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Center for the Arts Hosts Acoustic Guitarist Andy McKee

Andy McKee

Andy McKee, the self-taught musician from Topeka who has emerged as one of the world's finest acoustic guitar soloists, will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 10, at Smothers Theatre on the Malibu campus. 

McKee's acoustic guitar can approximate the polyrhythmic interplay of a percussion ensemble, the harmonic sweep of a string section, the dazzling runs of a bluegrass doghouse bass-and-banjo duo, and virtually anything else his pastoral compositions and tasteful covers require. In nine years and five records, he has written an oeuvre that globally inspires and intrigues music fans. His robust 200-dates-a-year tour itinerary--often spanning domestic rural to the exotically remote, from Arizona to Zimbabwe and everything in between--and his fans-first commitment make him a worldwide ambassador for a new era in acoustic virtuosity.

McKee's imaginative and masterful approach to the instrument and his Guitar Masters tour franchise--a tour package of edgy progressives--is helping to redefine our conception of acoustic guitar. He garnered plum exposure touring with Dream Theater (where he played to 10,000 in Mexico City) and Eric Johnson (who made a rare acoustic showing on the Guitar Masters tour), sharing his unique artistry with a wide and diverse audience. Recently McKee headed back out with Dream Theater, hitting South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan. He also played arena shows with Prince in Australia as a special guest and directly accompanied Prince through the catalog of many of his hits.

Fans of sophisticated holiday music had the opportunity to hear McKee on Josh Groban's Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum Christmas album, Noël. In December 2008 McKee was awarded Acoustic Guitar magazine's esteemed worldwide Silver Medal for his fingerstyle approach. But most fans' first exposure to his "guitartistry" has been through his YouTube presence; the Kansas native's 100 million cumulative YouTube views put him in the top three most-viewed subjects in the site's history.

McKee is a self-taught musician who grew up studying cassettes and CDs of artists as diverse as Preston Reed, Don Ross, Billy McLaughlin, Michael Hedges, Eric Johnson, and Dream Theater. Interestingly enough, his slap-and-pop technique is inspired by Earth, Wind & Fire's bassist Verdine White. He also absorbed the sophisticated yet accessible work of 1980s icons like Toto and Tears for Fears. His compositions and imaginative technique are an amalgamated conception of these disparate aesthetics--the chops-y journeys of guitar masters, the irreverent genius of the modern acoustic wizards, and the creative and hooky compositional and arrangement sense of good 1980s pop. McKee writes with rich, impressionistic chords that often evoke beautiful country landscapes. He arranges with a keen understanding of dynamics and how songs have to feel transporting to have emotional impact.

He started his professional career, like many musicians, as a guitar teacher, before his career-launching appearance at the venerated National Finger Style Guitar Championships in Winfield, Kansas, where he was a top finalist. From that platform he went on to be a recording artist, and, sticking close to his indie ideals, he has managed to sell 50,000 records. He has also sold thousands of hand-transcribed folio books to those who want to study his music in a more intimate and scholarly way.

McKee is currently building the Guitar Masters tour brand, a franchise that seeks to combine technically masterful acoustic guitar performances with artists' workshop accessibility for an engaging and participatory fan experience. His current CD/DVD package, Joyland (Razor & Tie, 2010), has a cinematic feel that often conjures up abandoned theme parks, though it also features his trademark pastoral compositional style. The album is a breakthrough as he tastefully expands his artistic palette by adding drums and cello in select places, showcasing his scoring capabilities outside the guitar-centric realm.

Tickets, priced at $35, $25, and $15 for the public and $10 for full-time Pepperdine students, are available now by calling (310) 506-4522 or online on the Center for the Arts website.

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