Famed guitar duo to perform in Woodstock

When internationally renowned guitarists Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber sat down and improvised some music, the story of the early pioneers evolved.

Lams, a member of the California Guitar Trio, and Griesgraber, known as one of the world’s most active players of the Chapman Stick – a 12-string guitar and bass hybrid – recently released “Unnamed Lands.”

The duo will play portions of the CD, a culmination of four years of work featuring 14 original instrumental tracks, as they kick off a Midwest tour at 8 p.m. Aug. 8 at Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road, Woodstock.

Lams, originally from Belgium, has toured with Griesgraber since 2004.

“Tom has a studio in his house,” Lams said. “We would just improvise for a half hour or so and listen to it and find the good spots and elaborate and write music through improvisation. ... The music just seemed to have this feel, some kind of emotion.”

As they began mixing the album, their producer gave them a book about the early pioneers traveling west during the 1800s in covered wagons.

The arduous journey resulted in deaths and miserable conditions for those involved, who endured harsh weather, wild animals and other challenges.

The music seemed to tell that story, Lams said.

“It reflects on the certain stages these people went through,” he said. “Each piece kind of shows a little bit of what happens when something like a big storm comes. People can use their imaginations.”

Accompanied by a 12-page booklet featuring original stories presented as diary entries about the journey and original artwork by Jack and Laurent Duriex, the album has been submitted for a Grammy award.

When they perform, Lams said the duo talks between each piece, telling the story along the way.

An honors graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Belgium, Lams’ music through the years has blended styles as diverse as Beethoven symphonies, progressive rock, surf guitar and spaghetti western themes.

Both he and Griesgraber have released solo CDs, with Griesgraber’s latest, “Sketchbook” showcasing instrumental rock, jazz and classical music. Griesgraber is an honor graduate of Berklee College of Music.

The Greater Midwest Guitar Circle, an ensemble of acoustic guitarists from throughout the Chicago area, will open for the duo Aug. 8.

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