Kevin Horrigan
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Kevin Horrigan

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | SELF

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | SELF
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter




"Kevin Horrigan: Finger-Style Guitar Champion"

Milwaukee native Kevin Horrigan had been playing guitar informally since his teens, tooling around on the electric guitar and jamming with friends, but he didn't take music seriously until he was 20, when he became infatuated with the finger-style guitar work of artists like Keller Williams and Leo Kottke. Milwaukee, as it turns out, is a great city to be a serious finger-style guitar player: UW-Milwaukee hosts the world's only accredited BFA program for finger-style guitar performance. After becoming the seventh person to graduate with such a degree, Horrigan went on to prove his mettle by winning the annual International Finger-Style Guitar Championship in Canada this summer, besting competitors from Japan, England, Australia and Italy. He has since begun the slow process of writing his first album.

How did you get into competitive finger-style guitar playing?

It's kind of a funny story, but earlier this year I'd gotten to a point in my life where I needed to make some changes. I was 27 and didn't have any prospects musically, so I had actually planned that I was going to go back to school for accounting. I figured I had to change my career path because I wasn't having a lot of success. I entered my first finger-style competition just because I wanted to give guitar-playing one more try before I changed my career, since I'd spent four years earning my degree in guitar performance. So it was really just a way to keep myself from having any regrets down the road; I didn't really expect that I would be winning these competitions. I just wanted to get into the finals; that was my goal. But after I won the first competition, I was given automatic entry into this second competition, and I figured I might as well do that one, too. And I ended up winning the second one, too, which was a very big deal, within the world of finger-style guitar. Winning it really changed my plans for the future.

Have the wins opened up a lot of doors?

Oh, absolutely. I've had people contacting me from around the globe. I've been able to get in touch with lots of artists that I have tons of respect for. I mean, some of the biggest guitar heroes in my life have gotten in touch with me, to tell me congratulations, or to offer me career advice, and I've been talking with managers and sponsors. So it's opened up a lot of doors. The next step is I need to get this album completed.

How is progress going on that front?

It's coming along great. Right now I'm still at the stages where I'm composing material, but each song is sounding better than the one before it. It's been a slow process, but I'm not in any rush just to put filler material on the CD. So the goal is 12 great tunes, and I'm really not interested in compromising the quality of those tunes. As soon as the tunes are ready, I'll be shopping around to a label. I'm pretty sure I know which label I'll be releasing it through, but we haven't made it official yet. - Milwaukee Shepherd Express

"International guitar champion to play at Art Milwaukee Jamboree"

Brookfield native Kevin Horrigan has been named International Finger-Style Guitar champion.

The acoustic guitarist, who now lives in Milwaukee, is the first musician to win both International and Canadian finger-style championships.

He received a bachelor of fine arts degree in finger-style guitar performance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

You can hear Horrigan play two ways. Either wait for his debut album "Self Oscillation" to come out later this year or catch his performance beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday at the ART Milwaukee 1-Year Birthday Party and Jamboree at the Grand Avenue Plankinton Building.

The performance is free. - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Bay View's international finger-style guitar champ Kevin Horrigan"

ay View’s international finger-style guitar champ Kevin Horrigan
November 1, 2011

By Jay Bullock

Drinking tea in a Bay View coffee shop, Kevin Horrigan looks like any other twenty-something neighborhood hipster. But he may be the best amateur finger-style guitarist on the planet, with the awards to prove it.
At just 28, Horrigan is the only person in history to take first place at both the Canadian National Finger-style Guitar Competition in Kingston, Ontario, and the prestigious International Finger-style Guitar Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan. He won both this past summer.
Finger-style guitar? “That’s a broad genre,” Horrigan said, trying to define it. With jazz and classical and blues guitar as its forebears, he said it can be hard to say exactly what finger-style sounds like.
Because it emphasizes single-note playing, finger-style guitar lets a solo player sound more like a whole band, with bass lines, melody and harmony runs, and percussive tapping and slapping of the strings and body of the guitar.
Born and raised in Brookfield (he moved to Bay View in July), Horrigan said he’s only been playing guitar seriously for about 10 years. Like many teenage boys, he had an electric guitar, but it was in college that he started getting into the music of Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, and other finger-style players, and chose to study music.

In 2004, Horrigan took a semester off from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and moved back to the Milwaukee area. At the same time, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts launched a redesigned guitar program.
UWM is the only school in the world to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees to finger-style players, according to its website.
For Horrigan, the new program was a perfect fit. “Until then,” he said, “I had only played by ear. UWM changed my analysis, taught me technique.” He said the program led him to become a self-sufficient player, able to recognize and fix his own faults.
Horrigan has a 9-5 job “to pay the bills,” he said, but the guitar has been a passion since graduation. He records popular YouTube videos and homemade demos, available on his website. He also plays out at local clubs like Riverwest’s Art Bar.
However, he did consider changing course in 2011—“In January, I was ready to go back to school for accounting.”
He wasn’t quite done with music, though, eyeing the Canadian championships in July. “I thought it would be worth one try, and that would be it.” He said going into the competitions in Kingston and Winfield without pressure to do well was the best thing that could have happened. “I entered with the right mindset—not to win, just to share and have fun.”
But win he did, against veteran American and international players, bringing more worldwide attention to Milwaukee’s finger-style scene.
According to Horrigan, Milwaukee is already the center of the finger-style guitar universe. “Finger-style guitar is a huge thing online, it’s worldwide, and people know UWM is the only place to get a finger-style degree.” Milwaukee has respected guitar makers like Rauen Guitars, and nearby is the Menomonee Falls-based label CandyRat Records, home to finger-style icons Craig D’Andrea and Don Ross, among others.
“Outside of Milwaukee, people know,” Horrigan said. “In Milwaukee? Not. It’s something we’re fortunate to have, but it’s easy not to notice.”
Horrigan’s competition victories have opened doors. He’s had a chance to get advice from his guitar heroes on both the artistic and business sides of becoming a professional musician. He also hopes that he can work with a studio and label to release his first CD of original compositions early in 2012.
Keep up with Kevin Horrigan, see his concert schedule, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at
- Bay View Compass

"Guitar Champion Takes Fresh Perspective"

A few months ago, Kevin Horrigan was wondering if a calculator would be more helpful to making a living than a guitar.

The 28-year-old Brookfield native earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in finger-style guitar performance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2008 but had plans to go back to school this fall to study accounting.

But first, he wanted to test his skills in the Canadian Guitar Festival's international finger-style guitar competition held in Odessa, Ontario, in July.

"That way I wouldn't have any regrets and could look back and say 'I gave it my best shot,'?" he said. "My goal was just to make the finals."

However, when he bested 24 competitors from around the world and won the finger-style competition, his plans to gently quash his musical dreams got a lot more complicated.

"People who have won this competition in the past have gone on to do great things. They're recording and traveling and have gone to make a name for themselves as musicians," he said. "But there's a lot of work that goes into being an independent artist - if I chose to go that path."

Horrigan has suspended plans to study accounting this fall, but beyond that, he's unsure what his future holds.

He found himself at a similar crossroad in 2003 when he traded business school at UW-La Crosse to study finger-style guitar performance at UW-Milwaukee - the only school in the country that offers an accredited program.

"UW-Milwaukee started the program in 2004 at the same time I was taking a semester off. I thought it was kind of a sign," Horrigan said.

Now, winning the finger-style guitar competition can also be seen as a sign.

If nothing else, it's reassuring that three well-known guitarists who judged the competition thought he was the best.

"As an artist you're always questioning yourself and wondering if you're any good," he said. "I was blown away that some of my guitar heroes listened to what I did and really enjoyed it."

Right now Horrigan is practicing for another finger-style guitar competition in Tennessee and sifting through new opportunities his last win created.

Whatever the future holds for the 2001 Brookfield Central grad, it's a safe bet that he'll be finger-picking the soundtrack.

Check it out

WHAT: Finger-style practitioners pluck acoustic guitar strings with their fingers rather than a pick, and often tap out accompanying percussion on the body of the guitar.

FUN FACT: Strong nails are required to pluck the steel strings. Many players, including Kevin Horrigan, visit salons to get stronger acrylic nails.

ON THE WEB: Watch videos of Horrigan performing by visiting his channel on - Brookfield NOW News

"Guitarist Kevin Horrigan lets his fingers do the talking"

Kevin Horrigan devoted his college education and countless hours perfecting fingerstyle guitar - no picks, except the thumb pick, are used - but he hadn't been able to make a career out of his passion.

An employee at We Energies for seven years, he was contemplating going back to school to study accounting. But before he made that decision, Horrigan thought he'd enter a couple of fingerstyle guitar contests this year "so I wouldn't look back and have any regrets."

He ended up winning both of them, beating out guitarists from around the world at the Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Championship at the Canadian Guitar Festival in Kingston, Ontario, in July and at the International Fingerstyle Guitar Contest at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan., in September.

"I'm starting to see I have to give this a fair shake," said Horrigan, 28. That means completing an album - he hopes to have it out in the spring - and expanding his performance schedule next year.


Back story: I got my own electric guitar when I was 12. I was learning how to play Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, but I never got too serious about it. .?.?. When I was 16, I was able to play my first song, "I Know You Rider," by ear. It was extremely motivating. It fueled the fire.

He says he sounds like: I utilize some contemporary techniques like slapping and tapping, but I respect the styles I spent quite a bit of time studying, like Delta blues. I try and write moody compositions. Some are darker moods and some are light moods."

We say he sounds like: A fast-picking, roots-relishing one-man jam band.

Sell yourself in 20 words or less: I try to create an exceptionally large sound with just one instrument.

First gig: It was in 2004 with a rock band named Fennelly. .?.?. I played at Conway's Smokin' Bar and Grill. It wasn't to a packed house or anything. It was a pretty low-key type of event. Even so, it was somewhat nerve-racking to be on stage and have people listen to you and look at you. The whole first gig, I looked at my feet for 90% of the show.

Worst gig: I was opening up for a band at Boerner Botanical Gardens. There were hundreds if not a little over 1,000 people there. I had to wheel out on a dolly 15-inch cabinet speakers and guitars across gravel and grass. I had 15 minutes to set up, started playing, and there was this terrible crackling sound. It felt like I was spewing static at 60 decibels. People were not happy, and neither were the organizers, but I felt the show had to go on and I had to keep playing. I found out later there was a problematic cord. But it was a very valuable lesson. It showed me how important it was to give yourself ample time to set up.

Song you've written that you're most proud of: "Tales From the Nomad" (hear it at It was one of the first compositions I've ever written and the most care I've ever taken with writing everything out. It was written as homage to my guitar hero Michael Hedges. One of the nicknames people refer to him as is "The Nomad." It incorporates his techniques, like string stopping.

Favorite cover song you perform: I really like "Caribbean Queen" by Billy Ocean. Sometimes I try to sing it like Michael McDonald, so it's somewhat of a farce, but a lot of fun.

Musical guilty pleasure: Justin Timberlake. As a singer and an entertainer, I have a lot of respect for that guy.

Greatest living guitarist: Jorge Caballero. That guy is just phenomenal. He's a classical guitarist, and he does some amazing Mozart arrangements. Probably the coolest things I've seen him do is arrange "New World Symphony" by Antonín Dvorák for solo guitar. It's unbelievable.

Dream jam partner: Robin Pecknold (from folk band Fleet Foxes). He's just a brilliant songwriter, and I like to sing as well, and the vocal harmonies he creates are absolutely amazing.

Upcoming album: It will be called "Self Oscillation." It's actually a term for a delayed effect when you get 100% of the feedback. You don't experience any drop in volume; it will continue on into infinity. It's a neat comparison to make to similar things in my own life. I can't seem to get away from the whole music thing. Something else happens that brings me back into it. .?.?. I'm hoping to release it in the first quarter of 2012.

Why do you do this? I just can't imagine my life without it. There was one moment when some really good song was on the radio and someone was trying to talk to me, and I remember looking at them, and I couldn't hear a word they were saying because my ears were tuned to the music.

I knew at that point it was something I was interested in. If I can be lucky enough to make ends meet doing something that I absolutely love, then I'm going to do whatever it takes.

- Piet Levy, Special to the Journal Sentinel - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

""Always Attentive to Musicianship Concepts""

"Kevin is a serious, dedicated musician. Even though piano was not his main instrument, he was always well-prepared for lessons. He was always attentive to musicianship concepts . . . he is a fine player. I give this excellent young musician and human being my strong recommendation." - JUDIT JAIMES - Internationally touring recitalist and collaborative pianist, honored with the 1999 National Music Award commendation from the President of Venezuela, Chair of the Piano Area and Processor of Piano and Chamber Music at UW-Milwaukee - JUDIT JAIMES - Internationally touring recitalist and collaborative pianist, honored with th

""A Special Talent""

"We had nothing but great reviews on our end. Kevin is a special talent. I've worked with a lot of acts around town and his blending of finger-style/percussion guitar is truly unique. He's very professional and easy to work with." - Ron Klug - Pub Manager, Brocach Irish Pub
- Ron Klug - Pub Manager, Brocach Irish Pub

""I'm Totally Diggin' It!""

"Wonderful grooves and Interesting techniques...I'm totally diggin' it!" - GARETH PEARSON - Internationally touring finger-style guitar virtuoso and entertainer, CANdYRAT Recording Artist, one of the finest and most recognized finger-style players on the scene today. - GARETH PEARSON - Internationally touring finger-style guitar virtuoso and entertainer, CANdY

""Perfect Mix of Originals and Covers""

"Kevin was a pleasure to work with for the East Town Market at Discovery World! He was a true professional. His song selection was a perfect mix of originals and covers. I believe it was the first time I've ever heard a solo performer cover Fleet Foxes, and he nailed it! Having Kevin play definitely added to the overall experience and vibe of the market. We look forward to working with Kevin again in the future!" - Peter Adams - Development Director, Easttown Association - Peter Adams - Development Director, Easttown Association

""A Musician, Not Just A Guitarist.""

"I first heard Kevin Horrigan play when he won the 2011 Canadian Guitar Festival competition, where I was immediately struck by his musical sensibilities. Kevin is a musician, not just a guitarist. I fully expect (and hope) that we all will be hearing more from him for years to come!" - STEPHEN BENNETT - “The Jedi Master of Fingerstyle Guitar,” extraordinary musician/composer/performer, acknowledged master of the harp guitar. One of the most critically acclaimed guitar players of our time. - STEPHEN BENNETT - “The Jedi Master of Fingerstyle Guitar,” extraordinary musician/composer/per

""A Guitarist To Be Reckoned With""

"Kevin is without a doubt one of the finest guitarists to graduate from our program . . . He distinguished himself immediately as a guitarist to be reckoned with due to the outstanding quality of his performances and his level of musicianship . . . and has a fine sense of style. In addition to these qualities, Kevin is als a warm and friendly person with a great work ethic and very high moral standards." - RENE IZQUIERDO - Internationally recognized as one of America's premier classical guitar virtuosos, winner of multiple international guitar competitions, Director of Classical Guitar at UW-Milwaukee. - RENE IZQUIERDO - Internationally recognized as one of America's premier classical guitar vir

""A True Crowd-Pleaser""

“Kevin was a pleasure to work with from beginning to end. With his bright, energetic and easy-going personality, he was a true crowd-pleaser. I look forward to working with him again in the future.” -Marissa Miller - Marketing & Events Coordinator, Westown Association - Marissa Miller - Marketing & Events Coordinator, Westown Association

""A Great Music Composer...A Great Technical Player""

“Kevin’s music is original and well structured, textural and tasteful, full of joy with some surprises. Kevin is not only a great music composer, but also a great technical player as his 1st place at The Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Competition confirms. I wish him great success.” -ANTOINE DUFOUR - Internationally recognized as one of the leading contemporary finger-style guitarists, garnering over 25 million views on YouTube and recording with CANdYRAT Records. 1st prize winner of the 2006 Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Competition. - ANTOINE DUFOUR - Internationally recognized as one of the leading contemporary finger-style gu

""I like it""

"It's hip. It's Cool." - Kevin's Mom


In the process of recording his debut studio album, entitled "Self Oscillation," due out in May 2012.



2011 International Fingerstyle Guitar Championship (1st)
2011 Canadian National Fingerstyle Guitar Competition (1st)
B.F.A. Fingerstyle Guitar Performance from UW-Milwaukee

Since becoming the first person in the world to have won both the International Fingerstyle Guitar Championship and the Canadian National Fingerstyle Guitar Competition, the music of Milwaukee's own Kevin Horrigan has been winning over audiences all across the globe. Open your ears, and Kevin's positively funky groove will breathe life into your legs and propel a steady pulse into your toes. Open your eyes, and you may be surprised to see that this HUGE, multi-voiced orchestral sound is coming from a single "fast-picking, roots-relishing one-man jam band."

Kevin's rhythmic and groovy approach to his music offers little doubt that he is not just a flashy guitarist, but a musician who draws just as much from Roots Reggae, Bob Marley and Keller Williams as he does from guitar giants like Michael Hedges and Leo Kottke. Don Ross, one of the world's most praised fingerstyle guitar composers and performers has said that "Kevin knows all about playing in the groove and in the pocket...I had to check to make sure his playing hadn’t burned a hole in the stage!"

Kevin has performed at several of the world's premier guitar festivals, encompassing several genres, including The 40th Walnut Valley Festival (bluegrass), The Canadian Guitar Festival in Ontario (fingerstyle), as well as to a sold-out crowd at Jean's Jazz Series, held in the 400 seat Racine Theatre Guild. He has performed on stage with guitar idols Don Ross, Stephen Bennett, and Gareth Pearson, and has recorded a video with the internationally booming CANdYRAT Records label. He has graced the stages of Milwaukee’s most notable venues, including The Pabst Theatre, The Jazz Estate, The Milwaukee Ale House, The Up and Under, Linneman’s, and has been featured on the Mary Bartlein WMSE “Instrumental Saturdays” radio show.

Kevin's personal acoustic guitar approach is characterized by a highly rhythmic and percussive playing style, often slapping/tapping the strings to accompany independent bass/melody lines. Enriching the texture even further, Kevin enjoys singing over complex acoustic backdrops, and has a penchant for utilizing looping technology to create even fuller soundscapes.

Born in Brookfield, WI, Kevin discovered his passion for music at a young age. His earliest memories include dancing around the house, listening to Michael Jackson and The Beatles on vinyl. Through the Jam-Band scene, specifically the music of Keller Williams, Kevin was turned on to fingerstyle guitar icons Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges, and soon realized his preference for the acoustic guitar.