Leo Kottke

City Winery (Nashville)

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Photos by Ann Spooner

Steve Winwood gave an interview in the mid-seventies to a guitar magazine advising anyone who wants to study guitar to listen to Leo Kottke—if only to become aware of its possibilities. I’ve been listening to Kottke before Winwood offered that sage advice, and I’ve often passed the message on to my guitar students. Today, Kottke is still exploring the possibilities of his instrument at a time when he could long be lounging on his laurels.

His show at Nashville’s City Winery was well attended by an appreciative crowd of all ages. Kottke kicked things off with an always-changing medley of instrumentals that he uses to adjust his ear (only one functions) to the acoustical changes in every room. He soon settled in and several hundred of us were as comfortable as if we were listening to him in his living room.

Many of his standard classics were met with applause upon the first few notes coming out of his Taylor 6 and 12 string guitars. To his credit as an artist, many of those Kottke set staples e.g. “The Fisherman,” were treated to variations that have further enhanced them as well as new material, some that were instrumental pieces years ago but now sport lyrics. Kottke is still a work in progress.

Of course no Kottke concert, would be complete without one or two of his highly humorous offbeat tales, delivered in his friendly baritone, a voice that suits the material he sings. Paul Siebel’s “Louise” is a good example; the first words were met with huge applause and the song was a mild show stopper—I first heard him sing it in Central Park in 1973.

Of the wide variety of stories told, his appreciation for the talents and long friendship of singer/guitarist Michael Johnson, who passed away last month resonated strongest for me. He called Michael the first professional musician he ever met. “He was a professional, because he really knew what he was doing.” He followed that with “Mona Ray,” a beautiful instrumental they both wrote and recorded on the Dreams and All That Stuff album.

For icing on the cake, I find the City Winery to be the finest medium-sized venue in all of Nashville. They present a wide variety of music seven days a week, with fine food, wine, great sound and sightlines. From the moment you arrive at the door, the hospitality and professionalism is at the fore, right up until the time the parking valet asks if you enjoyed the show and bids you a good evening. Good? It was great!

—Ken Spooner

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