More Than a Festival

By Beacon Staff

Every summer for the past three years, some of the biggest names in the guitar world have gathered on the shores of Flathead Lake to teach, learn and play as part of the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival and Workshop.

It’s an event that has grown exponentially since it took root in 2009, and now in its fourth year, the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation says its annual workshop and concert series is better than ever.

“It’s bigger in every way this year,” David Hunt, executive director at COCGF, said.

This year’s workshop and festival take place Aug. 25 through Sept. 1, with classes taught by some of the greatest guitar talent in the world today: Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour, Robben Ford, Scott Tennant, Livingston Taylor, Mac McAnally, Daryl Stuermer and more.

Those seeking to learn from such talent come to Bigfork for a week, along with their families, to soak up the atmosphere. And for those who want to experience the music but aren’t taking classes, the COCGF hosts public concerts nearly every evening of the week.

Tickets for these events are going quickly, COCGF co-founder and chairman David Feffer said, and the Pat Metheny Trio concert on Aug. 28 is already sold out.

The workshop has roughly 65 students signed up, Hunt said, with 20 scholarship students expected as well. Such growth in only four years is exciting, Hunt said, but the goal may not be to continue such unfettered increases.

“There are some constraints with this one week event; there are other ways it can grow,” Hunt said. “The vision is much bigger.”

Like many grand ideas, the inception of the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation began with a group of friends gathered in a kitchen late at night, trying to figure out how to change their world.

It had been an evening of fun, family, friends and lasagna, Feffer said, and of course, there had been music. The group had just done a house guitar concert to complement a recent fundraising concert they had played at the Flathead Lake Lodge, and were gathered around a cozy kitchen and a bottle of bourbon; they wanted to figure out how to make this good feeling last.

“We thought, ‘There ought to be more of this,’” Feffer said.

What could have remained a pipe dream among friends quickly gained traction, as they pushed for what seemed like an impossible deadline: planning a major guitar festival and workshop with big name instructors and artists, all in nine months.

The first year’s festival hitched its wagon to the excitement around Glacier National Park’s centennial, and the word began to spread throughout the national music community.

Word of mouth among the musicians has been key in developing the festival and workshop series, Feffer said, as well as partnerships with various guitar-centric organizations.

For example, COCGF recently forged a sponsor relationship with TrueFire, an online guitar-teaching organization with about 500,000 people on its emailing list, Hunt said.

A guitar autographed by past artists and staff hangs on the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation offices in Bigfork. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

But Feffer and Hunt also have their sights set on developing the COCGF as more than just an annual festival and workshop. The idea behind the foundation was to foster an internationally recognized center for guitar study, composition and performance.

Feffer’s vision sees the Flathead Valley becoming to the art of guitar what Florence, Italy is to sculpture and painting. But such happenings would have to be organic, he said, with the COCGF helping to foster the environment to support the guitar community.

“We want to create an environment where good things happen,” Feffer said. “You can’t force it.”

Already, the weeklong workshops and festival have helped bring musicians together who might not have met otherwise, Feffer said, with several large compositions forthcoming, including one between Metheny and the LA Guitar Quartet.

To further the goal of a guitar mecca, the COCGF hopes to host shorter events throughout the year, and get into the schools more with established guitarists teaching and nurturing the budding talent.

The COCGF also wants to build relationships within the valley, Feffer said, and it has reached out to the Glacier Symphony and Chorale as well as the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts for collaborations.

By expanding its reach in the community and possibly adding events throughout the year, the COCGF will be able to keep its flagship workshop and festival week at a manageable size, Feffer said, which is one of the main draws for major artists throughout the country.

“We want it to stay intimate,” Feffer said. “When people play here, they’re really different from anywhere else – there’s a new level of spontaneity and joy.”

For more information on the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival and Workshop, visit www.cocguitarfoundation.org.

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