Multi-talented musician David Essig has two distinctly different fan groupings — hippies turned folkies and young guitar aficionados.
The folk fans are a given. Essig, a Vietnam war protester who left the Washington, D.C., area in 1971 to eventually settle on Protection Island off the coast of Nanaimo, B.C., still carries a lot of leftie appeal.
The acclaimed singer/songwriter not only plays the mandolin, he writes original songs in the traditional vein of Stan Rogers or Gordon Lightfoot.
“My folkie fans, have been around since the ’60s and ’70s. They remember the old days and know I like to tell stories,” said Essig, who’s written ballads about the plight of older women, natives dropped off by police outside city limits and sexual exploitation.
Despite this subject matter, Essig, who performs Saturday afternoon, Aug. 13, at the Central Music Festival north of Red Deer, doesn’t consider himself a political songwriter.
“I just keep my ears open to what’s happening around me.”
The 18-to-25-year-old male guitar fans are a little harder to figure — until you realize that, as well as creating such popular tunes as Albert’s Cove and Paint Me a Picture, Essig is also considered one of Canada’s finest blues and slide guitar players.
In fact, he wrote a complicated instrumental ditty, Berkeley Springs, which has become a canon for guitar enthusiasts who like to showcase their virtuosity on YouTube.
Essig clearly gets a kick out of hearing widely differing versions of his composition. “All of these people are playing the song — including some Japanese kids on their bed in Tokyo. . . . You hear some really good players, and some who are trying to figure it out, but (post their video) anyway,” he added, with a chuckle.
“Over time, the song has given me a kind of notoriety.”
The guitar boys may come to Essig’s concerts for the playing, “but I hope they stay for the songs,” said the 65-year-old, who has two more unlikely claims to fame.
He plays a Korean 12-string zither called the kayagum. And he has an improbably large folk following in Italy, where he has toured more than 15 times.
Essig is also a well-regarded music producer, who has worked with Fred Eaglesmith, Duck Donald, the Dixie Flyers, Jackie Washington and other artists.
But when he comes to the Central Music Festival, Essig will just be bringing his guitar and collection of original tunes that goes back four decades.
Essig’s latest CD is called Rolling Fork to Gallows Point. It’s not so much a re-recording of his popular Whose Muddy Shoes album but a re-imagining of it.
“The playing is a lot hotter on it,” said Essig, who lined up some great supporting players for the CD, including Chris Whitely on the blues harp, and Tobin Frank from Spirit of the West on bass.
He added the album was recorded “live off the floor and has a spontaneous live sound.”
The title of the CD was derived from two place names — Rolling Fork is the Mississippi hometown of Muddy Waters, one of the founders of the Delta Blues, while Gallows Point is the most prominent landmark on Protection Island, where Essig and his wife have made their home.
Gallows Point is actually the site of the first public hanging in British Columbia, which happened during the time Spain and Britain were duking it out over who would own Vancouver Island, said Essig.
“There was a huge British fleet here and there was some kind of mutiny on a ship.”
He later admitted, with a laugh, that the historic story involving a mutiny, war and hanging has all the markings of a future David Essig ballad.
Weekend passes for the Central Music Festival are $78 ($49 for teens/seniors, or $185 for families). Single day passes are available at the gate only. Tickets for all ages are $20 Friday, $55 Saturday and $30 Sunday. For more information, go to www.centralmusicfest.com.