International Guitar Night

IRIS SAMUELS/Kodiak Daily Mirror

Performers in the 20th International Guitar Night tour rehearse in Kodiak. From left to right, Mike Dawes of England, Jim Kimo West of Hawaii, Cenk Erdogan of Turkey and Olli Soikkeli of Finland.

Men from Turkey, England, Hawaii, and Finland walk into a room and pick up their instruments. No, this is not the beginning of a joke, but the beginning of the International Guitar Night, set to hit the Kodiak stage today.

The 20th International Guitar Night tour will kick off today in Kodiak, marking the 20th  year that four different guitar players come together to perform in different towns and cities across the U.S. It will be Kodiak’s first opportunity to experience the International Guitar Night series. After Kodiak, the guitarists will tour through Alaska, British Columbia and the Lower 48.

This year, the performance brings together Mike Dawes of England, Jim Kimo West of Hawaii, Cenk Erdogan of Turkey and Olli Soikkeli of Finland. The four musicians each have their own style and inspiration, bringing together jazz, Hawaiian tunes, Turkish traditions and modern interpretations. 

“It’s never been to Kodiak before,” Dawes said. “And this is the first show of the whole tour. It’s going to be very unique.”

The musicians arrived on the island early this week to rehearse and take in the sights before today’s show, which is sponsored by the Kodiak Arts Council and will be held in the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium. Until arriving in Kodiak, the musicians communicated via email, planning their set list from their homes on different continents.

“It’s a two-month tour, so the show will morph and change. But the people of Kodiak will get a first glimpse into whatever craziness happens,” Dawes said. “It’s like the debut — opening night.”

The musicians said that in the first half of the show, they will introduce their individual styles and backgrounds. But in the second half, they will play together, melding their different approaches into a unique performance.

“The second half of the show is when it gets interesting, and all those different cultures come together,” Dawes said. “It’s not the kind of show where we sit down, stare at our shoes in silence and do our thing. It’s very much a journey and it’s very animated.”

The guitarists will perform both original compositions and “totally unique versions” of familiar tunes. The musicians said that some segments are a surprise for the musicians as well, as they improvise on stage and incorporate elements from each others’ playing. 

“It’s educational for us, because we are learning hopefully as much as the audiences are,” Dawes said. While North America is home to a rich tradition of guitar playing, most audience members will be surprised by the many different ways guitars can be played in this concert, he added.

“The show will hopefully inspire people to either pick a guitar they have long since forgotten about or start playing,” Dawes said. “People really respond to this kind of music.”

Erdogan, for whom this is a second trip to Alaska but first trip to Kodiak (of the four musicians, only Soikkeli had been to Kodiak before), said that the Last Frontier is very different from his home country of Turkey.

“The first emotion is cold, and the second emotion is, ‘oh, this is so hot,’” he said, referring to the warm welcome he received from Northern audiences. “They give a lot of respect to musicians who come to play for them.”

He said the performance represents a journey both for the musicians and the audiences.

Before they kick off their tour, the musicians have one other goal that’s keeping them on their toes: spotting a Kodiak bear.