The Woodchoppers Ball 2012, a benefit organized by acoustic guitar prodigy Brian Henke for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday in its usual place, the Kent Stage, but the entertainment each year is always a surprise.
This year, the ball will feature international finger-style guitar champion Jack Wilson, 2004 winner of Guitar Center's "Guitarmageddon" competition Michael Kelsey and harp guitar genius Andy Wahlberg to name a few.
Every December, Henke gathers nine of the best acoustic guitarists in North American to come together for a night of amazing music and fun for a good cause.
"I switch it up every year," Henke said. "I am the only one who has been here all 12 years because I put it together. Some guitarists will do a few years in a row, but there's always new ones. We've got guitarists in California begging for a chance to do this."
Three guitarists perform on stage at a time playing round robin, with each player taking turns performing a song until everybody's played a total of four songs.
"These are some of the best guitarists on the planet," Henke said. "They are all following each other, so everybody is playing their best stuff at their very best, which makes for an amazing show for the audience."
He says people come from as far as Kansas to see the show.
"It really is special," Henke said. "There is nothing else quite like it. There's a lot of camaraderie, a lot of fun on stage and it takes over the whole place. It's very infectious."
Henke first came up with the idea to put on a benefit in 1992. It was originally done as a rock show.
"It was a rock show with rock guitars," Henke said. "I did it for three years and then I just got fed up with the rock scene and got out of it. I started playing acoustic and got to know so many players that I decided to do it again, because it's a completely different thing with acoustic players. It's a much better show. These are some really serious guitar players."
After the expenses are paid for the show, all of the money raised goes to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the homeless. Henke raises thousands of dollars every year.
"They give money to a lot of organizations and groups," Henke said. "They are good people and they work really hard. I thought it would be best if it went to everyone."
This year's sponsors are Mustard Seed Market and Café, North Coast Voice and Woody James guitars.
Tom Simpson, co-owner of the Kent Stage, hosts the benefit every year.
"Brian brings great people in here from all over," Simpson said. "Kent is very fortunate to have this in their back yard even though it's a regional event."
Simpson says this event is truly a gathering of the best guitar players.
"It's an opportunity to bring world class guitarists into Kent and to also put together a fundraiser on a regional level," Simpson said. "People come from all over to this event. They really look forward to it."
Simpson said the word is out: "If you like guitar music, this is the show to go see."
As always, the venerable Charley Brown will host the show.
Tickets are $20 in advance or $23 at the door. They are available online at www.kentstage.org. Visit the Kent Stage online or call 330-677-5005 for more information.