The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience (The MAX) is getting ready to shine a spotlight on the guitar with a new traveling exhibit set to open to the public on Saturday, Feb. 10.
“America at the Crossroads: The GUITAR and a Changing Nation” will run through May 11 and traces the evolution and powerful influence of the guitar with notable connections to Mississippi. The exhibit and other special events at the museum are attracting strong interest among guitarists and other music enthusiasts across the region: renowned guitarist and Mississippi native Adam McPhail will come home to play and host a workshop.
Renowned guitarist Adam McPhail grew up in Hattiesburg, graduated from Oak Grove High School, and attended the University of Southern Mississippi, majoring in Jazz Studies with an emphasis in guitar. At twenty-two, McPhail packed up his bags and headed to Nashville, where his skill and career as a guitarist flourished. McPhail has shared the stage with B.B. King, CeCe Winans, Kirk Whalum, and more as a freelance guitarist. McPhail’s versatility shines in various genres of music – blues, rock, jazz, country, funk, and R&B.
McPhail played the trumpet in the Oak Grove band but put that to the side once he got a guitar. McPhail first picked up a guitar around nine or ten, but it took a few more years before he connected with the instrument. “My dad bought me a squire stratocaster guitar right before my thirteenth birthday,” McPhail shared. “I had a natural knack for the guitar and would come home from school around 3:30 p.m. and practice until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. I owe much of my success to Cary Hudson, a Mississippi native. He was my first guitar teacher and taught me to play the blues.”
When McPhail was thirteen, he was chosen to perform with B.B. King at the B.B. King Coming Home to the Delta Guitar Workshop. “Even though I had only been playing guitar for eight or nine months, my practice hours were in the thousands,” McPhail explained. B.B. King was impressed by his talent at a young age, telling him he played like a professional and was destined to play guitar for a living. With that kind of endorsement and encouragement, McPhail, with the support of his family, decided to give the guitar a real shot.
“My dad drove me around to various shows, meeting local musicians, and took me wherever I would get invited to play,” McPhail recounted. “B.B. King also introduced me to one of his friends, Jesse Jackson. So when I was fourteen, I would play at Hal and Mal’s in Jackson and various places, learning from legends.”
McPhail still lives in Nashville with a career that consists of performing live, teaching guitar lessons (privately and at Belmont University and Lipscomb University), and session work. McPhail’s versatility as a player and teacher makes him unique and has allowed him to perform with many world-renowned artists. “B.B. King will always be my favorite guitarist and artist to have performed with,” McPhail said. “But if I had to pick a bucket list to work with, it would have to be Stevie Wonder.”
McPhail is coming home to Mississippi to play at the opening reception on Friday, Feb. 9, at The MAX and will host a workshop on Saturday, Feb. 10, from 10-11 a.m. The workshop will dive into the essence of blues and rock & roll guitar and cover many concepts such as improvising, chord progressions, evolutions of blues and rock guitar, guitar tone, fretboard knowledge, and more! “Bring your guitars, and come with questions,” McPhail said.
The exhibit, developed by the New York-based National GUITAR Museum, will display 40 instruments that will take visitors on a journey of significant moments in American history, from the earliest Spanish invasion to the country’s cemented status today as a global superpower, according to the National GUITAR Museum website. The collection also includes videos and wall banners that depict essential events, artists, and instruments of the last century.