Millions of people have made their way to Malibu throughout the years for its pristine beaches, world-renowned surfing and, as of last year, a four-day festival rooted in electric vibes, acoustic tribes, six strings and rhythm swings — the Malibu Guitar Festival.
Celebrating all things sound and string, the second annual festival is gearing up to once again host world-class musicians dedicated to the art of guitars, including this year’s headliner, multiplatinum guitar virtuoso Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Shepherd said his love of music grew naturally from a young age.
“I was surrounded by music my whole life,” Shepherd said. “My dad was a disc jockey on the radio, and he managed radio stations in my hometown in Louisiana. From the moment I was born, there was music around the house, in the car every day, everywhere we went and I went to every concert that came through town.”
When most kids were watching cartoons and playing with friends, the five-time Grammy-nominated musician was realizing his dreams on the big stage — literally.
“At age seven, I got to see and meet Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble for the first time,” Shepherd said. “I got access to backstage because of who my dad was, and it changed my life. From that point forward, all I wanted to do was learn how to play guitar.”
Shepherd explained that after that concert, he soon got a guitar and started teaching himself how to play by ear, spending hours and hours listening to music and trying to play.
“I felt like I just belonged to the instrument,” he shared. “I got a lot of joy and satisfaction out of that.”
And the instrument belonged to him.
By the age of 13, Shepherd was playing music on stages, and shortly after, at the age, of 16, he signed his first record deal. His first record was released when he was 17 years old, three months shy of his high school graduation — a requirement from his parents.
“They were like, ‘you have to get your diploma,’” Shepherd said. “My dad was pretty skeptical. He knew how hard it can be to have a successful career in the entertainment industry, but in the music industry especially. Just because I had signed a record deal didn’t guarantee success. He said you have to get an education.”
Still reeling from the success of his record deal, Shepherd hit the road to tour and headed over to Europe in 1995 to open for the newly reunited Eagles. After opening for the Eagles, he received a call to come back to the states and went on the road with B.B. King.
“I was living right in the moment at that time in my life,” Shepherd said. “I wasn’t really looking ahead into the future. I didn’t feel like there were any guarantees, and I didn’t have any expectations. All I knew was there was a company saying, ‘Hey, we’ll pay for you to go in and record an album.’ And I did, and I’m thankful it’s successful.”
The first single on his first album, “Ledbetter Heights,” shot up the rock charts and easily went platinum (the album was also certified platinum), followed by a widely successful sophomore album.
“I went into the studio and did my second record, and a lot of times people call it the ‘sophomore slump,’ like if you have a successful first album, everyone waits to see if you can follow it up,” Shepherd said. “The second album came out and did even better than the first one. About 20 years later and I’m still doing it.
Shepherd gave highest praise to the music for his longevity in the ever-changing industry.
“The fact that I’ve had over a 20-year-long career to me is a testament to the genre of music that I do, because all of my heroes, the people that I look up to, like B.B. King, all of these all-blues guys, you’re able to have a life-long career if you want to.”
Shepherd’s ready to bring his blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll style to the Malibu Guitar Festival on April 28 through May 1.
“I’ve been living in the Malibu area for the last 13 years now, and since I’ve been here, I don’t remember there being anything like this, an outdoor music festival in Malibu,” Shepherd said. “I think it’s cool because the focal point is guitar. It’s my community and guitar is what I love to do.”
For more information about the Malibu Guitar Festival, including ticket and artist information, visit malibuguitarfestival.com.