Ask Tony Furtado if he plays folk music and the answer is yes. Ask him if he plays bluegrass or blues — two genres he’s often associated with — and the answer is yes, but not really.
Blues and bluegrass are both forms of folk music, he explains, but he tries not to lean on any one genre. Furtado, hailed as a banjo savant and slide guitar blues interpreter, will bring his act to Lawrence’s Unity Church Nov. 9 as part of the Westside Folk series. While he still is best known for picking away at banjo and slide guitar, what he plays is more of a melding of styles.
“I haven’t played bluegrass in years,” Furtado said. “Am I influenced by it? Yes. I don’t play blues. Certainly I’m influenced by it. Somebody might call what I do indie folk meets Americana.”
A deft string picker, Furtado got his start with the banjo, and it wasn’t long before the bluegrass world took notice. At age 19, he won his first of two National Banjo Championships at Winfield, Kansas’ acclaimed bluegrass festival. He quickly picked up slide guitar and started playing with ideas in celtic, jazz and styles that leaned more toward the rock and roll end of the spectrum.
A solo artist, but not a one-man band, he’s recorded and toured extensively, often with a band, sometimes with just one or two other sidemen. His Lawrence show will be a duo performance, and Luke Price, a skilled fiddle and electric guitar player who’s also won honors for his playing at Winfield, will join him. And while Furtado and Price might both be best known for their string work, they’ll break out songs that put the microphones to work. Furtado has recorded more than half a dozen albums, many of which feature his vocal work and singer-songwriter efforts.
“I think it sounds cool how we do it now,” Furtado said of his work with Price. “He brings good harmonies along and I’m proud of how it sounds.”
The Lawrence gig will be the last stop on his tour, though Furtado is never truly finished touring. In the past he’s played as many as 250 dates of the year. The road schedule has slowed down as he and his wife became proud new parents within the year. He plans to return home to Portland, Ore, play a few shows in the west and try to write some new songs for future recordings. He’ll also devote some time to his other artistic love, sculpting, while he spends time at home.
But before home is in his sights Furtado plans to pick his way through anywhere between 20 and 30 of the tunes he’s built up in his nearly two decades as a true American troubadour.