“Guitar pulls started out informally at the houses of songwriters in Nashville,” says Country Music Hall-of-Famer Emmylou Harris in the upstairs lounge at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, this past March 4. “They’d get together in someone’s living room—or maybe in town at Tootsie’s or the Bluebird—and pass around a guitar and play songs for each other. As an audience member, you never get tired of watching guitar pulls, because there’s usually a friendship between the songwriters that leads to fantastic banter and stories between songs.”
Another reason Harris likes guitar pulls is because the overhead on them is low, making them a great way to raise funds for good causes. Which is why we’re seeing a mammoth guitar pull at Club Nokia for tonight’s All For the Hall event—a benefit for Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
“Guitar players are usually blown away when they see our collection,” says the Hall’s Michael McCall. “On the electric side alone, we have everything from the original ‘Frying Pan’ and Les Paul’s ‘Log,’ to recent acquisitions from Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.”
Country singer/guitarist extraordinaire Vince Gill couldn’t agree more.
“To see some of those iconic instruments in person—Bill Monroe’s mandolin, ‘Mother’ Maybelle Carter’s L-5, an old Martin from Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs’ banjo, a lot of Chet Atkins’ guitars, and much more—is off-the-hook great,” says Gill. “I am proud to say my first guitar is there, too— the old ES-335 I got when I was ten years old.”
Coming through for country (left to right)—Vince Gill, Holly Williams, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, Emmylou Harris, event host Rita Wilson, and Jason Mraz.
Representing the pop side of contemporary music at the concert is multi-platinum tunesmith Jason Mraz, who loves the acoustic nature of guitar pulls.
“I have an entirely acoustic tour coming up, so I couldn’t ask for a better warm-up gig,” he says. “I am beyond honored to be included here. As an artist, it makes you feel like your songs must be of a certain caliber if you’re invited on stage to trade tunes with Vince and Emmylou.”
With its relaxed, interactive, and revealing songwriters-in-the-round format, a guitar pull can be captivating in ways conventional concerts aren’t.
“I saw the guitar pull of all guitar pulls— Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, and Townes Van Zandt,” says Holly Williams, granddaughter of country-music icon Hank Williams. “That was extraordinary, because the stories between the songs were as entertaining and moving as the songs themselves.”
But isn’t it challenging to create that cozy and interactive “living room” atmosphere in a venue like Club Nokia that holds 2,300 people?
“You call this large?” jokes Heart lead singer, Ann Wilson. “This is tiny [laughs]. But don’t forget that a small room can hate you just as much as a big arena.”