[Music] The Piano Man Plays Guitar

When you think of George Winston, you probably think of his career as a solo pianist and the countless albums he's released over a 25-year period with the Windham Hill Label. But that's not all Winston can do. On April 28th, he'll be performing a benefit for the Heritage House, a newly opened cultural learning center for teens in Hazlehurst. And he'll be playing guitar, not piano. He'll be playing slack-key guitar, to be exact—a fingerstyle solo guitar tradition, originating in 19th century Hawaii. His own label, Dancing Cat Productions, has documented and recorded many masters of this lesser-known indigenous style.

I spoke with Winston about his involvement in the Heritage House, headed by Janet Schriver, and learned that, among his many roles, he can also be counted, to a limited degree, as a Mississippi native. "I moved from Montana to (Jackson) Mississippi in the 7th grade, and lived there for three years," he says.

While that may not be the longest stay, it was enough to influence his music. "My whole inspiration for music is the seasons," Winston says. "I look at the whole world through that lens. That first summer in Mississippi, with foliage exploding across the road was something else."

Winston and Schriver had a history before they collaborated for the Heritage House. "When I conceived the idea of Heritage House, I called George," Schriver says. "I asked if he would be on an advisory board. He agreed. He's worked with me before on arts projects when I was in Dallas. Then, after we opened Heritage House, he suggested that he would do a benefit. The rest is history."

Winston has long paired his music with social consciousness, as evidenced by his many benefit CDs, from "Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions: A Hurricane Relief Benefit," released after Hurricane Katrina, to "Remembrance," a 9/11 memorial-benefit CD. Winston likes to help others with his music, he says, because there's more to music than making money.

"To me, getting paid isn't the goal of playing, it's just something that occurs every now and then," he says with a laugh. "Playing is all of it. If you can play a song, you're infinitely rich."

The Heritage House is an effort to combat the lack of arts education and high dropout rate in Mississippi Delta schools, and has garnered support from the city of Hazlehurst, the Copiah County Board of Supervisors and the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation. Despite being claimed by the Delta, Robert Johnson was born in Hazlehurst and returned there later in life in search of his roots. When Claud Johnson, President of the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation and son of Robert Johnson himself, speaks about the kids of Hazlehurst, you sense that he understands their dilemma. "They need to find their way," Johnson says. "If we don't put something out here to help them, people on the street will. And they do."

What can an audience expect from Winston? "I don't have a set list, so I don't know what I'm gonna do," he says. "When I do a guitar concert, it just doesn't want to be planned."

Winston admits that we can expect Hawaiian slack-key and Appalachian tunes, and maybe even a Robert Johnson song or two.

Tickets are on sale at ticketmaster.com, for Saturday, April 28th at 5:30 p.m. The concert takes place at First Baptist Church in Hazlehurst.


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