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The Commons
The Arts

Musicians come together to celebrate Froggy Mountain guitar maker Michael Millard

Tickets are $20 for general admission, $18 for students and seniors, and are available at Offerings Jewelry in Putney and online at www.nextstagearts.org. This event is made possible in part through media support provided by Vermont Public Radio, and other support from Maple Leaf Music in Brattleboro.

Originally published in The Commons issue #180 (Wednesday, November 28, 2012).


PUTNEY—Three prominent acoustic guitarists are set to join forces at a historic night of music and conversation to celebrate the Vermont instrument maker Michael Millard and his renowned Froggy Bottom Guitars.

The event, also a benefit performance for the Next Stage Arts Project, is Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Next Stage on Kimball Hill.

According to Next Stage Arts, Millard has built more than 5,000 steel-string guitars over 40 years, many of them to order. His award-winning instruments are played by some of the world’s most discerning guitarists.

Featured are Will Ackermann, Scott Ainslie, and David Surette. The moderator is musician, songwriter, and guitar teacher Lisa McCormick. Dialogue will be in music and words with Millard, and audience participation is welcome.

All three featured musicians play worldwide, but make their home in the southern Vermont region. The set list will roam from New Age to blues to Celtic.

According to Next Stage Arts artistic director Julian McBrowne, this event is significant, as Froggy Bottom makes some of the finest guitars in the country, and these are played by guitarists from across the music spectrum.

The steel-string acoustic guitar is a modern form of guitar descending from the classical guitar, but is strung with steel strings for a brighter, louder sound.

Millard says that, in contrast to the classical guitar, “the steel-string guitar is more geared towards popular and folk music, but this kind of instrument is astoundingly versatile and can play virtually all kinds of music, depending upon what each culture is looking for. The steel-string guitar is used everywhere, in all cultures across the globe. Since it is louder than than a classical guitar, it has more diversity.”

The five employees who run Froggy Bottom Guitars make about 100 instruments a year, half of which are custom-made for the needs of an individual performer.

Millard says custom guitar making can be complex, with guitars varying in their size and girth, and the species of wood used.

“A client tells me what he or she wants the prospective guitar to do, on a certain range, on a certain tone. The particular needs of a client should be functional, not egotistical. I make one guitar at a time,” Millard says.

McBrowne points out that the needs can depend the kind of music the artist plays or on the size of the venue in which the guitarist usually performs, be it Brattleboro’s intimate Metropolis or a much more capacious concert hall.

“The differences between guitars can be subtle and sophisticated, as the difference between an opera or blues singer,” continues Millard. “I will not consider working with someone who says that he wants his guitar to sound ‘cool.’”

Millard said he finds the Next Stage concert a great and unexpected honor.

“Oh gosh, I am flattered beyond imagination. Here I am at 65, and I have been quietly making guitars since my early 20s, and now this.

“I have become a big fish in a small pond. I have lived in Windham County for a long time, so I find people keep coming up to me to say things like, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to see you at the great concert.’ The benefit is rather like an avalanche — beautiful, but in a way overwhelming.”

In fact, Millard says he thinks everyone is making too much of a fuss over him.

“Making guitars is a simply my process of engaging with humanity directly,” he says. “I realize that my guitars do mean a lot to some people. But it can be almost obsessional. People get excited over these guitars like they do about certain movies or fancy cars. I am very happy to being doing this benefit for Next Stage, but I am a little apprehensive about such concern over someone’s work. What a person does is not what that person is. Work should not be what defines a person. A person should be celebrated for his relationship with his family and friends, and how he lives day to day throughout his life. That is who we are.”

Millard says that he feels a direct musical connections to all who play his guitars.

“The guitars themselves may be how I came to know these people, but through the process of building a guitar for them deeper bonds were formed. All artists in this concert are more important to me as friends than musicians. And what I most look forward to in the upcoming concert is joining in a musical dialogue, both with these musicians and with the audience.”


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