Fingerstyle Guitar with Mark Vickness, Michael Manring and Don Ross at Freight & Salvage, by Carolyn McCoy
Mark Vickness (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Words by Carolyn McCoy

Let’s have a short lesson on the fingerstyle guitar method, shall we? Fingerstyle is the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to finger. There is a tremendous freedom in fingerstyle, as pretty much the whole guitar can be used. The musician can create harmonics by simultaneously picking or pulling the strings on both the body and the fret board, while using the body of the guitar in a percussive manner. Because of all the sounds being emitted from one guitar, there is a sense of depth and fullness in the music created.

Being witness to this technique is an amazing thing, as watching a musician create such sounds is a somewhat magical as well as breathtaking experience. Being privy to Bay Area string-masters Mark Vickness and Michael Manring, as well as Canadian guitarist Don Ross, sharing the stage for a superb and intimate night of fingerstyle playing at Berkeley’s historic Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, was truly wonderful.

Vickness, a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist, opened the night with his duo Glass House with singer and beatboxer Dave Worm (Bobby McFerrin), creating the feeling of a large band with only two men. Vickness plucked, banged, and strummed his guitar, wrapping the stunning vocals of Worm in a melodic blanket that soothed and inspired. With original compositions as well as a cover of Pink’s “Try,” the duo was mesmerizing.

Manring is a legend, playing fingerstyle with a bass instead of a guitar. Using loops, pedal effects, and his bass, he created wave after wave of sound that lingered and floated into space. There was a moment before he started where he silently paused, closed his eyes, and seemingly channeled the notes and chords as he began to play. He is a true magician of sound.

Ross is hilarious as well as talented; cracking jokes, telling stories and bantering, with the audience while covering songs from his most recent album A Million Brazilian Civilians. Ending the night, Ross brought back Manring, Worm, and Vickness (who played tabla for the last few songs) and a jaw-dropping, collaborative jam ensued, which showcased a wonderful cohesion and respect between all these incredible musicians.