What: Beppe Gambetta
When: 6:30-7:45 p.m. tonight on the Unum Stage
Admission: Riverbend pin; $26 day pass.
With a beard that would make a moonshiner jealous, a lanky frame like a Georgia pine and guitar skills that most flatpickers would give a toe or two for, Beppe Gambetta looks every inch the bluegrass ideal.
Then he opens his mouth and the illusion dissolves like so much dust in the wind.
Gambetta is a native of Genoa, a province in the northwestern "thigh" of the Italian boot, but for all his Mediterranean blood and undeniable accent, his musical soul is deeply rooted in the American South. Yes, he brings his own espresso maker with him, and his trademark red shoes probably cost more than most off-the-rack suits, but when he puts fingers to strings, he's a guitarist whose skills easily can hang with the likes of Tony Rice, Doc Watson or his personal hero: North Georgia flatpicking legend Norman Blake.
About 25 years ago, Gambetta crossed the Atlantic and traveled America, seeking out and meeting the instrumental legends who inspired him. Throughout his career, he has shared the stage with many of them, including taking part in an international guitar supergroup, Men of Steel, with Dan Crary, Tony McManus and Don Ross.
I have had the privilege of seeing Beppe perform twice in the last several years and, as much as I gawk at his virtuosity, I'm even more impressed by how invested he is in his music.
Some artists are content to simply play, staring at their shoes -- the cheap, noncustom-made kind -- and be done with it. Beppe leans into the music with a passion, whether he's singing a Blake original like "Church Street Blues" or an original song in his native Italian.
One of the best things about Riverbend is the sense of discovery when you find the hidden gems, the unexpected geniuses tucked away off the beaten path. If you have even the slightest interest in down-to-earth artists with sky-high skills, trust me when I say Gambetta is just as worthy of camping out for as Dierks Bentley. Andiamo, y'all.
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.