Andy McKee

Andy McKee’s “Drifting” video has logged more than 48 million online hits.

More Information

  • Andy McKee

    What: Fingerstyle, acoustic guitar from an Internet phenomenon

    When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

    Where: Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub, 2708 J St., Sacramento

    Cost: $25


Plucking fame from the Internet

Published: Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 - 12:00 am

Anyone who disregards viral cat videos and other YouTube phenomena should check out Andy McKee.

The 34-year-old musician legitimized Internet fame seven years ago with his video “ Drifting.” A bearded McKee sits in a red T-shirt and proceeds to blow everyone’s minds with his fingerstyle approach to guitar – a two-hand tap technique with polyrhythmic percussion and unusual tuning. The video has more than 48 million views on YouTube, and fans can see McKee live on Wednesday at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub.

“I had been struggling to make a name for myself,” McKee said, recounting his 10 years as a guitar teacher while playing coffee shop gigs in his hometown of Topeka, Kan. “Then the YouTube video happened, and suddenly I got tons of offers to play, to tour full-time. So I stopped teaching and went with it.”

McKee started playing guitar at age 13, though he was mostly interested in electric guitar solos and heavy metal. Three years later, he saw Preston Reed perform and discovered a new world.

“It was a pivotal experience seeing the way he played,” McKee said. “He was really trying to cover all the aspects of music on one guitar – the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic ideas – in such an interesting way.”

It resonated with McKee. He bought an instructional VHS tape and spent a month practicing six hours a day. He strained muscles in his left arm as he trained it to play over the top of the guitar neck.

In nine years, he’s released five records and won a handful of awards. He was a top finalist at the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championships in Winfield, Kan., and won a silver medal from Acoustic Guitar Magazine. He’s steadily toured internationally since his 2010 release, “Joyland,” and even toured with Prince.

“Funny enough, he discovered me on YouTube just like everyone else did,” McKee said.

His most recent album, “Joyland,” is a CD/DVD package so fans can learn McKee’s tunings and techniques. Later this month, McKee plans to release a four-song EP called “Mythmaker.” His idea is to present smaller chunks of music more often, and incorporate more instruments. “Joyland” featured some drums and cello for the first time, but expect a full-on solo piano piece on “Mythmaker.”

“It’s been a lot of fun experimenting with the piano and adding other instruments to the palate,” he said. “People know me as an acoustic guitar player, and it’s kind of funny to get pigeonholed as an artist. You can’t let other people’s expectations stifle what you want to express.”

But adding more musicians to his tour presentslogistical challenges that McKee may not want to tackle. Currently, the Andy McKee team is slim, and he likes it that way. He shed his most recent record label Razor & Tie to go completely independent.

“When I leave home and go on tour, I’ve got two or three guitars and a suitcase,” McKee said. “I try to keep it pretty lightweight – it helps me bring a little more bacon home for the family.”

McKee’s wife and two little boys will surely miss Dad when he’s on tour this year, but the musician has his fans on his mind, too. He notably maintains his own social media accounts and regularly engages fans with news, music samples and plenty of smiley faces.

“I wouldn’t even have a job if these people weren’t into my music,” he said. “The least I can do is get on a website and try to keep in touch.”

In addition to soliciting feedback on his music, McKee receives some startling stories. During the holiday season, a fan told him about his grandmother who asked to hear McKee’s music before she passed away.

“I don’t even know how to say how it makes me feel,” he said. “To know my music means that much to people is really mind-blowing. It reaffirms my focus to put out the best music that I can and to make the most of my time on the planet.”

Read more articles by Janelle Bitker

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