From 'Colbert' to Madison Square Garden, guitar star Cory Wong plays it big

But while fiery fretwork has raised his national profile, the hyperprolific Twin Cities musician has nurtured a quieter, acoustic side.

From 'Colbert' to Madison Square Garden, guitar star Cory Wong plays it big
Star Tribune
Video (13:17) Click above to see Cory Wong's special set for the Star Tribune State Fair.

The pandemic has shut down Twin Cities guitar star Cory Wong's biggest gig, with Vulfpeck, a cult-loved funk-rock band that is popular enough to headline Madison Square Garden.

But he has been busy this summer on his own, dropping a pair of solo acoustic albums, "Trail Songs: Dawn" and "Trail Songs: Dusk." The former, fittingly, has a brighter feel while"Dusk" is mellower. Earlier this year, Wong released something completely different, a collection of peppy pop-soul called "Elevator Music for an Elevated Mood."

He also managed to squeeze in a live album, some session work in Nashville and an outdoor gig at Crooners in Fridley with his own funky band (he'll return there Sept. 6 for two shows featuring sax star Dave Koz).

Wong is game for collaboration, enlisting mandolin master Chris Thile, smooth-jazz saxman Dave Koz and piano wiz Jon Batiste on his recordings. Batiste reciprocated by inviting Wong to sit in with his group Stay Human, the house band on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." The two collaborated on a recent album of improvisations called "Meditations."

The big spotlight doesn't intimidate Wong. He's played with Prince and stood out in an ad hoc band featuring Rolling Stones sidemen Bernard Fowler and Chuck Leavell. Ironically, the super-prolific guitarist insisted on an album a year ago that he needed to find a career — "Today, I'm Gonna Get Myself a Real Job." He's since released five more discs.