One day each year, the music that fills City Winery comes from stage and audience alike. It’s called Guitar Mash, and the annual event brings to the venue musicians and singers of every age and ability in a unique mix of top-talent entertainment and amateur sing-along.
Led by the ever-exuberant Mark Stewart (music director for Paul Simon and sideman for a host of megastars), Guitar Mash filled the music and dining venue to capacity on Sunday, Nov. 16, for its third annual event there.
Eight musicians—each taking their turn with a single tune—brought an eclectic mix of folk, country, rock, blues and bluegrass to an audience eager to join in, many with fingers on guitar strings and eyes on lyrics and easy chords projected on screens in front of them.
“Guitar Mash epitomizes the concept that music creates such an overwhelming sense of community,” said Ryan Maeglin, 17, who had returned with his guitar for the second year. “It doesn’t matter what language you speak or if you’ve been playing for five months or 50 years, everyone can sit and strum and share in the power of the music.”
That Guitar Mash-style sharing began modestly in an empty lot next door to the Church Street School of Music and Art. Rebecca Weller, on the school’s board at the time, suggested a guitar play-along, led by musician and club owner Andrew W.K. and the Beastie Boys’Mike D., as a way to celebrate Church Street’s 20th anniversary.
“It was cool. It caught on,” recalled Weller, who went on to start Guitar Mash through her own nonprofit, Musiquarium. “There were fathers and sons playing together. There was just something about it that worked. People want this!”
“Then I was thinking,” she added, “this could be, should be bigger.”
Guitar Mash remains a fundraiser that benefits Church Street School as well as Little Kids Rock, an organization that provides instruments to schools across the country.
“It really embodies what Church Street is all about—the process of making music and art,” said Lisa Ecklund-Flores, the school’s co-founder and director who had come to Guitar Mash with her own six-string. “So seeing a concert with these fantastic players and to actually be able to have an instrument and play along and sing along is absolutely fantastic.”
Raul Bermudez, an accomplished flamenco guitarist, said that Guitar Mash for him was a chance to play other types of music—and play it with others.
“Just the fact that people come together, it doesn't matter what your skill level is,” he said as he slung his guitar on his back and prepared to leave.
“It’s just about coming to share and having a good time.” A good time that is infectious, said Weller, who plays piano, not guitar, but calls the instrument “democratic, the great connector.”
“To see people playing their hearts out, people who came to prior events without a guitar in their hand now have a guitar in their hand because they were inspired,” Weller said. “It’s the best. The best!