By William Westhoven
Steve Howe is not predisposed to retreat, particularly not in the morning.
One of rock music’s most respected and prolific guitar heroes — and a cornerstone of two enduringly iconic classic-rock bands — Howe has eased up just a bit on his overtime, with an eye on getting back to his solo career.
“I’ve got a bit more time on my hands since I left Asia,” said Howe during a recent phone interview from Chicago, where he was on tour with Yes, which is presenting The Yes Album, Close to the Edge and Going for the One in their entirety.
The tour continues through the end of May, after which Howe has some solo dates planned for June.
Whatever free time he may have left comes from his formal retirement in January from Asia, which he has toured extensively with since 2006 and alternated with Yes tours since 2008.
Some of that free time has been committed to a guitar retreat — the Cross Styles Music Retreat — August 19 to 23 at Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, New York. Guitar players of all skill level and experience are welcome to sign up, as are non-musicians. All-inclusive packages run from $1,195 to $2,495.
“I’ve done a lot of these over the years,” Howe said. “But I haven’t done one here. We did one on a cruise ship once … four days.” With legions of passionate fans, he is used to indulging the star-struck, and interaction with the attendees is definitely part of the experience.
“But you hope at some point the focus is on the music, and guitars, and learning,” he said.
Just not too early in the day.
“You’ll see the day begins with breakfast,” he said with a laugh. “And you’ll see I’m scheduled for the afternoon. I need some time to wake up.”
For those who like an early start, the days theoretically begin with an hour of recreation, followed by a leisurely breakfast from 8:30 to 10 a.m. The mornings continue with classes by Ray Matuza, an expert of fingerstyle and jazz techniques, classical guitarist Flavio Sala. Dick Boak of Martin Guitars also will attend to present an interactive Martin history.
For most, though, the retreat will be about Howe’s daily two-hour “master Class,” in which he promises to play as much as talk. “I haven’t quite worked it out yet, that’s something I’ll get to as the date gets closer,” he said. “But there will definitely be some structure to it in terms of style and technique. And most definitely there will be a lot of playing. I’m not just going to be up there talking. Demonstration is an essential part of what I’m doing.”
He also said his equipment choices will be made closer to the date, but inevitably will include two primary guitars. “Well, of course I’m bound to my Martin MC-38,” he said, referring to his signature limited-edition model. “And I think to demonstrate a number of things, it will be important to have the Variax.”
He’ll bring pedals and other gear for a more-complete demonstration of effects as well as techniques, which he will use during instruction as well as lessons with special guests and evening jams that are also inked into the program schedule.”
“I think it’s a great chance to explore playing and composing and just spending time really focused on guitar,” he said. “As I’m self-taught and don’t actually read music, I come at these things in a different way than perhaps some others do. After all, I’ve been doing this for about 53 years and doing pretty well at it. You learn by doing, by working, by practice. That’s why playing is so important and so much a part of this.”
Howe said he’s also looking forward to getting back to his solo career and the freedom “of being out there on a stage and not having to worry about what everybody else is doing,” he said. “I’ll be doing some solo dates in Britain, then some with the jazz trio, then back to the States with Yes.”
For more information about the retreat, visit crossstylesmusicretreat.com.
William Westhoven is a freelance writer. His novel, One-Hit Willie, takes place over more than 50 years of rock and roll history. For information, visit onehitwillie.com.