Jean Larrivée has a pretty sweet set-up for a guy in his golden years: constant California sun, a huge yard and a golf course right across the street from his home.
And yet he prefers to putter around an indoor shop, covered in dust and wood chips from head to toe.
“I don’t like golfing and gardening is not for me even though I have a big garden,” Larrivée told the Courier from his home in Oxnard, Calif. “It’s one of those things where you become addicted — after 50 years of building guitars, you don’t just walk away from it.”
Larrivée is a former longtime Vancouver resident and business owner whose career in the guitar building game extended into its fifth decade this year. Now in his 70s, Larrivée’s instruments are played by musicians on virtually every continent.
The Quebec native will be recognized by peers and players alike with a lifetime achievement award for lutherie at the upcoming Vancouver International Guitar Festival.
“It’s been a really long road, but I get up every morning and I go to work,” Larrivée said. “It’s pretty simple. I never miss any time. Even if I’m not well, I’m still at work."
Running June 23 to 25 at the Chinese Cultural Centre, the inaugural three-day event is a veritable assault on the senses for all things strings: a luthier conference, vendors, demos, concerts, master classes and more.
Master luthiers from across the world will be in attendance, including Canadians Linda Manzer, Sergei de Jonge and Grit Laskin. Demos will come courtesy of Vancouver shredders David Martone, Don Alder, Hayley McLean and Shaun Verreault of Wide Mouth Mason fame.
A first for Western Canada if not the nation, the festival is the brainchild of Vancouver luthier Meredith Coloma and former Feldman Agency mogul Shaw Saltzberg, who’s helped oversee the careers of Michael Bublé, John Fogerty and Bryan Adams among others.
Having recently entered into semi-retirement mode, Saltzberg wanted to take up a hobby that could quiet his otherwise “fast-moving mind.” He met Coloma last August and entered into an intensive, month-long period to learn about the good found in wood. It was at that time that talk of big things and big strings came to be.
“Our goal is to position this at a high level, so we brought in some of the greatest guitar makers in Canada and around the world,” Saltzberg said. “These instruments are handmade typically and cost anywhere between $4,000 and $40,000. Some of these guitars are collectible, museum pieces.”
Having no reference point to lean on, Saltzberg is curious to see the demographics of attendees. He’s depending on two crowds: those between 25 and 45 who crave handmade, artisan items and the 45- to 75-year-old set who've got some disposable dough.
“Everybody knows somebody that plays a guitar, so it really crosses a lot of lines,” Saltzberg said.
With a career that’s spanned more than three decades, Alder has shared the stage with Steve Vai and Tommy Emmanuel — both are widely regarded amongst the most respected players to grace a stage.
All three have put in the requisite decades of woodshedding to get to where they’re at, but it’s the moments of wonder and even confusion that Alder cherishes most. Those are the takeaways he’ll stress during his upcoming performances and master classes.
“Some people need structure, so they spend their days practicing scales,” Alder said. “I’ll just noodle along all day looking for a gift to identify itself as something I can build on. Once I find those three notes, I’m off and running.”
Running the show solo without the benefit of a backing band can be daunting, but Alder pays no mind. For him, music is about the journey rather than the destination.
“A show isn’t just showing up to see someone play a guitar,” he said. “You have to take them on a trip. That’s what differentiates the players from the virtuosos. A show is an experience.”
The full festival schedule is online at www.vancouverguitarfestival.com.