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Eric Johnson | photo by Tiana Timmerberg for WXPN

There’s a fine line between guitar virtuoso and guitar show-off, and, unfortunately, there’s no shortage of the latter. All too often, the music they make devolves into a flashy display of their prowess, and they lose sight of why music exists in the first place–to communicate. Remember Greg? That guy from college who used words like “quixotic” and “lachrymose”? If you thought he was annoying, imagine if he played guitar. Then, imagine the cool guy in the back of the class that was soft-spoken, just as talented, and had way better hair. That’s Eric Johnson.

If music is a language, Johnson transcended fluency a long time ago, but rather than flaunt his skills, he uses them to create music that’s as intricate as it is emotive. When he took to the World Cafe Live stage this afternoon, I was immediately struck by his humble, gracious demeanor. For a man with this impressive of a resume, it was great to see him cracking jokes between songs, like when he asked the crowd what we thought of his backing band (there wasn’t one). He’s perhaps best known for the Grammy winning “Cliffs of Dover”, especially among younger audiences for its inclusion in the Guitar Hero franchise. That song would have felt out of place in this intimate, acoustic set, but he did play another song from Ah Via Musicom, the short, bluesy “Song For George”.

The rest of the set consisted mostly of new material, with much of it coming from his just released acoustic record EJ. Johnson is known primarily as a guitarist, but he’s an accomplished singer too, and he demonstrated that talent on sweet, sentimental numbers like “Devinae”. With just a guitar and his voice, he proved he’s the maestro everyone says he is, and he didn’t need to alienate his audience to do it.

Johnson plays the Sellersville Theater tonight; tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

Setlist
Mrs. Robinson
Devinae
If I Do
Song for George
Song for Life
Finest Champion
All Things You Are
Once Upon a Time in Texas

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