Guitar magic at Kimberley’s Studio 64

Review of Don Alder Live at Studio 64 concert, February 11, 2017:

Guitarist Don Alder

Guitarist Don Alder

Mike Redfern

Walking out the door of Centre 64 last Saturday night after the Don Alder concert I overheard a woman in front of me exclaim breathlessly to her companion, “That was awesome!” Despite the fact that “awesome” is a badly overused term these days – my granddaughters use it to mean “good” or even “OK” – on this occasion I had to agree; Don Alder had left me in awe. His concert was pure guitar magic.

Now I am not a musician. I learned three chords on a guitar 60 years ago and to this day I can still only play those same three chords. So my understanding of what the ninety of us in the audience at Studio 64 had just experienced is decidedly not technical. I can only tell it how I heard it.

If there had been a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist on stage that evening then I could have understood how the complex rhythms and sounds were created. But there was just Don Alder. He is described as fingerstyle guitarist but the description is insufficient to describe a style of playing that includes percussive tapping of the fret board and guitar body to create the drum-like accompaniment to the strumming and finger-picking of both left and right hands. The only other time I have heard percussive guitar playing was accompanying flamenco dancing, but this was altogether different. The rhythms were as varied as the tunes, all originals by Don Alder, as far as I could make out, certainly no recognizable cover tunes among them, all emanating from Don’s varied experiences in life, and defying categorization as to genre, ‘though there were some rockin’ rhythms among them, for sure.

And what an interesting life he has led. Between songs he told anecdotes about it. Growing up in Williams Lake he was a friend of Rick Hansen’s and accompanied him on the Man in Motion tour in 1985. It was his experience with Hansen on the Great Wall of China during the tour that inspired one of the night’s tunes, ‘The Wall’. Other tunes were inspired by happenings in the world, like ‘Not A Planet’ about the decision to remove Pluto from the list of the sun’s planets, and ‘Dancing With The Spin Doctors’ reflecting on the recent American presidential election. After dining on dog meat in China he wrote ‘Wok the Dog’, before learning that a wok is not Chinese at all.

His stories were often amusing, his delivery straight forward, simple, and unaffected, quite a contrast to the complexity and sophistication of his music.

Alder has been recognized internationally with a number of awards. He was the 2007 International Fingerstyle Guitar champion, won the Guitar Superstar competition in 2010 and the world-wide Guitar Idol contest in London in 2011, the latter playing a guitar held together with duct tape after he had broken it in a demonstration before a Williams Lake audience the previous evening of the unbreakable construction of a new soft guitar case.

Alder once performed with astronaut Chris Hadfield and has appeared with a host of music stars. His latest album, ‘Armed and Dangerous’ was nominated for the 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and the Western Canadian Music Awards. The title piece was featured in Saturday’s concert.

Yamaha Guitars and Ray’s Music donated a Yamaha guitar as a door prize on Saturday night, which was won with a holler of delight by Sonya Parker. MC Keith Nicholas thanked Yamaha and Ray and also the Burrito Grill for their sponsorship. And the audience’s appreciation of Don Alder’s wizardry was expressed in a standing ovation that garnered two more tunes from this very likeable musician.

For a much more erudite explanation and description of the Don Alder concert go to Rod Wilson’s blog on the Internet.

The next concert in the Live at Studio 64 concert series will be on March 18 when the Silver Screen Scoundrels will perform in the Theatre at Centre 64 in front of the big screen on which a silent movie will be projected. They will be followed April 5 by the Sultans of String, also in the theatre, and on May 13 by the Jason Buie Band back in Studio 64, by which time the new portable stage should be installed to improve visibility for the audience. All concerts start at 8 p.m. and tickets are available from Centre 64 (250-427-4919) or online at