Guitar duo mesh into must-see attraction
Mark Mazengarb and Loren Barrigar are not the most likely duo to garner world-wide attention playing music together.
Mazengarb grew up in New Zealand and came to the U.S. in 2002 to study classical guitar at the University of North Carolina. Barrigar, by that time, had toured widely from Nashville, Tenn., to Las Vegas, Nev., with his family.
A child guitar prodigy, Barrigar began playing at four years old and at age six, he played for thousands at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.
But life often doesn’t play out in the most likely of ways. When Mazengarb began studying in North Carolina, he fell in love with American music, he said during a phone interview with a Herald-Mail reporter. He made jokes about his heavy New Zealand accent.
“I never heard anything like American music before,” he said. “I lived in such a small country. We didn’t have such magical music. You know, we didn’t have banjo players or bluegrass. It was all new to me and it really seemed magical.”
Mazengarb, 34, met Barrigar, 58, at a guitar festival in 2005.
“We just hit it off. We started jamming together. I was inspired. I went back to New Zealand and saved up enough money to come back,” he said.
When Mazengarb returned to the U.S., the musicians met up again in Nashville at a Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) convention, an international gathering of hundreds of guitarists.
In 2010, he and Barrigar were on the convention’s schedule of performers. They were not originally listed to play on the big Saturday night finale, but due to popular demand of people who heard them play together throughout the week, they were added. Since then, the duo known as Loren and Mark has wowed audiences nationally and internationally.
On Monday, Nov. 25, at 7:30 p.m., Hagerstown Community Concert Association will present Loren and Mark – International Guitar Duo in concert at The Maryland Theatre.
Known for a unique combination of technical excellence and artistry, the pair reworks classics drawing on Americana, jazz, classical, bluegrass and gypsy jazz influences. They toss in some noteworthy improvisation as well as occasional vocals for an act that is all their own.
Thinking back to that first main stage collaboration at CAAS, Mazengarb said he and Barrigar received “just an amazing response.”
“That’s kind of what gave us the impetus to start a tour of the states. I guess Loren and I seemed to have some kind of instant chemistry. It is quite unique,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe people just see the sheer joy of it, or the sheer fun we have playing together. We complement each other very well.”
Barrigar had a largely family-based musical background and extensive performance experience, while Mazengarb had more of a traditional university background.
Early on, they bonded over the music of Chet Atkins, an early Nashville star who was known as “Mr. Guitar.” They played well-known tunes and jazz standards like “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
“That’s the great thing about music,” Mazengarb said. “We didn’t know all the same songs, but we had enough music in common that we could sit down and jam and improvise. A lot of our show is still improvising.”
Their first album recorded together during the summer of 2011 won a SAMMY — Syracuse Area Music Award — for best album at the Northeast Music Industry Conference, and their second album “Onward” also won a SAMMY. The title track “Onward” won first place at the International Acoustic Music Awards for Best Instrumental. Their most recent album “One to One” was recorded in Nashville in 2015.
For seven years, the two have been touring together full time across the U.S. and Europe. Following their initial main stage performance at CAAS, a promoter from France booked Loren and Mark to headline a guitar festival in Bordeaux, France. For about five years, they performed 150 to 200 shows annually. Mazengarb recently slowed down a bit due to his marriage and the birth of his first child.
The audience at the Hagerstown show could hear songs from Glen Campbell to The Beatles, originals, and much more. Some fan favorites include versions of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” and Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca.”
“There is a wide range, truly something for everyone,” Mazengarb said. “Probably the biggest attraction is the interaction that happens between us. We really bounce off of each other and have a fun time onstage, and people have a lot of fun at the show.”