Guitar goddess Kaki King projects joy
at Bellefontaine’s Holland Theatre


On stage, Kaki King combines virtuoso guitar work with captivating visuals.

By Tim Walker

For many artists, the urge to push the envelope comes as second nature. They feel that burning drive to question, to explore the boundaries of propriety, to create something fresh and exciting with each new work, is nothing less than a part of their job description. Whether it be on the printed page, in film, painting, dance, or music, artists push themselves and their art beyond what the public and their fans expect. They show us new vistas and, when possible, a new way of looking at life itself.

Kaki King, as a musician and an artist, has spent her life doing exactly that. At 38, the guitarist has released 8 albums of her introspective, guitar-based, post-rock compositions, and has steadily built up a large following since her first release, 2003’s Everybody Loves You. King has developed her own unique style of guitar playing, featuring strumming, string and neck tapping, and percussive slaps to the instrument to punctuate her melodies and lyrics. Her performances, which often utilize progressive video and projection techniques, never fail to leave audiences enthralled with their range and scope. In 2006, Rolling Stone magazine named her one of their 20 “New Guitar Gods”—she was the youngest guitarist on the list and the only female.

Her current show, entitled “The Neck is the Bridge to the Body,” features the Brooklyn-based King performing a unique hour-long song cycle onstage while video images are projected, not just on the stage around her, but also directly onto the guitar she’s playing. The images combine with the music to tell a creation story, as King dips into the wells of jazz, Latin, and alternative-flavored rock during the show. Luckily for local residents, the artist will be bringing her critically acclaimed tour to the Holland Theatre in Bellefontaine on Friday, March 30.

“I’ve been a guitar player my whole life,” says Kaki King recently when speaking to the Dayton City Paper. “And professionally since I was in my very early twenties, so all of my adult life. Having reached a point with the guitar – as a guitarist, I’m always trying to expand the scope of the instrument, always in the form of composing and performing techniques that really push the envelope a bit. But with this show, I wanted to add lighting elements to the stage show. Something beyond just me onstage… something to match the mood.”

“When I started to research what stage lighting could do and look like,” the guitarist continues, “I discovered projection mapping. A lot of people use projection mapping on a very large scale, but I found a few pieces that were actually very small, and suddenly there was just this big moment of, ‘Wait a minute. Can I do that on a guitar? Will it work? Will the shadows work? Will it be sustainable and stable enough to travel with?’ So it was really this looming question mark. And once I answered that question with a yes, and found that this was something that could work, I created the show. It took several months, and there are lots of elements involved—lights and animation and sometimes the guitar triggers what you see. There’s a lot that makes up the
show visually.”

Art has the power to illustrate the difficult moments in life as well as the pleasant, and King knows this from experience. In 2017, King’s young daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness: Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), where her body attacks her platelets, which control blood clotting. The weeks following that diagnosis turned the family’s life upside down, with constant transfusions, steroids, blood tests, and fear as Kaki and her wife watched their daughter’s levels rise and fall. When her friend, artist Giorgia Lupi, learned what the family was going through, she proposed a project using music, art, and data – both medical and personal – to help Kaki bring a sense of clarity to what was happening. The result is the cathartic “Bruises,” an audiovisual mapping of the data collected as Kaki tracked her daughter’s bruises and platelet counts and the family’s stress levels. King had previously partnered with information designer and visual artist Lupi on a design project for Hennessey.

“She’s doing well now,” King says when asked about her daughter’s condition. “She’s not going to be one of those cases where it’s bad all the time.”

As a guitarist, composer, and performer, Kaki King is constantly looking for new ways to reach her audience and expand her craft. Her show at the Holland Theatre promises to be no exception.

Kaki King will perform at the Holland Theatre on Friday, March 30th. The Holland Theatre is located at 127 East Columbus Avenue in Bellefontaine, Ohio 43311. Show starts at 7:30, and tickets are still available. All ages are welcome, and ticket prices range from $17 to $30. For more information, visit thehollandtheatre.org.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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