18th Annual Woodchopper's Ball

Nine of the best finger-style guitar players in America come together at The Kent Stage for the 18th Annual Woodchoppers Ball. The Woodchoppers Ball is a benefit for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. All seats reserved.

Participants include some of the best acoustic guitarists in the World including

Muriel Anderson
Suzi Brown
Michael Kelsey
Christie Lenée
Bill Russell
Mark Sganga
Jesse Smith
Kelly Zullo
and the founder and producer of the event - Brian Henke!

Michael Kelsey

Michael Kelsey brings a free-flowing improvisational style to the guitar that involves every inch of his instrument. From his funky, percussive playing style that conjures an image of a one-man version of STOMP to lush instrumentals reminiscent of Michael Hedges/Phil Keaggy, his performance blends multiple musical genres and vocals along with some techno fun to create a sound all his own. He is the winner of Guitar Center’s “Guitarmageddon”. Chosen from among 3,000 entrants the singer-songwriter performed at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads 2004 where he shared the stage with many legendary guitarists. Through out a performance Michael may make use of technology, his improv skills, objects in the room, and audience interaction to make music for the ears but more importantly a musical experience for the senses..

“Michael uses an arsenal of electronics, his Taylor 615, and his voice to create layers of sonic adventures that challenge the limits of acoustic guitar music.” -Taylor Guitars

Muriel Anderson

One of the world’s foremost fingerstyle guitarists and harp-guitarists, Muriel Anderson is the first woman to have won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship. An engaging performer, her obvious joy of music, humor, and facility across musical genres is revered by guitarists and audiences worldwide. She has recorded with country legend Chet Atkins, performed in New York with Les Paul, at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall with the Chicago Symphony and in Tennessee with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. She is host and founder of Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night®, the premiere music event at the semi-annual NAMM music trade shows, and also the founder of the Music for Life Alliance charity. She is a prolific composer of music on guitar and harp guitar, and tours year round in North America, Europe and the Far East.

Her unique approach to the instrument virtually transforms the guitar into a lyrical choir, then a marching band, then a Japanese koto, then a Bluegrass band, one minute launching into a Beatles tune and the next, Chopin’s Minute Waltz. Recently she has teamed up with Germany’s top guitar duo, TIERRA NEGRA, adding a new dimension and excitement to her music.

Muriel Anderson enjoys giving guitar workshops, sponsored by her new GHS Signature strings. She has released numerous books and instructional DVDs published by Hal Leonard, Mel Bay, Truefire, and Zen-On in Japan, and was a bronze level winner of Acoustic Guitar’s 2009 reader’s choice award for “best classical guitarist.” She received a degree in music from DePaul University and went on to study with classical virtuoso Christopher Parkening and with Nashville legend Chet Atkins.

Helen Avakian with Dave Irwin

Helen Avakian, upstate New York singer/songwriter/guitarist, took some twists and turns before committing to a musical path. Daughter of a physicist and artist, she studied guitar as a child, but for a number of years it was one activity among many.

At age 16, a magazine article on Twin Oaks Community led Avakian from suburban Wilmington, Delaware to check out communal farm living in Virginia. She found the experience uplifting, but too settled for her life at the time, so she jumped into college a year early. Along the way she built a steel string guitar, a task she found so difficult she became convinced that playing music might hold more promise for her.
Helen then moved to New York city where she attended Hunter College and was offered a full scholarship for a Master's Degree in classical guitar performance. Excited, Helen put in many hours of practice, but ended up injuring herself by playing with too much tension. During this difficult period she turned to writing songs, something she had always wanted to do, but had never taken the time to pursue. All is well that ends well; Helen relearned how to play with a more effective technique, earned her degree, and kept writing ever since.

Her songs have been described as "quite literate without being pretentious, interesting without being inaccessible" (Poughkeepsie Journal,) and reviewers comment on her "lovely voice and guitar playing." (Free Time) As a performer Helen has been favorably compared to Tori Amos, Jewel, and Natalie Merchant. 'In my CD changer for review are discs by Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed and Van Morrison. But guess who fit comfortably alongside these biggies? Is Helen Avakian your final answer? Well, it should be.' says Rhythm and News Magazine. Appearing in an array of situations from coffeehouses to concert halls, she has opened for Mary Chapin Carpenter, Marshall Crenshaw, and the New York Philharmonic among others.

Helen's first CD "Helen Avakian Live at the Rosendale Street Festival" was released in 1999, and "presents a flawless performance." (Southern Dutchess News) Her just released studio album Feb 2001 "Vanishing Point" has already won "Favorite Recording" from Rhythm and News Magazine. Helen looks forward to promoting 'Vanishing Point' which she hopes will take her on new avenues of exploration.

James McKinney & Niki Portman - The Night Travelers

Born in Fort Payne, Alabama in 1957 to J.R. and Duette McKinney. James is from a long line of Banjo pickers including his mother who still loves to play.

James started playing Banjo at 14 and hasn't stopped since. James has had the privilege of playing or recording with many of the legends of music including Bill Monroe, Vassar Clements, Johnny Cash, John Hartford, and The Grateful Dead.
James has sung and played at the Grand Ol' Opry, performed regularly at Opryland, had a number of bands of his own over years, and won the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship. He has been published on over 10 albums/CD's over the years and still enjoys teaching Banjo at various workshops and seminars around the world.

James is not only an internationally renowned Banjo player but also a highly respected teacher of the Banjo art. Some of James' favorite students include Wendy Holcomb of "Nashville on the Road"(television), Jeff Scroggins 1989 National Bluegrass Banjo Champion and member of "The Blue Canyon Boys", and Emily Robinson of "The Dixie Chicks".

After years spent honing his remarkable skills in the "underground" banjo scene, James is finally stepping out and taking the spotlight. Look to see much more of James McKinney at major bluegrass events and on new music releases.

Spoken of in almost reverent tones by his students and fans James McKinney is often referred to as a "cult-like" master of the banjo. Serious musicians think very highly of James and seek him out every year at the Walnut Valley music festival to join in both impromptu jams as well as stage appearances.

Today James McKinney lives in Atlanta, GA where he plays music with bassist, Niki Portmann, in their duo performance as "The Night Travelers".

Brian Henke

Brian Henke composes and performs his music like a painter putting images on canvas, a kind of sonic shaman, drawing his inspiration from the world around him. An avid hiker, he often brings his guitar along to create a spontaneous response to his outdoor settings. Mother Earth (Terra) as artist has given an immense living gallery from the humbling spectacle of her natural wonders to the simple, beauty of a treetop against a blue sky. Her majestic legacy and the magical feeling of awe and peace inspire the compositions of this award winning virtuosic fingerstyle/harp guitarist/ singer songwriter

Brian’s seven instrumental solo guitar CD’s, “Many Waters”, “Love Song for Terra”,”Force of Nature”, “The Nature of Light”, “Tree of Life”, “A Child’s Garden” and “Seven Magic Spells” are a cornucopia of sonic vistas. He celebrates the seasons, a Grand Canyon sunset, the fireside magic of an American shaman, playful waterfalls, the color of the wind and the light of dreams to name a few.
He has just released his first vocal album “Sun and the Moon and the Stars” and will be also working on his next instrumental guitar album “Treehouse in the Stars”.

He recorded “A Crown of Stars” with Blue Feather, Dunlap and Henke, a CD that made it into the top 10 in June of 2007 on the International New Age Radio Charts and is the producer of “The Woodchoppers Ball”, a double CD featuring 26 of the worlds best acoustic guitarists released to benefit Northeast Ohio’s homeless and is the promoter of the annual benefit concert of the same name, having recently celebrated it’s 14th year.

His unique guitar style has been called everything from Folk to New Age to Neo-Classical to Pastoral or as Brian likes to call it “a big stewpot of everything, stirred up, simmered and served to taste.” His music appeals to anyone who likes their music lyrical, thought provoking and performed with virtuosity. Through it all is an undercurrent of spirituality and mysticism that Brian says is very much a part of the creative process. Because of this he has received radio air play all over the world on shows as varied as WKSU’s “Folk Alley” and John Dilberto’s “Echoes”. He has also shared the bill or performed with acts as diverse as “Yes”, “The Strawbs”, “ Bill Frisell” “Linda Ronstadt”, “Glass Harp”, Wendy Rule, Steve Morse”, Yngvie Malmsteen”, “Robin and Linda Williams”, “Richie Havens”, “John Prine” Christine Lavin”, “Dar Williams” ”The Kingston Trio”, ”Alison Brown, ”Adrian Belew”, ”Spiro Gyra, Dar Williams, and many of the best acoustic guitarists in the world including “Andy McKee”, “Pete Huttlinger”, “Phil Keaggy”, ”Alex DeGrassi”, ”Stephen Bennett”, ”John Doan”, ”Beppe Gambetta”, Doug Smith”, ”Dan Crary”, Laurence Juber and many, many others.

A winner of many acoustic and electric guitar awards, he has also been a finalist in the prestigious National Fingerstyle Contest in Winfield, Kansas, the National Guitarmageddon regional finals in Boston and in New Age Reporters Top 10 for 2006 and 2010.
“Brian’s fretwork is masterful, elaborate and he makes every note count…His compositions are harmonious, sometimes complicated, but always engaging…Brian Henke’s music is organic, mesmerizing and best of all magic.” – RJ Lannon New Age Reporter

Contact Brian Henke at brianhenke9@att.net or visit www.brianhenkeguitarist.com

Mark Sganga

Mark Sganga's finger style guitar weaves a rich tapestry of beautiful melody, dynamic rhythm, & imaginative improvisation. Fusing influences from South America & around the world, Mark creates an entrancing travelogue, as an instrumentalist and a singer/songwriter.
The 2009 winner of The Int'l Finger Style Guitar Championship, Mr. Sganga has enthralled audiences from Stockholm to Kuala Lumpur. He recently headlined at the Cape May Jazz Festival in New Jersey, & at the Thredbo jazz festival in Australia. Mark has appeared in NYC at Iridium, Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, & S.O.B.'s, to name just a few. Sganga has toured & recorded with Indian violin virtuoso Dr. L. Subramaniam (alongside Larry Coryell & Herbie Hancock.) Mark's performed all over the US, including a Santa Cruz, CA concert opposite the legendary Taj Mahal.

Jesse Smith

Hear what fingerstyle guitarist Jesse Smith has to say about his Bob Thompson guitar. Jesse's guitar of choice is a BTO size Thompson; a guitar that's quickly become known as a "little guitar" with a big sound! Find out more at www.bobthompsonguitars.com

Kelly Zullo

Cleveland based musician Kelly Zullo has been around the world playing music since the late 90's. Moving briefly to NYC, Europe & Nashville, as well as experiencing great wanderlust, this lyricist and guitarist molds the gypsy-esque mantra with philosophical bite over a riotous acoustic guitar.
Not often has a more energetic acoustic music emerged which features a female guitarist shredding acoustic guitar riffs over a percussive bang. Recently winning the International Acoustic Music Award for "Best Female Artist, comparisons from Ani Difranco to Kaki King are drawn.



Who’s Going

Upcoming Events
The Kent Stage