Tommy Emmanuel in Morristown: Hearing is believing

Tommy Emmanuel compared himself on Thursday to a “Sherman tank coming at you at 100 miles an hour.”  A Tasmanian devil might have been a better analogy–this Ozzie guitar sensation tore up Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.

'I'M GONNA GIVE YOU EVERYTHING TONIGHT!' Tommy Emmanuel at the Mayo in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

'I'M GONNA GIVE YOU EVERYTHING TONIGHT!' Tommy Emmanuel at the Mayo in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Only by closely studying our photos did we confirm that Tommy has only 10 fingers, like other mortals.

Usually an instrument of melody or rhythm, the guitar also becomes part of the percussion section in this guy’s hands, which tap, whack, scrape and bend otherworldly sounds from the wood.

At times, his rapid-fire fingerpicking coaxed an entire orchestra from the thing.

The impact on casual guitarists like me?  Go home, donate your guitar to the kindling pile, and take up the spoons.

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A child prodigy in his native Australia, Tommy, 57, was inspired and encouraged by Chet Atkins. He spoke warmly of his times with Chet and the late Les Paul, and noted that he will be touring Down Under next week with a couple of other Jersey favorites, Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo.  Talk about fretboard pyrotechnics!

At least five times during Thursday’s two-and-a-half hour show, Tommy brought people to their feet. His Beatles medley reinvented the catalog. His cover of Billy Joel’s And So It Goes was moving. A pair of originals, Angelina, for his youngest daughter, and the mystical Betrayals The Trails,  a tribute to the Navajo Nation, were sublime.

And then there was his tribute to Chet Atkins: Yankee Doodle and Dixie…played simultaneously.

Gotta run. I’m late for spoons practice.


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  1. It was a terrific show. Thanks to the Mayo PAC for providing a great venue to attract world class performers. Tommy mentioned it was his first time to Morristown, but would be back. I can’t wait. Does anyone have a set list? There were so many songs I recogonized, but his arrangements were so intricate, it was as it I heard them for the first time. Awesome!!!

  2. Kevin Coughlin says:

    Thanks for setting me straight on the title. Tommy gave an extraordinary performance.

  3. Tommy’s song about Native Americans is called “The Trails,” not “betrayals.” He wrote it a few years while performing at a charity fundraiser in Utah for American Indian Services, which taps donors to fund partial college scholarships for Native Americans. While Tommy was waiting in the wings to perform, he saw Paiute leader Gary Toms playing the Native American flute. Tommy was so moved he rused back to the dressing room to write “The Trails.” He appeared last month at the AIS fundraiser in Utah again, and played the song to a very appreciative audience. He is a sensational performer.

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