Guitar Heaven

Back in January, on the final day of the Winter Village Bluegrass Festival, we were introduced to a young guitar-player named Mark Mazengarb. Mark wasn’t on the program, but it seems that he had contacted Rick Manning, festival organizer extraordinaire, and had offered to play on Sunday morning. There really wasn’t anything in the program about him, so I had no idea what to expect. Was this just going to be a local favorite who had an in with Rick? I knew that if Rick had given him this opportunity it would be something good, but I had no idea. Mark simply blew me away with his talent and his “sound.” He played all sorts of music with all sorts of styles from flat-picking to finger-picking. I learned that he was one half of a guitar duo known as Loren and Mark. Loren, obviously, wasn’t with him at this venue.

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Loren and Mark have been touring in central New York in recent weeks, and on Sunday we caught their show at the Auburn Public Theater in Auburn, NY.

To say that this concert was amazing would be an understatement. These two guitarists are among the best I’ve heard. Growing up, and well into my adult life, Chet Atkins was my number 1 guitar hero. No one could ever come close to creating the sounds Chet Atkins could produce. Until now. Mark has such a sensitivity to the tones the guitar can produce, and he has such refined skill and talent, that he is clearly on par with Atkins in terms of tonal quality.

Now I don’t mean to overemphasize Mark’s skill to the omission of Loren. The truth is, Atkins’ “sound” was not his only mark of genius. He also was able to play melody, rhythm, and bass all at once. It takes Mark and Loren, working tightly together to do all of that. When Mark is geeking out with a sweet lead riff, Loren is right behind him with a walking bass and a steady rhythm. On another song, they’ll switch roles with Loren taking the lead. Loren’s sound and style are very different from Mark’s, with more of a country-rock feel to it. On some songs they alternate back and forth in these different roles – within the song. On one song they had a little fun by alternating back and forth within a measure! (If you can’t imagine what I mean by that, you’ll have to go to one of their performances to see and hear it in action. It was wonderfully entertaining.)

I was curious about their background, how they had met, and how they had come to be touring together. At one point in the program they asked for audience questions. (APT has only about 200 seats, so it’s a small audience.) Of course, someone asked what I had been wondering about. It turns out that a few years ago, international guitar sensation Tommy Emmanuel had run a guitar workshop for 10 select, elite guitar players. Mark and Loren had both been invited, and that’s where they met. They have been playing together for four years now.

Did I mention that on Sunday morning, back in January at the Winter Village Bluegrass Festival I had spent a little time jamming with Mark? Yup. After his Sunday morning set he was in the lobby of the hotel with a couple other people. I couldn’t resist. I dug my guitar out and sat and joined them. I was, of course, way out of my league. But now I can honestly say that I’ve played guitar with Mark Mazengarb. I predict there will come a time when that will be a real feather in my cap. These guys have a bright future.