THREE OAKS, Mich. — Acclaimed smooth jazz and Spanish guitarist Bryan Lubeck knew Ted Yoder for years before the rest of the world knew his name.
"We were connected by geography," Lubeck says by phone from his home in Chicago. "We went to different high schools, but we knew a lot of the same people. One of those people was Jen Brown. She introduced us about six years ago. He told me he played the dulcimer and promised that he didn't suck and wanted to collaborate. I thought it would be cool, but at the time I was on full smooth jazz radio mode and we just couldn't make it work out, but I stayed in touch and kept up with what he was doing."
On Aug. 24, 2016, the Hammered Dulcimer National Champion walked into the backyard orchard of his Goshen, Ind. home, set up his instrument, turned on Facebook Live, and played a cover of Tears For Fears’ 1985 hit "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" for his "Songs From The Orchard" web series.
"I was in the living room and happened to be browsing Facebook on my phone and saw that Ted had a video, and I thought, 'Oh, that's cool,'" Lubeck says. "I watched the whole thing and I saw that he was getting a crapload of hearts and smiley faces floating by. Then I started seeing it reposted and shared and it got bigger and bigger, and then I saw it on the Huffington Post. Ted calls me out of the blue and goes, 'Bryan, I'm doing really well.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I saw!' Then he goes, 'I might be getting to your status of fame and I need some advice.' I remember thinking, 'Man, I think he leap-frogged me by about 100 yards, but I'll see what I can do.'"
Yoder's homespun video racked up 7 million views in 36 hours, rocketing to 53 million views in four days, ending the year as the most viewed video of 2016 on the social media platform. In December, Lubeck enlisted Yoder to reprise the song at “Rejoice – A Holiday Musical Tapestry” at Lake Michigan College Mendel Center Mainstage Theatre in Benton Harbor, Mich.
"I had not heard Ted do pop music before and at that point I started to really connect the dots," Lubeck says. "He did the Christmas show with me last year and we did 'We Three Kings' together, but we did it in almost an upbeat way. It was interesting enough that both of us knew we should explore it. I think we've got some potential."
The unlikely duo will explore that potential Saturday when Yoder joins Bryan Lubeck & The Three Gringos for an all-acoustic show at The Acorn Theater.
"A lot of people are used to seeing me do these full band kind of shows where its keyboards and saxes and this full production, but one of the things I like to do occasionally is more of an unplugged show where we aren't relying so much on bells and whistles but getting into the bare bones of the music," Lubeck says. "I've done a number of shows like this around the country and I love it. It will be more of that 'MTV Unplugged' feel."
Lubeck has built a reputation as one of the best smooth jazz guitarists in the country by blending Latin and urban sounds on the instrumental CDs “Acoustic Vineyard,” “Vineyard Groove” and his holiday album “We Three Strings.” He was the featured guitarist at the 2010 Smooth Jazz Awards, and his latest instrumental release, “Tuscan Sky,” spent more than 16 weeks in the Top 40 on the smooth jazz charts.
Although he did not grow up in Southwest Michigan, Lubeck considers it to be his musical home. He recorded his first song with St. Joseph native and music industry stalwart Dave Carlock. He credits Tabor Hill Winery in Buchanan for inspiring his sound, and the Box Factory for the Arts as the place his instrumental guitar career began. He has teamed up with the St. Joseph High School Orchestra for a special Valentine’s Day concert and will return to The Mendel Center on Dec. 19 for his holiday showcase, which he wants to make an annual tradition.
"What I like about this new age of music is that it has kind of opened me up to be able to do more of what I am," Lubeck says. "I'm not just a guitarist, I'm a songwriter and sometimes that comes out instrumentally and sometimes it doesn't."
Which is why Lubeck is releasing a rare vocal album in October called "Sparks" that he is already selling at his live shows.
"I've been saving up all these vocal tunes because I had been so successful with the instrumentals," Lubeck says. "But vocally is how I got my start, and I figured until the time was right I would squirrel these tunes away. I spent about a year working out the vocal album, and now it's time. I'm really excited about how it turned out."
Although the songs on the album were written over the course of several years, Lubeck says they all share a common thread.
"The entire album is about those moments in life when there's a spark," he says. "All of the songs are about that. It could be a spark that lasts a lifetime. It could be a momentary spark when you meet somebody for a moment but you know there is something there. You can't explain it. There's a spark in that moment, with that person or even just that place and time. That's what every song is about on this album."
One of the highlights of the album, which Lubeck plans to include in Saturday's set, is called "A Little Shine."
"I had this friend who was going through some difficulties, and I think I saw a lot of myself in her," Lubeck says. "When we come up against something, especially in a relationship that doesn't go well, we feel like the broken one. Sometimes it feels like you are not going to recover from that. She's a very close friend, and I kept telling her that she's not broken and reminded her of all the great things she had going on before this happened. All she has to do is shine it up a little bit. So I wrote this song about that from my perspective."
As for Yoder's part in the concert, Lubeck only hints at what is to come.
"Ted will do his own thing, I will do my own thing and we will come together on a couple of songs but I don't want to give it away," he says. "I thought this was a great chance for Ted and I because we've been talking about developing a duo show that we could take around the country with Spanish guitar and dulcimer. This may be the start of something that I think will be really cool."
If you go
Who: Bryan Lubeck & The Three Gringos with special guest Ted Yoder
When: 8 p.m. EDT Saturday
Where: The Acorn Theater, 107 Generations Drive, Three Oaks, Mich.
How much: $25
Contact: 756-3879 or www.acorntheater.com