Ellnora 2019 opening night

Nigerian guitarist Bombino performs with his band Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, at the opening-night party for this year's Ellnora: The Guitar Festival at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana.

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It was at the 2013 Ellnora: The Guitar Festival at Krannert Center that Bobby Reynolds, known by the stage name of Reverend Robert, first introduced himself in person to Grammy-nominated Indian slide key guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya.

Reynolds, a Mattoon native who now lives in Charleston, travels the country — and sometimes the world — playing the blues. Bhattacharya’s music, while different from his own, intrigued him.

“He’s the best slide player I’ve ever heard,” he said. “I sent him an email, and I told him that.”

Bhattacharya responded by telling Reynolds to come over to Kolkata and study with him. So Reynolds stayed with Bhattacharya for a month, opening for him in Calcutta to a crowd that was sometimes tepid about the blues.

At Thursday’s Opening Night Festival, Reynolds made his own Ellnora debut, performing on Stage Five in the lobby of Krannert Center.

For Reynolds, the value of Ellnora is in its variety. On Thursday alone, a group from Madagascar, Toko Telo, performed outside while Nigerian guitarist Bombino performed with his band inside.

“It’s great, because I love the variety of styles,” Reynolds said. “To me, that’s one of the coolest things about this festival.”

Reynolds isn’t above taking bits and pieces from those styles around the world, integrating pieces of music like Bhattacharya’s into the blues style he plays.

“I’m always like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do a little Indian thing here, but I’ll throw it into blues,’” Reynolds said. “I like stealing something from all of those styles. Because when you’re one guy up there with a guitar, it’s hard to have much variety. So all of those different things help give you a little bit of a variety with the rhythms and everything.”

When Reynolds saw the lineup for the festival, Bombino popped out at him. As someone who listens to Nigerian music, he said he came across the artist on Pandora and became a fan.

As it turned out, Bombino played on the stage adjacent to Reynolds just before him.

“That worked out perfectly,” he said. “I just love that style. I really enjoyed that.”

Reynolds has been around the world playing, listening and learning about music. On Wednesday, he returned from playing in England.

But even for him, the experience of playing at Ellnora and experiencing the other artists’ music an hour from home is an unbeatable experience.

“It’s invaluable,” Reynolds said. “Because living in this area, living in the middle of the cornfield, it’s hard to come and see this variety of music this close to home. Any time I get up here for anything, it’s always one of my favorite festivals. You’re not going to see Bombino anywhere closer to where I live.”