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The Acoustic Guitar Project

A Chat with Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers about The Acoustic Guitar Project Inspires Creativity in CNY.

The Acoustic Guitar Project is a traveling music series where the guitar goes on tour, visiting cities around the world. The idea is to provide local songwriters with this guitar and a recording device. Over the span of one week, the songwriter is tasked with writing a song on this guitar. From there they are to record their song, with no accompaniment, no editing – just one honest take of the song which will make its way to their website to be shared with the world. Each participating artist signs the guitar, making the guitar into a sort of “clubhouse” for those participating. Further, a concert is held featuring the annual installment of writers taking part in the project. At the time of this article the official announcement for the show still remains to be made, but, I can tell you it’s coming this fall.

The guitar and the project makes its way to Syracuse though the stride and support of Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, revered as one of the area’s top songwriter’s, playing in several projects. He also has a significant history working with Acoustic Guitar Magazine where he became aware of the Acoustic Guitar Project, and thus became involved.

Chuck Schiele: This is a great project in that it involves music, the artists who are involved, and the idea of community and sharing in a unique way. It’s a cool thing for the city, in my opinion. Please tell us about the spirit of the project from your perspective.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers: To me, the project is about celebrating creativity and the local music community. I love how it simply inspires – and challenges! – musicians to write a song just for the sake of creating, and how it shines a light on the original music being made in a particular community.

CS: How long have you been involved with the project? How did all this happen?

JPR: I met project founder Dave Adams back in 2013. Acoustic Guitar magazine asked me to write a story about the project, which started in New York City and was spreading around the world.

Dave and I stayed in touch afterward and ran into each other at a few music conferences. At one point I said to him, “It would be so cool to do something like this in Syracuse. We’ve got so many great songwriters.” I’d been hosting a songwriter concert series at Jazz Central in Syracuse, and I was blown away by the local talent. I wasn’t seriously thinking we could do a project here, though – I mean, the other cities were places like NYC, LA, Helsinki, Buenos Aires… I didn’t think Syracuse would be considered big enough to join that list. 

But without missing a beat, Dave said, “Let’s do it.” Next thing I knew, a guitar maker in Maryland (Minor Bird) donated a guitar for us, and we did our first project in 2014. And we’re still at it. We now have one of the longest-running projects in the world.

 CS: Who are some of the people that have been involved in this project over the years? Who has “signed” the guitar, so-to-speak?

JPR: Bob Halligan Jr., Donna Colton and Sam Patterelli, John Cadley, Phil Grajko, Colleen Kattau, Ashley Cox, Corey Paige, Todd Hobin, Colin Aberdeen…so many great Central New York artists. We’ve had 45 songs written on our guitar! You can hear them all on the Acoustic Guitar Project website.

CS: Please share with us some of the songs that come to highlight in your recall.

JPR: Mike Powell’s “Twenty One Rounds” is such a powerful song and remains a standout in his repertoire… Leo Crandall wrote a haunting song called “Handbreadth,” and I’m so glad we were able to have his voice in this project before he passed… I get to play guitar with Wendy Ramsay on her project song “Here and Now” and just love that one… John McConnell plays a lefty guitar but actually took the challenge of writing his song, “Circles Again,” on a righty guitar that was upside down for him! Still can’t believe he managed that so well. 

CS: What was your song called when you had your turn?

JPR: My song is “Till I’m Alone with You,” which I ultimately released as a single.

CS: There’s a show featuring the next installment of Central New York songwriters on the way. What can you tell us about it?

JPR: This is our eighth season and we’ll hit 50 songs, which is an amazing milestone. The guitar top is getting quite crowded with signatures! We don’t announce the songwriters until they’ve completed their songs – which is in progress right now. But on November 18 at the Folkus Project in Syracuse, all of this year’s project songwriters will come together for our special annual concert.

CS: Is there a specific process by which you select the participating artists? How can we stay in touch with the project and the future of it.

JPR: Every year, I just shoot for a mix of styles, ages, men and women… Even after 50 songwriters, there are still quite a few I’d love to have in the project. The wish list gets longer, not shorter, which is a testament to the depth of this music community.

 CS: Thank you for putting your energy into such a cool thing like this project. And thank you for sharing the story with us here at Table Hopping Sounds of Syracuse.

JPR: I appreciate the chance to chat about it! This is one of my favorite music events of the year.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.