by Anne Batty, photos by Don Kindred
Twice monthly on Friday evenings, Dana Point is alive with the sound of music. On a small side street in an intimate, eclectic setting in the Dana Point Community House, music lovers are being treated to the talented vibes of accomplished finger-style, stringed-instrument musicians … many of them well-known Grammy winners and International Guitar Champions that have played Carnegie Hall and other world renowned venues and festivals.
A well-kept secret, these Lord of the Strings Concerts have been operating under the radar for the past 13 years, and repeatedly feature artists like world-renown Italian musician Peppino de Agostino; former lead guitarist of Beatle Paul McCartney’s band Wings, Laurence Juber; member of British rock group Supertramp, and guitar virtuoso Carl Verheyen, among many others. The music styles vary from pop to country, Hawaiian to classical, jazz to blues, rock and beyond.
Bringing It On
According to concert founder Tim Johnson - a musician in his own right - the impetus for these performances was his interest in finger-style guitar playing,
“My dad was a Chet Atkins fan,” Tim explained. “I grew up listening to Chet records, but as a young teen was mostly devoted to the more hip flat-picking surf style than rock guitar. Later in life, after discovering the more modern solo finger-style guitar, I re-learned how to play and became a devoted fan of this more versatile and much more difficult form of playing.”
While studying the music of guitarist Peppino D’Agostino, Johnson was surprised to discover D’Agostino actually lived down the street in his Benecia, CA neighborhood. It was a sudden random meeting while Peppino was playing at an outdoor community event between world tours that put things in motion. D’Agostino was part of a lively international music scene and it was through this new friendship that Tim established a broader understanding and passion for this type of music.
A few years later when Johnson moved to Dana Point, he discovered that finger-style guitar playing was an untapped and virtually unknown music genre in the greater Orange County area. As a fan and player he decided to provide a listening room type venue for concert goers as a way to share and enjoy this music with other lovers of stringed instrument music.
“While working at Lantern Bay Realty I noticed that the building a little behind the office was hardly being used,” Tim revealed, “so I approached the Dana Point Women’s Club, one of its few occupants, with the idea of holding a monthly concert there.”
Encouraged with just 40 patrons attending his first show, Johnson filled his stage by cold calling the many musicians he admired worldwide. Having little or no money for advertising, he depended on (and still does) word of mouth to fill his intimate listening room.
“In the beginning I spent lots of time cold calling and emailing, nearly begging to convince musicians to perform,” Tim recalled. “In those days we could only put the musicians up and entertain them in our home on our own dime. It was tough financially sometimes but my heart was really in it, and I was lucky that my wife, Tina, understood and shared the same passion.”
With word-of-mouth and premier performances, those Lord of the Rings Concert participants consenting to perform soon found themselves playing to packed houses, and Johnson found himself selling out many performances, sometimes even turning people away.
“The comments we consistently heard from our following after a couple of shows was ‘we’ve never heard of the next performer, but we know it is going to be great!’” Johnson stated.
Everyone was having such a great time that it wasn’t long before the word-of-mouth brought the City of Mission Viejo to Johnson’s door. And after enjoying the Dana Point show the city officials convinced Tim to present his concerts on Saturday evenings at the Mission Viejo Civic Center. After 10 years this 180-capacity venue is well-attended and often filled to capacity.
As audience numbers continued growing, Tim decided to expand further, and has recently added Sunday afternoon concerts at the South Coast Collection Center (SOCO) in Costa Mesa to his string of OC venues.
“Although concert attendance did fall off some due to the economic downturn of recent years, things are picking up again and the audience is growing. These musicians love performing at the Lord of the Strings shows and are now clamoring for repeat gigs,” Tim disclosed. “They love the audience interaction and constantly compliment our followers as some of the most engaging and appreciative anywhere. The word is out now among many top musicians - “the LOTSC shows in South Orange County are a highly desired stop while touring the globe. Major talents the world over are now competing to play for us. We only pick the best of the best, and so far we’ve been pretty spot-on.”
Not only are performers for these concerts provided three sites for play (Friday Dana Point, Saturday Mission Viejo, and Sunday afternoon Costa Mesa); they often have opportunity to teach at workshops in Tim’s home and to be interviewed on KSBR radio as well. And with the continued success of the concerts, Tim is now able to set the musicians up in local hotels
“Nothing is too good for these talented masters of their instruments,” Tim espoused.
A Lord of the Strings Concert generally consists of two sets, with refreshments available in-between, and the intimate venues offer opportunity to meet and greet the musicians during the break and after the show.
“The quality of our performers is so outstanding that it’s not unusual for our musicians to receive standing ovations, occasionally even in the middle of the first set,” Tim concluded.
For information about upcoming performances and ticket purchases go to www.lordofthestringsconcerts.com . Evening performances begin at 7:30. For concert bookings or information contact Tim Johnson at (949)842-0277.