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Sean Harkness at Black River Valley Concert Series Feb. 16

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LOWVILLE — Sean Harkness has guitars, will travel.

On Saturday, the award-winning guitarist from New York City will perform in the Black River Valley Concert Series.

Mr. Harkness describes himself as a “guitarist for hire.” He composes music for solo guitar and for small ensembles and he backs many singers, musicians and Broadway productions in the Big Apple.

“In order to make a living in New York as a guitar player, I have to have a lot of different things going on,” Mr. Harkness said last week in a phone interview from his New York City home.

He’s also called on to travel. So far this year, out-of-state gigs include those in Vermont, San Antonio, Texas, and Chicago.

But he gets most accolades in his home city. In 2011, he garnered the Outstanding Instrumentalist award at the Backstage Bistro Awards and has also received a 2011 Manhattan Association of Clubs and Cabarets award for his New York City solo shows.

Mr. Harkness has released several albums. Many of his earlier ones were on the defunct Windham Hill Records label, which specialized in acoustic, new age and folk music.

“I fit right into it,” Mr. Harkness said. “It’s all about high quality, acoustic, ambient music. It was a reaction at the time, 1979 or ’80, responding to disco. It fit. I think there’s people still hungry for that now.”

For his Lowville concert, Mr. Harkness said, he plans to have at least three guitars with him: his baritone acoustic model along with a steel string acoustic and a nylon string classical instrument.

Most of the songs will be his original material.

“I’ll also do a few things people may know,” he said.

Mr. Harkness has performed in large concert halls, but he prefers the intimate atmosphere such as in the “Blue Room” of the Lowville Historical Society’s building. The society hosts the Black River Valley Concert Series.

“I do a lot of private ‘living room’ concerts,” Mr. Harkness said. “They’ll fly me to Dallas or wherever to go to somebody’s house where there’s 30 or 40 people.”

He said it’s his favorite type of concert.

“I find that when I work in concert halls, I kind of bring that intimacy to that concert. It feeds on each other,” he said.

The guitarist said he has a wide range of influences ranging from bluegrass to ragtime music.

“It has a distinct voice,” he said. “Those who know my music know what it is. I don’t know what to call it.”

He described his instrumental music as “songs without words.”

“I’m performing songs that tell a story without lyrics,” he said. “The music has to have the guts to make that fly.”

He’s been performing since he was 11 when, while living in Connecticut, he got his first guitar from his parents. He’d been asking for one for about three years.

“They realized it wasn’t a whim,” he said. “I didn’t even know how to hold it when I got it. But I was playing gigs within six months and I’ve been playing gigs ever since.”

The details
WHAT: Guitarist Sean Harkness performs as part of the Black River Valley Concert Series sponsored by the Lewis County Historical Society.
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Blue Room of the society’s headquarters, 7552 S. State St.
COST: Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Advance tickets can be purchased at the historical society, Cafe Z, 7594 S. State St., and Dr. Guitar, 154 Court St., Watertown.
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