Eric Johnson
at the Great Aunt Stella Center,
Charlotte, NC
(4 March 2004)

I went with a friend of mine to see Eric Johnson in concert at the Great Aunt Stella Center in Charlotte, NC. This was an acoustic guitar and piano show, with special guest Tony Furtado as the opening act.

Johnson won the best rock instrumental Grammy in 1991 for the song "Cliffs of Dover," from his album Ah Via Musicom. He is best known as an electric guitarist and many refer to him as a "musicians' musician." Even though "Cliffs of Dover" was not included in the set, it was not missed.

It was my first concert at the Great Aunt Stella, and I do not believe there is a better introduction to that venue than to see an acoustic guitar and piano show by Johnson, especially one that followed a performance by Furtado. I'll get to Tony's work later as this is intended primarily as a review of Eric's show. The Great Aunt Stella Center is an old church building just outside of downtown (or, as it is preferred to be called, "Uptown Charlotte"). A small venue with pew-type seats and a balcony, you are immediately reminded that it was designed to be a church. On the wide stage there is a pipe organ, and Eric had a grand piano set up along with multiple acoustic guitars. From halfway back the view might not have been the most optimal as most people stood for a portion of the show, but the sound was absolutely amazing. Walking into the Great Aunt Stella, you are immediately reminded that there was a time when places were built with sound and acoustics in mind even at the sacrifice of a good vantage point.

The warm smell of Nag Champa incense wafted through the hall as we moved back to our seats in anticipation of Johnson's part of the show. Lights dimmed slightly and he took the stage, not in a running out and "Here I Am!" manner, more of a "walking out and sitting down" way, with a soft "hello" added for style. And those of us gathered welcomed Eric, including one shout-out from the balcony of "Welcome to Charlotte, E.J.!" I have to say this was not an unwelcome sentiment or statement.

Eric opened the show with a piece from his Seven Worlds album called "Song for Life." This piece is an amazing example of what can be done on and with an acoustic guitar. I have to say that the first time I had ever heard the song I thought it was at least two, maybe three guitars overdubbed. That theory was proven incorrect as I watched Johnson play without error or change from the recorded piece I am familiar with.

Watching the man play his guitar is something to behold; the intensity in his face is mixed with a familiarity of the instrument that makes it look all at once like it is an incredibly difficult task and yet also it looks like something he is at ease in doing.

From that point the show continued with mostly instrumental music, new and yet-to-be-released work as well as some already released work including a few acoustic interpretations. Then came what I consider to be the highlight of the show. Eric said that Jimi Hendrix is mostly known as a great guitarist. As a guitarist himself, he honors Jimi in that way all the time. However, the other thing that Jimi should be known and acknowledged for is his great songwriting. Eric chose to play a Hendrix song, "The Wind Cries Mary," on the piano. I sat there awestruck with my mouth open and looked at my friend who had the same expression on his face -- one of extreme amazement. In addition to that cover, Eric also performed a few Beatles songs. The night was one of wonder and amazement as the man performed his art.

Prior to Johnson's performance, Tony Furtado gave an exuberant performance of bluesy acoustic slide and finger-picked guitar work. Tony's style is unique and interesting. I truly enjoyed his playing and performing. I thank Eric for having Tony as an opening act and am encouraged that there are innovative musicians out performing such as these two masters of their craft.

All in all, I highly recommend seeing either of these artists in concert in any form they choose to present their music. This I say because Eric Johnson also tours with his own band as well as his "other" band, Alien Love Child. These band tour performances are generally electric guitar shows, however in the past I have seen Eric perform and he brings out the acoustic guitar on occasion as well.

- Rambles
written by Stan Cocheo
published 15 January 2005