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Bill MacKay is a highly-regarded guitarist-composer-improviser based in Chicago. He has energized experimental folk, rock, and avant-garde scenes with his radiant songwriting, and creative and unpredictable approach to the guitar. He is also a writer, emerging polyglot, activist and visual artist. He has been recording & releasing records, and contributing to those of other musicians, since 2004.
His most recent records (Altamira (2015) by his band Darts & Arrows (ears&eyes), Land of Plenty (2015) a duo set with Ryley Walker (Whistler Records), Bill MacKay plays the songs of John Hulbert (Tomkins Square) and Rob Frye’s Flux Bikes-Sueñolas (2016) (Lake Paradise)) reveal a startling range – from the folk of Appalachia, avant-rock, and blues to gospel, jazz, raga-esque excursions, and western-country modes. Yet it’s the dynamic singularity with which he ties his interests together that is key to his art.
MacKay currently appears as a solo artist, with Darts & Arrows, and in current and ongoing collaborations with partners including Katinka Kleijn (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) Rob Frye (Bitchin’ Bajas), Sam Wagster (Cairo Gang), LeRoy Bach (Wilco, Five Style), Frank Rosaly (Health & Beauty), Renée Baker, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Michael Zerang (The Blue Lights), Marvin Tate, Ryley Walker, Angela James, and Tim Kinsella (Joan of Arc).
His records have received praise in reviews by the Chicago Reader, Mojo, The Ear, Uncut, Downbeat, and New City among other publications. In 2014, he was composer-in-residence at Ragdale Foundation, and awarded an Individual Artist grant by the Illinois Arts Council (IAC).
He has performed with Renee Baker’s Chicago Modern Orchestra (Creative Music Summit – Sunyata: Towards Absolute Emptiness) at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) , produced work on the soundtrack of the film Crying Earth Rise Up (Prairie Dust Films), and took part in Toby Summerfield’s Never Enough Hope recording & record release concert.
In 2016 MacKay played a solo set supporting set support Bonnie Prince Billie / Bitchin’ Bajas on their summer tour, performed at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival with Marvin Tate’s Weight of Rage, performed in a duo with Katinka Kleijn (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) at the Outer Ear festival at Experimental Sound Studios (ESS), appeared at Desert Daze festival in Joshua Tree, California with Ryley Walker, and supported Bill Callahan.
MacKay grew up in Pittsburgh and lived in several cities east and west before settling in Chicago in 1998.