Guitarist of the Year: Jay Van Raalte 

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Ruta Smith

Jay Van Raalte is not a wallflower when it comes to performing onstage with her band, Jump Castle Riot. In fact, it’s pretty hard to find a picture of her playing guitar where she’s not either airborne or in mid-hair-fling. It’s an extension of the pure joy she gets from playing the six-string, and from being onstage with her fellow musicians. But it’s not something that came naturally to her, at least not at first.

“It’s something I’ve worked hard on,” Van Raalte says. “When I started, I was not nearly as dynamic onstage, and people even accused Jump Castle Riot of loitering onstage, like Rolling Stone did with the Eagles. When I first started, I felt like I had to put on this armor and be somebody different to be onstage, but I’ve focused more and more on feeling authentic and natural and comfortable. And a lot of that has to do with the people you’re onstage with. To me, playing music isn’t just you by yourself; it’s a conversation, an interaction with the people you’re playing with. And so, when everything is going right, and you feel that energy with your bandmates, that’s really when the change happens.”

In a category that could potentially be dominated by speedier, flashier players, Van Raalte says she’s thrilled to strike a blow for more tasteful, song-oriented playing.

“I’m really proud to win this award because I would never pretend that I’m fastest or the most technical or do the most shredding or any of those things,” she says.

“Very early on, when I was looking at guitar players like Mike Campbell and Sadler Vaden, I really came to believe in serving the song and building something with the people you’re playing with. It’s about making sure all the pieces are working toward the same goal and that you really think about what you’re playing. It’s not just a question of jamming over something until you have something you like. The fact that that style of guitar playing is being recognized is really cool to me.”


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