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Tommy Emmanuel at Britt

Eric Clapton called Tommy Emmanuel "the greatest guitar player I've ever seen." Chet Atkins called him "One of the greatest guitar players on the planet ... the greatest finger-picker in the world."

Those who have seen Emmanuel's solo performances would agree.

Emmanuel has been nominated for two Grammy awards, set sales records that have yet to be broken and performed with hundreds of musical legends.

A household name in his native Australia, he remains off the radar for many music fans. But he is garnering loyal fans worldwide.

Folks in Southern Oregon will have the opportunity to see Emmanuel perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 24, at the Britt Festivals Pavilion in Jacksonville.

Emmanuel's career has spanned four decades. His unique "finger-style" playing is akin to playing guitar the way a pianist plays piano, using all 10 fingers.

Chet Atkins was one of the first to inspire Emmanuel to pick up the guitar as a child. Decades later, Atkins himself became one of Emmanuel's biggest fans.

In 1999, Atkins honored Emmanuel with the title of "Certified Guitar Player" for his lifetime contribution to the instrument, a rare honor shared by only three other people in the world (Jerry Reed, Steve Warner and John Knowles).

Atkins eventually recorded with Emmanuel in 1996 on "The Day the Finger Pickers Took Over the World," for which Emmanuel received his first Grammy award nomination. This was also Atkins' last recording.

Emmanuel has released a number of CDs. His recent double disc, live CD "Center Stage," contains many fan favorites, including a Beatles medley, "Mombasa," and "Initiation" — the aboriginal tribute song that has evolved over the years and never sounds the same on any recording or show.

Emmanuel began playing guitar at age 4 by learning to play by ear without any formal instruction. He and his older brother Phil were child prodigies, starting their professional career in the 1960s. By the age of 6, Tommy was already working as a professional musician.

Emmanuel played with "The Trailblazers" (with siblings Chris on drums and Virginia on slide guitar) on weekends. He also taught guitar and made numerous television appearances in musical competitions.

In his early teens, Emmanuel left home and moved to Sydney to pursue a professional career as a guitarist.

Playing in clubs all over the city, Emmanuel soon found himself in high demand as a session player for some of the era's most popular performers.

During the mid '70s through the early '80s, he joined one of the decade's biggest, Dragon, recorded thousands of commercial "jingles" and played on recordings for Air Supply, Men at Work and dozens of other popular artists. In 1987, Dragon toured with Tina Turner on her "Break Every Rule" tour.

Emmanuel's 2007 Grammy nomination came for "Gameshow Rag' from "The Mystery" CD. He was inducted into the Thumb Pickers Hall of Fame in Muhlenberg, Ky. (the only non-American so honored), and was listed in Acoustic Guitar Magazine readers' poll for placing in the top three favorite artists.

Emmanuel was voted Rolling Stone (Australia) Magazine's "Most Popular Guitarist" for two consecutive years. He has earned four Platinum and Gold albums and two consecutive "Golden Guitar" awards (2006, 2007) at the CMAA Awards in Australia.

He performed with his brother Phil at the Sydney 2000 Olympics Closing Ceremonies. During his long career, Emmanuel has performed with hundreds of musical legends, including Atkins, Les Paul, Keith Urban, Eric Clapton, Sir George Martin, Tina Turner, Joe Walsh, Stevie Wonder, Nokie Edwards (of the Ventures), Hank Marvin, the Lexington (Kentucky) Philharmonic, the Dortmund (Germany) Symphony, and the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra.

In addition, Emmanuel hosts several annual "TommyFest" concerts, where other stellar internationally recognized musicians are invited to share in a four-day all-out celebration of music.

Opening for Emmanuel at Britt will be guitarist, singer and songwriter Chris Smither. The Associated Press wrote, "Smither is an American original, a product of the musical melting pot, and one of the absolute best singer-songwriters in the world."

After coming on the scene in 1970 with the well-received debut album "I'm a Stranger Too!" Smither has spent his career in a process of refinement, growth and discovery. His 12th album, "Leave the Light On," reflects his life's work.

Tickets are $37 reserved, $25 lawn and $14 for children 12 and younger.

See brittfest.org or call 773-6077.

Tommy Emmanuel at Britt