Just give them a guitar and a week

The Acoustic Guitar Project was brought to life in Minneapolis on Wednesday night.

by Ksenia Gorinshteyn

The word “challenge” frequently follows the word “creative” when a tight deadline is involved.

For five Minneapolis musicians, a recent creative challenge included writing and recording a brand new song in one week, all using the same guitar.

These original songs were then given life on the second floor of moto-i on Wednesday as part of the global Acoustic Guitar Project.

Songs about dogs, the #MeToo movement and spiting your professor were among the completed works.

“I tried to pick the first people that came to my mind who would be excited about writing a song where they’re not being compensated for it, they just wanted to do it for its own sake,” said J.T. Viele, the curator for the Minneapolis branch of the project.

Minneapolis has been part of the international Acoustic Guitar Project since 2014, but this year was Viele’s first year finding acts to include.

At moto-i, the lights were dimmed. At the front of the small stage was the guitar used to write each song; signatures from past performers decorated its body. 

Cole Premo started the night with a raspy and soulful ode to his girlfriend’s dog, Stanley. He was followed by Erica VonBank, who had been in a writing “dry spell” until Viele asked her about joining the project.

“This kind of flipped a switch in my brain to remember that creating is fun for me, and it’s my passion,” VonBank said. “It’s not something I do for a grade anymore. It’s my reality. This helped me see that.”

Her sweet acoustic rant to a professor she had in college was accompanied by a song she wrote in the eighth grade about the tragedy of pre-pubescent romance.

Mayyadda, the next musician, got up from her seat where she had been knitting and yelling affirmations to both performers.

She had agreed to the project as soon as Viele asked her about it.

“The idea of it was very intriguing,” Mayyadda said. “Like, ‘Oh, this sounds like something my little nerd heart would actually enjoy.’”

During her set, she asked for audience participation in spelling Mississippi “just like we learned in school.”

Her song, “Nov 21,” narrated an experience with racial violence. As she performed, the audience swayed along with her.

“The only thing that came to mind [when writing] was that this was the reason why I don’t want to write,” Mayyadda said. “So I should probably write about it.”

After her set, the guitar was handed to the next performer, who exchanged sweet smiles with Viele.

Robin Viele, the event organizer’s sister, wrote about the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. As she performed, her entire body moved with her song. She appeared deeply moved.

Jared Zachary closed the night with a few originals, including “You’re Not Here,” which was written for the project. The song is about his best friend who passed away last June.

The project was an outlet that also gave music-lovers a chance to connect. Those in the audience cheered loudly after each set, and the acts themselves would film each other or praise one another on stage.

This connection was apparent beyond the performance space, too. Viele said that Robin was able to interact with a musician in a different country about the song she wrote.

Ultimately, the Acoustic Guitar Project offers a platform that brings individuals together when they might not have had anything to pull them toward each other in the first place.

“It’s cool to get a glimpse outside of your own community,” Viele said. “And to be reminded how many people are writing awesome songs and are willing to do it just for the challenge of doing it.”

Whether the guitar came to the musician in a time of struggle, inspiration or happiness, each of the project’s songs was crafted just for the sake and love of music.

“Nobody’s getting famous off of this,” Viele said. “That’s kind of the idea and I think that’s kind of sweet.”