Dougie MacLean in Denver

Last Thursday (3.19.09), I had the pleasure of attending the Dougie MacLean concert at the Colfax Events Center in Denver.  In case you didn’t know, Dougie is a Scottish singer/songwriter that has written wonderful songs like “Caledonia” and “The Gael” from the movie, “Last of the Mohicans.”

The Concert:

Dougie’s performance was a pleasure to witness.  He performed songs like “Singing Land,” “She Will Find Me” and “Caledonia, to name a few.  He also performed a new piece that he recently finished, new enough to have the lyrics taped to the side of his guitar.  Inspired by the loss of some friends the past year, this song (he didn’t give the name), was touching and made me fondly think of loved ones I have lost.  I hope he includes this on his next release,  so I can find out what the name is.

As Dougie said, this wasn’t a concert where you sit, cross your arms and just listen.  He wanted us to be a part of the evening as well.  Dougie engaged the audience; sometimes making us laugh and many times, having us sing along with the chorus.  He wasn’t shy about letting us know when we were off beat or out of tune.  It was all in good fun though.  It was fun, we became part of the concert and this was the beauty of his performance.

After the show, Dougie stuck around, signed my CD I just bought and chatted with us for a quite a few minutes.  I have to admit, I was in awe being in the presence of one of my songwriting heroes so I didn’t say much but just took it in.  It was a please to listen to him sing an then chat for a few minutes and If you ever get a chance to see him in concert, buy a ticket and go.  You will not be sorry.

PS – Gear:

Dougie only played one guitar; his signature model made by Moon Guitars.  Simple and beautiful.  I didn’t see any effects. It was just him and the music; perfect!


Dougie’s Home Page

Moon Guitars

Dougie’s signature guitar

Get Dougie’s Music


Changing Bad Habits

If you are following me on Twitter, you already know that I’m going to Dougie MacLean concert Thursday, March 19 in Denver.  Bought the ticket this morning  after pondering over whether to go or not.  Couldn’t think of any reason not to go and many on why I should. 

What’s my point, you ask?

I would have normally talked myself out of going and then regretted it later. But that was the old me.  I’m now practicing my guitar new years resolutions by expanding my boundaries in my guitar life; not only with playing but listening to new music and seeing more concerts.   There is something about live music that gets my blood flowing and keeps my motivated to become better at my instrument every day.  If it does me good, I guess I should do it more. 

What are you trying to expand your guitar/musical life?


Bruce Cockburn on etown

Last Wednesday, I was able to to see Bruce Cockburn and Joan Osborne for a taping of etown radio, a two hour show featuring great music and interviews with both Cockburn and Osborne.

Bruce’s Set

  • Slow Down Fast
  • Pacing The Cage
  • Interview with host Nick Forster
  • (Joan Osborne Played Her Set)
  • If a Tree Falls
  • Beautiful Creatures
  • Jerusalem Poker
  • The City is Hungry

Bruce walks out on stage with a new hairstyle; grown long and pulled  back to a pony tail, samurai style.  He made a joke that he needed to put a bone in his hair to complete the look.  Bruce played two small sets with an interview placed in the middle.   Nick Forster (etown host) asked Bruce questions about his accomplishments, influences and intentions regarding songwriting.  A common theme in Bruce’s answers was that he didn’t want to look back but just live in the moment.  He said, at one point, his greatest achievement was being on “this stage at this time.”

His performance of Jerusalem Poker was incredible.  It never ceases to amaze me how he can keep that thumb going while he plays the ridiculously hard solo for that song.  His last selection was a new piece called “The City is Hungry.”  He mentioned that it was inspired by New York City where has spent quite a bit of time visiting his girlfriend.

Even though this was a shorter performance that I’m used to, Bruce was in great form and I can’t wait to see him for the “Slice of Life Tour.”

P.S.  I went to this concert only to see Bruce but I have to say that Joan Osborne blew my mind.  Her voice is so strong and her tone is spine tingling.  She put on a great show and I look forward seeing her live again.  Loved her performance so much I bought Relish and Little Wild One the next day.



Get out of the box. Now get back in!

By Hercules Castro:

Remember when alternative music was actually an alternative to popular music? As “alternative music” grew in popularity, by merit of terminology, one would have expected the label to change to “popular music”. But it did not. Nirvana, for example, was one of the most popular acts in the world, but they were still labeled “alternative”. Go figure. Now when someone refers to “alternative music”, I have no idea what they are talking about.

Along these lines is the phrase “Thinking outside of the box”. There was a time when this meant to think differently, more originally, from a fresher perspective. These days, it has become more of a catchphrase. It seems that everyone is thinking outside of the box. So if we want some different, fresh and original thinking, maybe we should get back in the box.

I thought that would be an amusing introduction to this entry, although tying the two together will be a stretch, at best.

Today’s topic is two-tiered. First, I’d like to talk about stepping out of your comfort zone, which I guess could qualify as “out of the box” thinking. Second, I’d like to talk about use of the pentatonic scale for blues applications. This one will plant us firmly back in the box. Why a discussion on both? Mainly because I just had a unique experience that got me thinking about both. I’ll share.

My background is heavy metal, shred-style guitar playing. My main influences have names like Van Halen, Vai, Malmsteen, Gilbert, Kotzen, etc… So when a friend approached me to sit in with his country/classic rock band for a party, I said “Oh, Hell no”. Not because I take issue with those styles. I have a lot of respect for players in those genres. My concern was that I would sound silly trying to squeeze in harmonic minor 64th note runs, sweeps, taps and divebombs over “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (anyone remember the “Johnny B Goode” scene in “Back to the Future”?)

However, after some consideration, I started thinking that this might be a good opportunity to hone my skills by trying something I never would have bothered with, left to my own devices. Besides, I know the blues scale, and that’s pretty much all you use in country/classic rock, right? Well, I’m happy to say that that is not correct at all.

One of our songs was “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits. A quick listen reveals some pretty cool lead work, complete with some quick runs, which is right up my alley. But after diving into it, I found some very unusual tonal structuring, intricate phrasing, and to my horror, finger-style picking. Another song we did, “Smooth” by Carlos Santana, actually featured some extensive harmonic minor work. This surprised me. In both cases, yes there was some pentatonic, bluesy lead playing going on, but there were other things happening that made it very interesting.

Long story short, I learned the songs (more or less), played the gig, it was fun, and I walked away with a new appreciation for musical styles I hadn’t really thought about previously. But best of all, I’ve got some new licks and techniques under my belt.

The moral of the story: It’s a good thing to throw caution to the wind every now and then. Step out of your comfort zone, and you’ll be rewarded with a fresher perspective and some new tools. You don’t necessarily have to love the material, you don’t even have to use what you gain, but it might just be the thing to bust out of a rut or amp up your technique to make you just that much better.

P.S. For all of you more evolved (older) players out there: Yes, I know that Santana and Knopfler influenced all of the guys who influenced me. You can feel all good that you knew that before I figured it out. Good job. Now get off my case or I’ll take your fiber and pill dispensers away from you. : )

Next week: Pt 2 – How to apply the pentatonic scale for happy blues and mad blues.

You can find out more about Hercules and his music at or  his MySpace profile


What Is the Feeling?

One of the many talents of Leonard Bernstein’s was his ability to explain/have a discussion about the complexities of music to anyone.  You didn’t need to have a degree in music to get what he was saying.  All you needed was the love for music and the desire to learn more.

Below is a clip from The Unanswered Question – Six Talks at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein.  In this clip Bernstein discusses what might Beethoven might have been feeling or what story he might want to convey when writing the piece featured on the clip.  After watching this, I had a different/deeper appreciation for the music.  So I ask you, what feeling are you trying to convey when you write a song?  More to that, what feelings do you think a songwriter is sharing when you play his/her song?  Think about that next time you play, you might find a new, maybe better way to approach a song.