IF YOU GO
What: Tommy Emmanuel with The Moanin Sons, Eric Dozier and JB Ecki (seated show).
When: 7 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Rhythm & Brews, 221 Market St.
Venue website: www.rhythm-brews.com.
Pity Tommy Emmanuel's guitars.
Whereas many performers think of the instrument in terms of what they can do with a pick, the Australia native is known for finding creative ways to use the entire body. In combination with his already blistering speed, the percussive punctuation he adds by slapping the body leaves his main instruments looking more than a little worn.
If a little abuse makes the experience better for the audience, Emmanuel said, it's worth losing a little varnish.
"I'll sacrifice the instrument in the name of entertainment," he said during a phone interview. "What's important to me is that I can do what I do up there and give people a great time.
"It's all about the element of surprise. All of those things are part of 'surprise me and take me somewhere else.'"
A two-time Grammy Award nominee and multiple winner of the distinction as Australia's best guitarist, Emmanuel started playing when he was 4 years old under his mother's tutelage.
By age 6, he took up rhythm guitar with the family's band, The Emmanuel Quartet. Before he reached his teenage years, he and his siblings had performed across Australia.
Known as one of the most celebrated fingerstyle guitar players in the world, Emmanuel became fascinated with the style, also known as chicken picking, through the work of Chet Atkins.
The two became friends later in life, but when he first heard a performer playing a song's melody, rhythm and bass lines simultaneously, Emmanuel said it was almost too impressive to believe.
"That he was doing everything at once, and the way he defined the melody, it really stuck with me," he said. "Chet, still to this day, some of his stuff is beyond anything I've ever heard."
A self-taught artist, Emmanuel vigorously studied Atkins' style, eventually mastering its technical intricacies for himself. For all his technical ability, however, Emmanuel said his primary concern during a show is that the audience remain entertained.
Emmanuel said he has always studied and learned his craft from performers of all stripes, not just musicians, as long as they demonstrate an ability to hold an audience's attention.
When he takes the stage at Rhythm & Brews on Thursday, Emmanuel will perform vigorous, creative original arrangements and covers of songs such as "Classical Gas" and "Over the Rainbow," all delivered with the spirit of a true entertainer.
Doing so may mean putting his instruments through a lot, but the show must go on.
"I've always worked very hard at [entertaining], but it's what it does to people that excites me and makes me want to be in show business," Emmanuel said. "I'm a sucker for making people feel good; I really enjoy it."
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...