Dreaming Big in Bigfork

By Beacon Staff

When the minds behind the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation decided they wanted to create a musical and creative hotspot in Bigfork, they didn’t waste any time starting small.

“We had big goals from the beginning, and I think that’s key. If you set small goals you’re going to end up in a small place,” David Feffer, founder and chairman of the COCGF, said. “From the beginning, we said we wanted to become a leading international center for the guitar and everything we’ve done has been toward that.”

Now headed into its fifth year, the foundation’s annual workshop and guitar festival, to be held this year from Aug. 24-31, continues to grow in breadth and depth, with new, world-renowned artists scheduled to participate as artists-in-residence.

This year, audiences and workshop attendees will hear from John Oates of Hall and Oates fame; guitarist and composer David Leisner; singer and songwriter Shelby Lynne; contemporary blues artist Ana Popovich; guitarist Lee Ritenour; and jazz guitarist Mike Stern.

Past performances have included the LA Guitar Quartet, Pat Metheny, and more musical legends descending on the village by Flathead Lake. The speed at which the festival’s popularity has grown has come down to a few chance meetings and old-fashioned perseverance, Feffer said.

For example, during the first year, Feffer approached Ritenour about hosting his International Six String Theory Competition in Bigfork the next year, and Ritenour agreed.

It was hosted at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts for the next two years, Feffer said, and while the COCGF benefited from the international attention, Ritenour got the benefit of the foundation board’s marketing and business experience.

This idea of collaboration has only helped promote the festival, he said, such as last year’s new partnership with the Glacier Symphony and Chorale to help promote the classical music concert.

“If you approach what you’re doing in an insular way, I think that’s short sighted,” Feffer said. “We started it out from the beginning being totally open.”
Feffer’s collaboration with Ritenour led to the two of them attending the 47th Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland last year. This year, Ritenour is going to be a judge in the jazz competition there, and due to a new partnership with the Swiss festival, the winner of that competition will get a spot in the COCGF workshop, along with a stay at the Flathead Lake Lodge.

Another new partnership is that with the Nature Conservancy, for which the COCGF is producing an original composition and will work with videographers on the conservancy’s Crown of the Continent project.

In addition, the COCGF is establishing a relationship with jazz organizations and schools in Harlem, and hopes to host those students during the summer workshop.

The foundation is also discussing having its own channel on TrueFire, a major online guitar instruction and lessons website.

While it’s been necessary to reach out across the country and now the globe, Feffer said some of the most important relationships the foundation has
developed have been within the Flathead Valley itself.

Promoting the guitar foundation as an epicenter of creativity works because of the surroundings, he said, and because of the talent within the people living here.

“This is a unique place. If one can harness its power, I think that’s part of it,” Feffer said. “This is a special place, with a lot of people in this valley who have accomplished big things.”

Along with tapping the natural resources in the valley – both landscape and human – Feffer said a lot of the foundation’s success has come down to luck: Being in the right place at the right time, recognizing you’re in that place, and having the skills to do something about it.
And when everything else is falling into place, having a shared vision with the rest of the foundation and the plan to reach its goals in incremental steps is the way to keep sustainable growth.

“It’s been done in an incremental way so we could handle it,” Feffer said. “Where people screw up is when your eyes are too big for your stomach.”
For more information on the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation, visit www.cocguitarfoundation.org.


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