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Guitarist Peppino D'Agostino to perform Thursday

Acoustic guitarist Peppino D'Agostino has been called the best at what he does, but he's staying humble about what most people would consider to be his bragging rights.

Acoustic guitarist Peppino D'Agostino has been called the best at what he does, but he's staying humble about what most people would consider to be his bragging rights.

Peppino D'Agostino, originally from Italy but now a Californian, was voted "Best Acoustic Guitarist" of 2007 by Guitar Player magazine. He will perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Empire Arts Center, Grand Forks, in the latest concert of the Masters of Guitar series.

D'Agostino said he was "very grateful" to be chosen and that the title makes it easier to convince promoters to hire him, but as for the rest?

"To me, that was a good thing that happened from a PR standpoint," he said. "Do I believe that I'm the best guitarist? No."

A performer would be out of his game "the moment you believe your own PR." Besides, it's difficult to say who is better or worse than other guitarists because there are so many musical styles, he added.

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"What is being great?" he said. "Being the fastest guitarist on the planet or the one that knows more chords? To me, this is all a little bit stupid."

Still, he said, it was an honor. D'Agostino was in Paris when he received an e-mail about the honor and had to call his manager to confirm the good news because he couldn't find a copy of the magazine anywhere.

"I drank a glass of champagne with my wife in Paris," he said. "That was cool."

Tickets for D'Agostino's Thursday show are $18, or $15 for Empire members and can be purchased in advance at the Chester Fritz box office.

'Very cool'

D'Agostino said his calling came after seeing his cousin play guitar in Italy one day at age 10. "He made an impression on me," he said. "He showed me a few chords, and everything started that way."

Then, it was just a matter of convincing his mother to buy a guitar and starting to play simple chords. He was kind of surprised when he discovered playing guitar in Italy in the late 1960s was "very cool," D'Agostino said.

"So, I kept on playing because I knew that people were looking at me like I was very special," he said. "So, I continued doing that. It was a way of affirming myself as an individual, especially as a teenager."

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It wasn't long, though, before music became a lot more important than just impressing girls. It became an "obsession," he said, and his mother wanted him to spend more time doing homework. He started to see his hard work pay off as a young adult when he could play for money in small Italian clubs.

"I felt acknowledged that people were willing to pay me for playing guitar," he said. "Which made my situation at home more difficult. I didn't want to study and become a lawyer."

He moved to the U.S. in 1985, finding further success and picking up awards as his career went along. D'Agostino said his musical journey introduced him to many different styles that influenced his own sound, even using the guitar as a drum by playing the strings with only his left hand so he could do more intricate percussion effects with his right hand.

"It's very visual and interesting," he said. He's working on a new CD with songs that use the guitar-drum style to add a beat. He also sings, mostly songs in Italian but occasionally in English.

'Other side'

D'Agostino said it was tough for his mother to accept his career choice because her generation was "attached" to the idea of a salary and a steady job, which the music industry doesn't usually offer.

"My mother, she really understands my choice, and she's supportive now, but it took a long time," he said.

But as he has grown older, he has been able to put himself in her shoes. D'Agostino said his daughter is now starting a career in the film industry, another nonsalary kind of field in which success can be elusive.

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"I'm seeing this approach from the other side," he said. "I'm worried about my daughter, but I have to support her in doing that. But being in the arts is not easy."

His music career has been difficult, but he's happy about his choice, he said. He likes to provide a release to people, especially in hard times, when they want to come to a concert and "just be transported somewhere else far from their worries."

"Music is really a gift to all of us because you listen to a piece of music and you don't think of anything else," he said.

D'Agostino's career has brought him around the world and kept him busy for decades. This will be his first trip to North Dakota, and he said he expects it will be nice to be in Grand Forks.

"When people live in cold places, they have a very warm heart in general," he said. "I'm really looking forward to meeting the people."

Johnson covers local music events and runs a music blog at www.areavoices.com/valleysound . Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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