When I saw Adam Agati at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival this past June, the Maine-bred guitarist was wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt, a jean jacket, a red bandana, and boots. In ninety-eight degree Tennessee heat. I was stressed just looking at him. When I asked if he was hot, he seemed confused: “Oh, yeah…I guess.” His eyes wandered out over the festival goers and he spoke again, “THIS is incredible.”
All I could think about was finding shade, and this guy, dressed in layers, literally wasn’t sweating it. It’s all about the music for Adam. It’s overwhelming speaking to him about it because he cares so much. That passion elucidates his career success. He was at Bonnaroo to play in Ludacris’ band. Yep. That Ludacris.
So how’d this Maine kid wind up playing Bonnaroo? Well, watch him solo. But Adam’s modest. He dates his success back to his childhood. “When I started playing at twelve, I had a really inspiring teacher, Val Mollineaux,” Adam tells me, “he motivated me to be into playing. Lessons would consist of us of playing the blues for forty minutes and trading solos and he’d let me find my own way with music.”
Adam also cites his family for his success. His dad introduced him to classic rock. “He brought me records of everybody: from the better known bands such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and the Who to the lesser known, The Velvet Underground, The Kinks, and, King Crimson.”
After his introduction to blues and classic rock, Adam entered high school a blues guitarist. He loved “jamming out,” but was unaware about music theory and its application. He studied with local musicians, Tony Boffa and Jason St. Pierre. “Tony was a really great motivator and disciplinarian,” Adam says, “it was great sitting with Jason because he’s a saxophone player so he got me to look at music from a different perspective. It just opened up ideas in my mind about how the guitar could be played.”
Impressed with the talent he saw at a summer program at Berklee College, Adam returned to Cape Elizabeth High School ready to learn everything about music, theory and all. “I wanted to learn everything. I don’t think music education is necessary. I mean you learn playing by playing. But I do find it very interesting–another tool for the belt.” At this time, he also found jazz. He calls blues “pure emotion.” Jazz was a natural progression: “[Blues] was like the gateway. Jazz is the same—pure on the spot emotion.” During this time, he says he was fortunate to have Cape Elizabeth music instructor, Norm Richardson. Adam tells me, “I’d never had more fun learning than being taught by Norm.” Adam later attended Berklee on scholarship.
After college graduation, Adam moved to Nashville. There he made connections, meeting renowned sax player Jeff Coffin (of Béla Fleck and Dave Matthews Band), at a jam session. A few nights later he was sitting in Coffin’s house. “He sat down, made a list of players and music-related people,” says Adam, “he was like ‘man, these are all the people that you’re going to want to know. He was really helpful in getting me established in the scene quickly and I really appreciate him for that.’”
Shortly after, he was in the house band on FOX reality series, Nashville. He toured with soul man, Marc Broussard, playing on Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno. Despite Nashville getting canceled, the gig paid off; one of the people he met around the time of the show worked for Disney. Miley Cyrus needed to learn guitar for a film. And that’s how Adam became Hannah Montana’s guitar teacher.
From Nashville, Adam went to Brooklyn. He received a phone call in the middle of the night from a friend of a friend, the musical director for Ludacris. He asked Adam to come rehearse for Ludacris’s band the next day. “I said sure,” Adam tells me, “and that was pretty much it.”
It wasn’t “pretty much it,” because now we find Adam touring with Ludacris, while balancing a European tour with Marcus Miller, one of Adam’s personal jazz influences.
Overall, Adam’s still the same kid who just wants to jam out: “I never really listen to music from a technical stand point. My favorite players are what I guess I’d call ‘primitive intellectual players.’ You can hear this rawness and desire to express something unknown. But there’s thought and sensitivity behind it.”
Though busy world-wide, Adam remains grounded: “I’m most grateful for having my family and friends 100% behind me. They’ve been incredible and always an inspiration.” He also keeps in touch with Maine musicians, playing with fellow Cape Elizabeth and Berklee graduate, Nick Falk, as well as Portland-bred singer, Lyle Divinsky. He and Falk worked with Maine singer, Anna Lombard, playing on and producing her solo record, due out spring of 2013. “She’s super talented. We’ve had a lot of fun working with her and I’m really excited to get this thing out there. She won the best vocalist in the world award or something like that [laughs].” I think he means her recent Best Female Vocalist Phoenix win. Clearly, he doesn’t think he’s the only talented Mainer.