Songwriter Pat Donohue is best known as the guitarist for The Guys All Star Shoe Band which plays on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion.
About nine years ago, he took home a Grammy for his work on Pink Guitar—a compilation album of music by Henry Mancini. And among his numerous other awards, Donohue was named National Finger Picking Guitar Champion.
This weekend Donohue will be at the Cooper’s Glen Music Festival. He’ll perform Friday night at 10 p.m. and teach a workshop Saturday at noon.
Picking on A Prairie Home Companion
Donohue was a guest on the show for many years. In the mid-1980s Garrison Keillor took a break from doing the Prairie Home for a while. When he came back, he wanted to make a band from musicians he had worked with in the past. Donohue says he answered the phone and the rest was history.
“Doing the show is a shot of adrenaline and also inspiration when there isn’t any,” says Donohue.
Donohue says he likes learning from different guests on the show and coming up with new music for the band. Donohue says keeping the music fresh isn’t a problem because of the variety of music the band plays and the fact that it never plays the same thing twice.
Blues influences and Pete Seeger
As a young musician, Donohue was heavily influenced by the great blues artists of the ‘20s and ‘30s, like Robert Johnson and early Muddy Waters.
“I really was attracted to that sound and so that’s what I tried to sound like. And I couldn’t. So I ended up with my own style,” he says. “I think that’s how it goes. You try to do something somebody else does and you can’t quite make it, and that’s your style.”
Donohue learned to play guitar from a Pete Seeger book. Seeger sadly passed away in January. Donohue says he never got the chance to meet Seeger, even though they played in the same festivals a couple of times.
Donohue says Seeger embodied the spirit of American folk music—whether that’s instrumental music, songwriting, protest songs, or sing-alongs.
“He wasn’t a virtuoso picker, but he was a good one. And he wasn’t a virtuoso singer and yet he could really inspire people to sing,” Donohue says. “And so I look at Pete Seeger and I think that’s a real folk performer.”
The Cooper’s Glen Music Festival
This is Donohue’s first time at Cooper’s Glen. He says he’s looking forward to seeing his friends, like local musician Joel Mabus. And, of course, he can’t wait to perform.
“It’s about as much fun as I can have,” Donohue says.
Donohue will also teach a workshop Saturday at noon. He’s not sure about the workshop topic yet, but he says it will likely be related to finger-style guitar.