The guitarwork of Leo Kottke is finger-pickin' good

Let there be no mistake about the musical prowess of Leo Kottke. Over the past 30 years of his recording career, the Minnesota guitarist pretty much reinvented the idea of finger-style picking, playing with such a hard physical edge, he eventually developed a form of tendonitis in his right hand. That led to him having to reinvent his own technique, and the problem has long since been remedied.

A master of both six- and 12-string guitars, most often performing instrumentals but never fearing to let loose with his oddly soothing baritone voice, Kottke comes to the University Theatre for a solo gig on Friday, March 12.

In a phone interview from his home outside of Minneapolis, he's asked if, aside from his own playing getting better with time, there's any difference between his performances today and those from when he first started out at the Ten O'Clock Scholar, a college hangout in the Twin Cities region.

Leo Kottke brings 30 years of experience to the stage this Friday.

"Yeah, for the first three years at the Scholar I didn't look up," he says. "I couldn't look up. I was so afraid of the crowd, I couldn't do it. But then one night, when I was around 20, the goosenecks weren't working and I remembered trying to kill a chicken when I was a kid. I looked up and asked if anyone there had ever killed a chicken. And they laughed and I laughed, and I couldn't help but talk about it. I had totally forgotten about it and as I went through it I was cracking myself up. And when I was done I had kind of like gotten over some emotional hurdle. And for the first time I was kind of in the same room the rest of the audience was in."

Kottke has done his share of both solo and group recordings over the years, but the lion's share of his live performances have just been himself and his two Taylor guitars.

"I did play one night with a rhythm section: a bass player and a drummer," he says with a hint of the bitter memory blues in his voice. "The drummer wore headphones and because of that, and because the engineer turned the headphones way down, the drums were unbelievably loud. It was hilariously loud. You could feel your hair part back there. The audience hated it and we hated it. So I never tried it again."

But he's quick to add that he vastly prefers solo performance anyway.

"I think it's easier," he says. "There is a certain element that strikes some discomfort into the heart of people who are used to playing with others. Because it is all right there in your lap. There's nowhere to hide. But you don't have to depend on anything else. You don't have to follow a set schedule. You know, if you get a wild hare you can chase it around the stage no problem."

Who knows what that means, but Kottke makes it perfectly clear that his upcoming show will feature at least a few new tunes from an album he's currently working on.

"It'll be the two guitars and me going on with some new material and some old material, and just following my nose."

Leo Kottke plays solo at the University Theatre, Friday, March 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets $16 advance, $18 day of show. Call 243-4051.

St. Patrick's Day brings Irish revelry, and politics, to Missoula


As much as I like Jon Agner, I don't think he or any other organizers of Missoula's St. Patrick's Day celebration can whip up a frenzy to match the one I dove into last year. That's not a knock on Missoula's green-clad contingent, either, because I did up the feast-day properly in '98, plunging into the endless world of Dublin's pubs.

As tourists and locals turned the Republic's laid-back capital into a riot of amber-tinged good times, I encouraged the local manufacturers (namely, Messrs. Guinness and Jameson). My comrades and I engaged in a rigorous pint-to-pint relay through the city; between fried "Irish breakfasts" and crash-landings in the greasy wombs of chip shops, I soon feared that my blood had become a sludge the color of the River Liffey.

Add that to a daily ration of stout generous enough to inspire entire Chinese autonomous regions to burst into choruses of "Danny Boy," and it is a wonder I lived to write these words.

That's a stiff challenge to present Agner, the chairman of Missoula's St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee, a chieftain of the fraternal Ancient Order of Hibernians and Project Children, an initiative that brings children from Northern Ireland to the U.S. But the celebration Agner and friends have cooked up looks formidable indeed.

"Oh, it's a healthy enough line-up," says Agner, who recently returned from a trip to the North. To wit, the commemoration of the saint's day begins four days early with the seventh annual St. Patrick's Dinner, a fund-raiser for Project Children on March 13. A friendly round of drinks initiates festivities at St. Joseph's School at 5 p.m. Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage star in the feast. The Celtic Dragon Pipe Band provides music, followed by a speech by Breanden Mac Coinnaith (that's Irish for Brendan McKenna). Mac Coinnaith is a leader of the embattled Catholic community of the Garvaghy Road in the Northern city of Portadown.

Having served six years in the notorious H-Blocks of Long Kesh Prison, Mac Coinnaith now works to publicize the marches of militant Protestants through predominantly Catholic areas in the North. These parades often degenerate into sectarian warfare, as determined Catholics fight to prevent equally determined Protestants from marching. The Garvaghy Road is the center of a particularly intense confrontation-a virtual state of siege, in fact.

Mac Coinnaith's appearance warms up for a March 15 speech by Sinn Fein organizer Sean MacManus, a city councilman from Sligo in the Republic. MacManus will explain his party's position on last year's Good Friday peace accord and update the negotiations between Sinn Fein and other Northern parties on the structure of the six-county area's new government.

Dublin Gulch, a fine and soulful band from Butte, will lend music to the message.

The parade, on St. Paddy's proper, will follow the traditional route from the north end of Higgins to Grizzly Grocery. Agner says he expects 35 to 40 entries; the Phil Maloney Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians will choose its Man and Woman of the Year on the eve of the parade.

As for other musical offerings, the Celtic Dragon Pipe Band will play at Sean Kelly's Pub, joining the fiddle and bodhran (drum) offerings of Kira Sherwood and Kevin Gooden. Meanwhile, the Velcro Sheep, a rowdy band of acoustic rebels who add liberal amounts of Celtic influence to a very, uh, heterogeneous musical melange, raise hell at the Union Club.

It may not be as wild as off-duty soldiers body-slamming to techno versions of "The Irish Rover" in Dublin's Temple Bar neighborhood, but it's not bad for a Wednesday night. Have a pint-I promise it's okay.

For a complete listing of St. Patrick's Day happenings, see Eight Days A Week.

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