greetings guitar army… It is my pleasure to welcome you to our first annual Sleepwalk Guitar Festival. Whether you are a closet noodler or a seasoned pro, we are sincerely honoured that you chose to come out & celebrate what is still surely the world’s most exciting instrument. I believe we have managed to cull together a very impressive gang of players that truly humble, each & every one, to say nothing of the stunning force of this collective.

Some of these players are better known than others: Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis & Television’s Richard Lloyd have been creating unusual & truly original sounds while still pushing the instrument forward at times & from movements that often seemed bereft of ambitious guitar playing. That they found (& still find) the creativity & originality to maintain that trajectory amidst the glut of shoe-gazing & apathy that defined some of their peers is to the benefit of us all; that they did so while also making some truly powerful & beautiful music is quite remarkable. You may find yourself equally slack-jawed by the feral power of Ian Blurton, who when not producing some of the best Canadian rock & roll over the last 15 years, can be found torturing the strings of his Les Paul. Another player who manages to spare the guitar baby when the predictability of the rock & roll bathwater needs discarding.

Some resumes speak for themselves: Nashville ace Brent Mason, Austin TX icon & expat Canadian Redd Volkaert, & Alberta’s Amos Garrett come to mind. These three are legendary for bending ears & strings in ways that mortals never thought possible. They are the kinds of players that often inspire laughter at the implausibility of their depth. They are notorious for blending mind altering technique & sublime harmonic sophistication but magically, without ever losing us to the esoteric.

Some have been called to save us from the things we love. As a blues player Duke Robillard is nothing short of a giant. While the popularity of the blues, as we think we know it, has been on the wane for the last 2 decades, it has (& will remain) up to the cream of the cream to remind us that we need it. This is a man who can solo for 48 bars (in a slow blues, no less) & have the audience roaring for more by bar 49. How one can spin such a web of intrigue with the simple note choices afforded by the blues (although anyone who feels that the blues is about pushing 5 notes around, clearly hasn’t heard Duke) will remain, to most of us, a mystery. Remember, there’s a reason Tom Waits hired him. Just when you thought the blues had all been played, Duke comes along to pull us from our slumber.

Colin James hails from the Canadian Prairies. Initially from Regina SK, Colin cut his musical teeth in the same wheat-rock cradle as Lenny Breau, who inspired Randy Bachmann & Neil Young in the 60s. In the 80’s Big Dave McLean & Brent Parkin inspired all who had the benefit of sitting in small blues bars when they played. Colin has navigated his way gracefully between Delta, Jump, Pop & what could only be described as Canadian Prairie Blues, which, to my ears sits somewhere between Austin & Memphis on the blues map. With Colin’s contribution, the blues workshop promises to be among the more inspired events of our inaugural outing.

Having grown up in Winnipeg, in the heart of this long legacy, I had the pleasure of honing my chops amidst some very inspirational pickers. Grant Siemens is a player who’s name will someday be whispered in similarly reverential tones as that of Mason or Volkaert or Garrett. A more slippery Tele man there may not be. While still relatively (criminally) unknown, Jay Nowicki is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard. When we were15 he was the perfect blend between Hound Dog Taylor & Billy Gibbons. Today he is simply J. Like Robbillard, his genius is hard to define. The note choices are simple, yet the difference between the blues of most & the blues of the anointed is nothing shy of breath-taking. Jay is a national treasure. I long ago learned not to hold my breathe when I solo but I suspect I always will when Jay does. Christine Bougie, James Robertson, Afie Jurvanen & Kurt Swinghammer are household names to those of us who value, employ & listen to the journeymen (& women) responsible for so much of the music played & recorded in & around Toronto. These are players who’s sensitivity & creativity make them “go to” players when you are looking for that something special–but you really have no idea what that is until you hear it. There really is a “Toronto sound”– just ask anyone from other parts of Canada– and you’d be hard pressed to find players who have contributed more to it than these.

The Sadies are a Canadian institution. As brothers, Dallas & Travis Good possess a telepathic voodoo that, with Travis’s blinding right hand & Dallas’s cascading echo-soaked ambience, makes for one of the best guitar duos in the history of the genre. This is a band that channels the good stuff. Shades of Burritos, Willie, Wray & Young abound.

You may have noticed a few holes in the program. Where’s the jazz? What about finger-style guru? No bluegrass?? Metal Shredders??These are fair observations and the absence of these types of players is not simply an oversight. In many cases, guitarists we reached out to were not available, were outside our fiscal reach, or declined for other reasons. In the future, we will endeavour to cover other, if not all bases. For the first year of Sleepwalk, I am very pleased to present a line-up that both caters to a wide variety of musical palates and at the same time represents many of the subjective qualities & players that I hold dear. As the curator, I have taken a few self-serving liberties that I know you will all benefit from.

Welcome & enjoy!
Luke Doucet.


photos by Dan Hinde