Andy McKee: Fingerstyle guitar brought to Washburn

Not only was the theatre department’s latest show going on Saturday, April 13, but so was Topeka-born fingerstyle guitarist Andy McKee, who launched a successful music career after going viral on YouTube in the mid 2000s, thanks to his video of his performance of his song “Drifting.” McKee had already put out music before, but afterward he steadily released more albums. Instead of updating, his YouTube channel has toured around the world to perform extensively, even performing alongside Prince.

Fingerstyle as a technique can be described as using fingernails and fingertips among others to play strings. If chords are the easy mode of guitar then fingerstyle is beyond hard, and it shows through his performance. Each composition McKee played was detailed and painstakingly done that his years of mastering it are obvious. One can’t not have respect for him for the years of practice and fine tuning his craft. His songwriting just grabs the person’s attention and his melodies are incredibly unique. In between some songs, he also gave the background of why he wrote them, telling the story of being exposed to groups like Iron Maiden and Motley Crue through classic MTV.  In one song, “The friend I never met,” armed with a harp guitar is a self-explanatory Frankenstein mixture of an acoustic guitar and a harp. He played a tribute to one of his biggest music influences, Michael Hedges, a late fingerstyle guitarist.

Another thing that was really apparent about his songwriting is how the songs flowed. They all sounded like multiple cohesive instruments, and one of the best examples being his song “Rylynn” with McKee taking advantage of the guitar in creative ways to accomplish that sound, almost seeming like magic at times.

Many fans of McKee’s were there with one speaking about his personal experiences, having seen McKee live previously.

“I’ve been to a show before. I saw him in Lawrence last time. He played a bit differently. In Lawrence he went with his regular guitar, then the baritone then the harp, then the intermission. I can see in his shows even on a year to year basis he is still changing things up,” said Matthew Legler, a Manhattan resident and McKee fan who attended the show Saturday night.

In addition, McKee himself also graciously answered questions, discussing what brought him back to Topeka.

“It’s nice. The last time I did was three years ago, and I was here [White Concert Hall.] It’s not too often I get to, but what’s great about it is just getting to see friends and family in the audience, and people who used to see me in the coffee shops 20 years ago,” McKee said. 

McKee spoke about his journey to fingerstyle as well, going from just being content with teaching guitar in Topeka.

“Some of the first tunes I learned were on an acoustic guitar. My first guitar was an acoustic. I ended up learning songs like ‘Dust in the Wind’ and fingerpicking, as well as Led Zeppelin tunes that had fingerpicking but I didn’t really dive into it until I was in my mid-teens, and I just enjoyed it so much it didn’t seem like work, so I just practiced all day and tried to learn all the songs that I liked,“ McKee said.

He also stated what his favorite thing about his job is.

“Getting to see the world mostly, getting to play for different audiences. I always like to meet fans after the show, and the thing that really hit home with me is that people are the same all around the world, friendly and kind.”

McKee discussed his efforts to work on projects incorporating a synthesizer and be more 1980s inspired. He detailed what elements from that era have inspired his new project.

“The pop and the rock music from the 80s, I actually now more than anything listen to a lot of music from tv and movies in the 80s, instrumental stuff like from the film ‘Commando’ and ‘Bloodsport’.”

He has traveled to a total of 45 countries over the years with McKee’s next places marked on his map being China, Japan and Korea.

Overall, McKee demonstrated an undeniable talent and mastery of his craft, as well as a grounded sense of friendliness and compassion that was plain to see through every track he played.