Images, guitar combine in unique show
By Lou Fancher
In an era that tosses aside 1-year-old phones like they are potato chips gone stale, there is nothing throwaway in the indelible music of acoustic guitarist Brian Gore or the resonant art of illustrator Bill Russell.
Joining forces May 5 at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater to present “Wine Country Tales,” the artists’ live show is a virtual trip through California wine country. And like a magic carpet, the performance is perfect propulsion to enter the city’s annual Wine Country Downtown Street Fest weekend May 6-7.
But even if not used as a springboard into two-day revelry in wine and beer tasting, outdoor dining, 300 vendors’ arts and crafts offerings and a family fun zone in the historic downtown, there’s long-lasting pleasure and purpose in their sonic and visual narrative. Memories linger — and a raffle to win one of the Livermore Performing Arts Center’s wine boxes with proceeds going to LVPAC’s Education Fund benefits future generations.
Marketing manager Roberta Emerson says the three Tri-Valley wines curated from Nottingham Cellars, Cuda Ridge Wines and Mia Nipote each earned Gold Medal awards in the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The education fund supports school field trips, free family activities and other community outreach programs.
Symbiotic crossover is the energy that drove Gore, a renowned fingerstyle solo guitarist and founder of International Guitar Night — a popular item on the Bankhead’s annual calendar — to collaborate with Russell. Like good wine and charitable causes, the rippling, rhythmic lines spread by Gore meld impeccably with Russell’s fluid, vibrant storytelling imagery.
While Gore performs music drawn from folk tunes or inspired by wax cylinder recordings from the Spanish Colonial era and other period- and location-specific sources, Russell’s live animation brings to life California coasts, forests, rivers, vineyards, historic architecture and more.
Live-drawing on an iPad, the owls, butterflies, vintners and industrious pioneers set in scenes of fires and disasters or victorious harvests in Sonoma, Napa and Tri-Valley wine country bring urgency to the well-researched histories presented. Well or little-known landmarks include the historic Bale Grist Mill in St. Helena; Jack London’s ‘Wolf House’ in Glen Ellen, a profile of Karl Wente and more.
In every show, Russell says there is a “your town” live-drawing section. To prepare for Livermore, he researched the town, ranchers and fruit orchards, learning about trains that carried huge barrels of wine from the area and admiring architectural restorations, like the Schenone building.
“I found out it was movie theaters for years. Now there’s a Quiznos in it. I’m going to draw it because I appreciate people preserving the past in unique and new ways, despite our throwaway culture.”
Russell has also selected as inspiration for a drawing he will create during the show: a landscape that, though based on an area near Wente Vineyards, is meant to celebrate the universally known Latin phrase, “in vino veritas” (in wine, truth). He says drawing in front of an audience involves muscles he’s had to train.
“I’ve been a loner artist most of my life. To collaborate with Brian onstage where he’s more comfortable has tested me. If anything, I’ve learned to sum up courage.”
While Russell’s mistakes and joys are projected on a screen 15 feet high — an act he compares to the uninhibited improvisation of a jazz musician — Gore is playing set pieces.
“However,” Gore says, “if he’s not done drawing and I get to the end of a piece, I venture into improvising.”
They often perform an encore that has them launching into work without knowing exactly where they will end up — not unlike a spontaneous wine country road trip.
“If the audience wants us to come back out, we go for it,” says Gore.
Since their first collaboration and CD, “Santa Cruz in Song and Image,” which led to “Wine Country Tales,” Gore says their partnership has matured. There is less setup and explaining, which allows more of the performance to be devoted to art and music telling the stories.
“People are surprised by how cohesive and narrative a show by two solo artists can be,” says Gore. “Bill is dedicated to craft, to practicing, staying inspired but trying new stuff and being out in the world too. I’ve always seen him as a role model.”
Russell is pleased that although he’s “not hit that 10,000 hours that people talk about” to master a skill like live-drawing in front of hundreds of people, he has found comfort.
“During the show there are two live drawing sections. I cue into the rhythm that Brian plays. I draw at the pace he plays. It’s always a great motivator. I’ve heard all the pieces before, but I’m moved every time by his music.”