Indiana State Fingerstyle Guitar Competition

by Chrissy Alspaugh

More than 20 of the most skilled guitar players from across the world are readying for some fierce competition, and a lot of fun, at the fourth annual Indiana State Fingerstyle Guitar Festival.

The three-day event, held in Nashville, is open to the public and aims to showcase some incredible talent while celebrating the region’s rich history with acoustic music, said co-organizer Chuck Wills.

Fingerstyle guitar is the technique of playing by plucking the strings directly with fingertips, fingernails, or picks. The term often is used synonymously with fingerpicking, classical, or thumb style. Prominent fingerstyle players include Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Tommy Emmanuel, and Andres Segovia.

“Fingerstyle is the ultimate expression of playing the guitar,” Wills said. “This competition is kind of the Olympics of guitar playing.”

This year’s festival will begin with an open mic night on July 31 at the Pine Room. The cover charge will be $3 per person or $5 per couple.

The August 1 competition is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Brown County Playhouse. More than 20 guitarists will compete for a $5,500 OC Bear hand-built guitar. The top three winners will kick off a 7:30 p.m. concert at the Playhouse that also will feature noted guitarists including Michael Kelsey and father-son duo Tim and Myles Thompson. All-day passes will cost $20 per person.

Wills described the concert as “a show not to miss.” After an intense day of serious competition, the performers hit the stage ready for fun.

The festival will wrap up on August 2 with workshops at the Brown County Inn to suit guitar players of any skill level. Topics will include basic fingerstyle, song writing, stage presence, advanced techniques, and more.

Wills said he and fellow organizer Kara Barnard created the contest as a regional competition for guitarists to prepare for the annual Walnut Valley Festival, an international competition in Winfield, Kansas for performers of acoustic instruments. But because the local contest focuses solely on fingerstyle, it quickly has become a favorite gathering for guitarists from across the U.S. and even has drawn registrants from Italy and Japan.
“It’s been an exciting surprise, how fast this has become a pretty big deal within the fingerstyle community,” Wills said.

Lance Allen, a fingerstyle player who has earned honors at the international competition, travels here each year from his home near Nashville, Tennessee for the festival because he said he likes learning from like-minded musicians and enjoys “the quaint little town.”

“And, of course, I’ve got my eyes on a new guitar,” said Allen, chuckling. “It’s just a great place for guitar players to get together, play together and, really, just hang out.”
With the competition now drawing a solid group of returning performers, Wills said his next goals are for the festival to reach an even larger audience and to increase participation of “casual guitar players” in the Sunday workshops. “That’s what’s truly going to make this a festival,” he said.

And the bigger the festival, the better for the community, Wills said. Organizers hope to use the annual three-day event to give a boost to local hotels and restaurants, while introducing the community to visitors who hopefully will return, he said.

Guitarists interested in the competition or workshops are encouraged to register at <>. Individuals also can sign up at the door both days, but only the first 40 registrants will be allowed to perform in the competition.

Tickets are available in advance at the Brown County Playhouse <> or at the door. For info <>.