National Banjo champ Furtado looking forward to Park City house concert
- March 28, 2013
By Scott Iwasaki
Park Record Staff Writer
Tony Furtado is a two-time National Bluegrass Banjo Champion, and is also known for his slide-guitar work.
He has performed at festivals and theatres and club throughout the country and is looking forward to playing an intimate house concert in Park City on Friday, March 8.
The performance will be an all-acoustic show with his wife, singer and songwriter Stephanie Schneiderman that will take kick off Mountain Town Music's 2013 Mountain Home Concerts season.
Furtado said he enjoys these types shows, because he can perform with his wife.
"I love playing intimate house concerts, especially for a solo or duo show," Furtado said during a phone call to The Park Record from his home in Portland, Ore. "You can concentrate on the dynamics and communicate with the crowds, and I love doing these shows with Stephanie because we do a lot of harmony singing and it's nice to do a show with a lot of nuance with an audience that is listening."
The two will play songs from their respective musical careers, with some adjustments.
"Stephanie has released a new CD called 'Live at the Old Church,'" Furtado said. "It was recorded with members from the Portland Symphony and a great choir at a venue called The Old Church. And we're going to play some songs off that, as well as some of her other songs she has written."
Furtado started playing banjo when he was 12. Before that, he was intrigued with music, but didn't want to take any lessons.
"My mom asked if I wanted to, but I wasn't interested in them at the time, because everyone else was taking them," he said. "But when I was in sixth grade, I took an intro to music class, and one of the projects was to do a report on a musical instrument and make it out of household items."
Furtado chose the banjo.
"I made a little banjo out of a pie tin, paper, sticks, rubber bands and nylon fishing string, and it was a great little banjo," he said with a laugh. "Having done the report, I knew it came from Africa and you could play all types of music, including Celtic music, jazz and bluegrass.
"The sound of the banjo itself fascinated me at the time and I begged my parents for a real banjo for my 12th birthday and would just practice that thing so much," Furtado said. "The instrument was interesting to me and I found that using my fingers on a stringed instrument felt good and natural. At that time, I was also getting kudos from everyone who heard me play and that made me want to do it more and more."
Eventually, Furtado branched out to other stringed instruments including classical guitar and the mandolin.
"I didn't get into slide guitar until I was in my 20s, but it was already a sure thing that I was going to be a musician at that point," he said.
That was after he had to make the decision whether or not to play music or become a sculptor for a living.
"Around the same time I got into playing banjo, I was introduced to ceramics," Furtado said. "It was easier for me to sculpt things that I saw in my head than to play music, but I kept that urge a bay."
He would sculpt in school and play music on the side.
"Eventually I had to make the decision to go to art school and be an art major, because you couldn't be a music major playing banjo back then," Furtado said. "I became a fine art major at Cal State Hayward (which is now East Bay), but I played night gigs and went on the road a little bit."
After winning the National Bluegrass Banjo Contest in 1987, (a feat he would repeat in 1991), Furtado landed a gig touring with Laurie Lewis and Grant Street.
"So, I had to bite the bullet and become a full-time musician and got a record deal with Rounder Records," he said.
In addition to his music, Furtado used his sculpting skills to make and sell his own bottleneck slides.
"It's really nothing and definitely not brain surgery," he said. "It's an old trick that came from the blues tradition. You just etch the top of a bottle, put it over a flame and then dip it into ice water and snap it off."
Furtado originally began selling the slides while he was touring with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Gregg Allman.
"I figured, if anyone was going to buy a slide it would be some of his fans, so I ended up selling 120 of them in the course of three weeks," he said.
These days Furtado is focused on his family that now includes his five-month-old son and new ways to get his music to his fans.
"The music business is different than back when I started," he said. "Years ago, all you had to do was send out postcards to people through snail mail to tell them about my upcoming gigs.
"I could do that easily because I had about 10,000 people on my mailing list," he said. "Now, there are all kinds of ways to get the word out. You have Facebook, Reverbnation, you name it. So, keeping on top of that is insane. It gets crazy sometimes."
Also, many music fans have stopped buying CDs.
"I've had to figure out how to make ends meet," he said. "You have to be creative and sell slides and make sculptures."
Regardless of the challenges, Furtado still makes and records music.
His latest CD is called "Live at Mississippi Studios."
"That project was originally planned by (Funzalo Records) the label I used to be on," Furtado said. "They wanted a live CD and DVD for the last project I would do for them."
The package was funded through www.kickstarter.com .
"I picked my band and my wife Stephanie sang with us, too," Furtado said.
A live concert was recorded and filmed at a Portland venue called Mississippi Studios.
"The company who shot it, Devious Goldfish, is a collective of young filmmakers," Furtado said. "The concept was to get into our face (with the cameras) and give the audience an idea of what happens on stage."
At first it was hard for the musicians to move around, because the band members weren't used to having cameras on stage in their faces.
"I mean, they were right up in my grill," Furtado said. "So, we took a break and had a shot of whiskey and relaxed. After that, everything got better."
Mountain Town Music will present Tony Furtado and Stephanie Schneiderman, who will open the 2013 Mountain Home Concert series on Friday, March 8. The event, which will be held at a private home in Park Meadows, will start with a pot luck and BYOB dinner at 6 p.m. and the music will begin at 7:30 p.m. A $20 donation is suggested.
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