On a far side of the planet, a road chosen results in two remarkable discoveries at home…
Back in 1999 when the world was deep in Y2K worry, a dear friend and I decided to escape the anxiety with a summer trip to Italy. Things were settled in the hardware store. Three years prior we had been awarded the Ace Hardware President’s Cup as Best Ace in the U.S. and all seemed in order that I could sneak out for a few weeks; a rare occurrence.
My friend, best mate, and best man, Daniel, is a talented and dedicated schoolteacher, well versed in European culture and history and would be a great tour guide. He spoke fluent Italian and, with a teacher’s patience, offered gentle correction as I butchered the language.
Our trip took us, one warm summer afternoon, to the gates of San Gimignano (pronounced gem-in-ya-no).
Located one hour southwest of Florence in the hillsides of Tuscany, this medieval town is known for its distinct stone towers and is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany. Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, the architecture is basic and homogeneous – square towers, little ornamentation, but the effect creates a magnificent skyline. And, as we were about to witness, its flat stone walls provided perfect acoustics for a concert.
Setting out through the main gate, we peeked into the numerous, crowded shops lining the stone streets. It was close to noon and, hungry, we purchased sandwiches as naked as the city walls: French bread with only prosciutto. The bread was fresh, soft and slightly spongy and paired perfectly with the thinly-sliced, strongly scented meat. It was heaven in your hands.
Sated, we continued our stroll. But passing a narrow corridor, I stopped suddenly when enchanting music caught my ear. It was powerful, melodic, and perfect for jazz-centric tastes. These were string instruments, but the echoing made it impossible to discern the number of musicians. Curious, we headed down a covered portico to an open courtyard where we discovered two talented musicians, a fast-picking guitarist and caressing harpist. Their sweet melodies ricocheted off ancient walls and I was mesmerized. The music had gently taken my hand and walked me into nirvana.
Captivated, I wasn’t keen on leaving and remained for not one, but two performances.
This irritated Daniel, who left to wander the streets alone. But I was not alone. I was ensconced by history, culture, and music, all in the performance of two magnificent men and their instruments.
Nine months after returning home, Daniel called. “You remember that concert in San Gimignano, the one with the guitarist and harpist? Well, the guitarist is performing at the Musician’s Coffeehouse in Walnut Creek. Wanna go?” I was stunned. I would forever remember the concert in Italy but I never caught the name of the performers. But Daniel had! And recalling their names nearly a year later, we would get a repeat concert! We went to that show and it was as enchanting as in Italy. His name?! Well…I did make a note right then and there, but what came next was astounding… Five years later, the guitarist appeared on the marquee of Benicia’s Majestic Theatre. His name? You guessed it! …Peppino D’Agostino.
What a discovery and, yes, I saw that show too!
Following his Majestic concert, I introduced myself using unsteady Italian and shared my memories of his San Gimignano concert. “That was with harpist Andrea Piazza, we performed two summers there,” Peppino said. When I expressed incredulity at the coincidence, he responded, “Well, get this… I live in Benicia. We just bought a house here!” Another discovery!
If you are a Benicia resident, then you have likely heard of Peppino D’Agostino, or better yet, you have seen him perform. He’s incredible! Since moving to Benicia, he has established himself as a very talented and respected guitarist and teacher, who Guitar Player Magazine listed as one of fifty transcendent guitar players of our times. Peppino has performed for many local venues, including churches, theatres and living rooms, often with Benicia resident/musician Stef Burns. In fact, the pair collaborated with Italian rock star Vasco Rossi on a piece, “Stammi Vicino,” which hit #1 in Italy in 2011! The following year, accompanied by his inspiring vocalist daughter, Aleza, he performed at the 90th Anniversary of Pedrotti Hardware! His latest album, Connexion is available at peppinodagostino.com/connexion. Peppino will be performing at the Empress Theatre in Vallejo on Sunday, February 13th at 7pm.
It is a pleasure to share that we are friends; Peppino is also kind in correcting my Italian. But recalling that first meeting, I am still stunned. Crossing paths with a stranger in a foreign land only to later cross paths again… and then discover that you are both of the same small community; well… that’s not coincidence. Along with Peppino’s enchanting music, something much deeper and more significant is at play.