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Just the fact Ellensburg sits on the I-90 corridor between Seattle and Spokane, makes it geographically appealing.

Throw in the fact Central Washington University has one of the best music departments in the country with exceptional facilities; then of course there’s the historical downtown district with craft breweries and a thriving jazz and blues music scene. Let’s just say there is a certain je ne sais quoi to a city with great potential.

Dr. Larry Birger has a plans to feature Ellensburg as not only a destination, but an anchor-point for artists when they come to the Pacific Northwest. “I want them thinking, ‘We have to play Ellensburg while we’re up there,’ ” Birger said.

Learn from the Masters Musical Outreach (LMMO) has parlayed the final weekend in September with an extraordinary finger-style guitar workshop, an evening with guitar legend Leo Kottke, all wrapped up with a performance by internationally acclaimed Billy McLaughlin.

McLaughlin, like a lot of other professional and amateur guitarists, marvels at the capabilities and the legend that is Leo Kottke, who was inducted into the Guitar Players Hall of Fame in 1978 and scored Grammy nods in 1988 and 1991.

“Leo is an icon in the industry, and for Larry (Birger) to bring him in as the first concert is like hitting a home run on the first pitch,” he said. “It’s going to be an absolutely incredible event and I’m proud to be a part of it.

“I had a chance to see Muddy Waters before he passed, and I think it’s absolutely necessary to see these legends while they’re still with us. Judging by the response to the workshop registration, this is going to be an event for the guitar world in Oregon and Washington.”

The timing didn’t quite work to christen the new downtown Hotel Windrow with a world-class performance, but there is interest in making it a musical venue down the road, Birger said.

“I’ve been in discussions with the Hotel Windrow and they’re on board in making a musical venue right there in downtown Ellensburg,” said Birger, LMMO founder. “They’ve had some unavoidable construction delays and will not be open in time to host the Billy McLauglin show. But I think the possibilities are exciting.

“What I’d really like to do is set the stage for the future,” Birger said. “We have Tony McManus, an incredible Celtic guitarist, coming in in early December. We’re also in discussions with America’s Got Talent participant Mandy Harvey. Long term, say three to five years, I’d like to host the first annual Central Washington Guitar Festival, including some sort of competition with a cash incentive to recognize up-and-coming guitarists.”

The weekend promises a series of firsts for finger-style guitarists and fans. Kottke, who has released 22 studio records, 14 compilations, live albums and soundtracks throughout his career, will be making his Ellensburg debut. This will be the first time finger-style guitar workshop will be held outside the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts and definitely the first time Kottke will be playing in conjunction with the workshop.

“We’ve never taken the workshop on the the road before, but the response has been delightful. We have people registered from 13 different states, including several that will make the trip from Milwaukee, and one from Germany,” said John Stropes, whose Peck School of the Arts is the only one in the world to offer a bachelor of fine arts degree and master music in finger-style guitar.

“Most people have to travel all the way to Milwaukee for a Music of Leo Kottke Workshop. This will also be the first time in the 12 years we’ve been doing it that Leo has performed in conjunction with the workshop. So this is going to be pretty special weekend.”

Rodney Harwood: award-winning journalist and columnist. Lover of golf and the written word. I can be reached at


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