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Plucky musicians welcome acoustic guitar renaissance

20th annual festival attracts local six-stringers
Fingerstyle guitarist Kris Schulz performs at the Fraser Valley Acoustic Guitar Festival on Saturday, Feb. 25. Photo Jennifer Gauthier

Freedom of expression wasn’t exactly a calling card of communist Russia, so when Galina Jitlina received her first guitar in 1973 it was somewhat akin to reaching for a forbidden fruit.

She was 12 at the time and received the guitar as a gift from her grandmother.

Now 56, Jitlina still doesn’t know how or where the instrument originally came from, but that initial creative spark stayed with her until she moved to Vancouver in 1994.

She expected a marked difference upon arriving in Lotusland, but instead found a serious absence of six-string savoir faire.

“When I came to Vancouver I couldn’t find anything,” Jitlina said. “I had the impression that guitar life in Vancouver was very, very poor. Even when the great masters came to Vancouver to perform, very few people attended those concerts.”

As such, Jitlina set out to do something about that gap. In 2007, she helped found the Vancouver Classical Guitar Society alongside five others. The group started modestly with a few meet-and-greet jams along with the odd performance from musicians who mostly donated their time.

Ten years later, the group’s membership has flourished by more than 10-fold, and the resurgence of classic guitaring is the here and now.

“It’s become much more popular and I find so many more people who really love classical guitar but didn’t know about our group or even each other in the larger guitar community,” Jitlina said. “We started very small, but our concerts and classical guitar have become much more popular.”

That fact was front and centre in January when the group celebrated its 10th anniversary. While the society’s previous concert calendar included five gigs annually, the anniversary fete featured six shows in two days, spanning all acoustic genres: flamenco, fingerstyle, jazz and all forms of world music.   

It also included a first-ever gathering for luthiers.

Vancouver’s Hana Boye is in the curious spot of building guitars but not necessarily playing them with any sort of frequency. The luthier exhibit in particular opened her eyes to the society and Vancouver’s classical guitar community at large.

“That was a really great opportunity,” Boye said. “It was the first exhibition that they had done and very much a catalyst and a draw for me to the society because they’re doing some really great things in that group.”  

Fellow Vancouverite Kris Schulz is a one-man case study in the rebirth of all things acoustic. With last year’s release of his debut solo album, While the City Sleeps, the 42-year-old entered hallowed territory for any musician — goodbye day job, hello guitar 24/7.

Schulz’s considerable chops will be front and centre, Feb. 25, when he performs alongside internationally-renowned acoustic luminaries Michael Chapdelaine and Itamar Erez at the 20th annual Fraser Valley Acoustic Guitar Festival at Kwantlen University in Langley.  

It’s a gig that will highlight a full-circle journey for Schulz.  Four years ago, while at the same festival, Schulz saw life-long idol and fellow Canuck fingerstyle player Don Ross, which inspired Schulz to re-dedicate his life to guitar.

“He absolutely blew the place away and I definitely got schooled that night,” Schulz said. “I went home that night and realized I could take this a lot further than I had gotten. I realized I was pissing away my time. That was the turning point.”

Schulz is not a book-trained player, nor is he obsessed with shred for shred’s sake. Instead, he relies on what’s inside to emote out of his guitar. Those emotions will likely reach a tipping point Saturday, which marks the 10th anniversary of his mother’s death.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “I’m really going to focus on sharing a moment with the crowd. It’s a really emotional night for me, so if I focus on that, the other stuff will take care of itself to some degree.”  

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