“I’ll never forget the first time I heard, and more importantly, saw a fingerstyle performance,” says Drew Roller, director of the new fingerstyle documentary Acoustic Uprising. “The ceiling instantly became the floor and I became obsessed. I wanted to learn more, and when I couldn’t find a way to delve deeper, I decided to create the film.”
Acoustic Uprising explores the rich history, breakthroughs, and musical innovations surrounding fingerstyle guitar, which of course is much more than a “style,” as it encapsulates many genres (including ragtime, folk, blues, gospel, rock, country, etc.) and techniques (the Carter scratch, Travis picking, percussive approaches, and so on). The doc features interviews with prominent fingerstyle players such as Tommy Emmanuel, Andy McKee, Kaki King, Sungha Jung, Preston Reed, Vicki Genfan, Newton Faulkner, and dozens of others. In addition, Acoustic Uprising takes a look at fingerstyle’s rise to prominence with the help of social media platforms like YouTube, and delves into communities of passionate acoustic guitarists who continue to explode the boundaries of the instrument’s capabilities.
“The acoustic guitar has found its way into almost every musical tradition in the world, and it’s a shapeshifter,” Kaki King notes in the teaser trailer for the documentary. After two years and a successful Kickstarter campaign, Melbourne, Australia–based company Roller Coaster Productions is taking Acoustic Uprising out into the world. In July, the doc had its world premiere in London at the Troubadour, the historic live music venue that has hosted guitar legends such as Jimmy Page, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix. The London premiere also featured live performances by Marcus Eaton and local fingerstyle virtuoso Amrit Sond.
Holding his acoustic guitar up to the camera, Canadian fingerstylist Calum Graham says, “This is a little orchestra—the bass, the melody, the percussive elements, the harmonics.” Graham is speaking to the unique ability of fingerstylists to perform several musical elements at once with their fingers, nails, palms, and knuckles, as opposed to the hand working as a single unit with a pick, a la flatpicking.
Perhaps Tommy Emmanuel sums up the versatility of fingerstyle playing best when he says simply: “With the acoustic, I am the band.”
During the summer, the film went on a screening tour at various venues around the world, including the Canadian Guitar Festival and the Sydney Guitar Festival. In October, the doc will be released on Blu-ray, and DVD, as well as available to download and stream. Learn more at acousticuprisingfilm.com.
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.