This past Sunday afternoon saw the return of the 7th annual Guitar Mash at City Winery in New York City. The goal of the organizers is to have people connect to each other by playing and singing music publicly in a “Musical Speed Dating” scenario, where participants were given three minutes each to play and learn from professional musicians.

Paul Simon guitarist Mark Stewart, as always, acted as bandleader on stage and assisted those participants playing along in the audience. This year’s event included the theme “Songs for Change” and included such diverse pairings as Tom Colicchio on Joni Mitchell’s, “Big Yellow Taxi”, Marc Ribot on “Bella Ciao” (which began with the lyrics, “The Fascists are on the Way!”) and Kat Edmonson on Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”.

Ani DiFranco headlined this year’s event and did not disappoint with the Woody Guthrie tune, “Deportee” and non-ironical version of Nick Lowe’s, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” The afternoon ended in fine fashion with many of the participants joining together for, “This Land is Your Land” as Mark Stewart pointed out the importance of positioning the lyrics of “Your Land” before “My Land”.

Additional highlights included Fernandito Ferrer rewriting the lyrics on John Lenon’s “Imagine” in Spanish and allowing the audience to sing back softly in English, creating a beautiful melding of two distinct cultures. It was impossible not to contrast this moment against the divisive political rhetoric leading up to the recent election and think deeply about John Lennon’s lyrics.

Personal highlights included watching one young boy showing off his new song to Delicate Steve; David Broza working with a young girl on her guitar technique; a woman sharing a story about the death of her bandmate with Kaki King; and Paul Simon guitarist Biodun Kuti sharing a song from his homeland of Nigeria. Within just a few minutes, Mark Stewart and Biodun Kuti taught the audience a few simple words and had them singing along on the chorus.

As organizer Rebecca Weller noted, watching them grow through the years as musicians and more importantly as “Leaders of our future Leaders” gives hope for what’s to come. For more information on Guitarmash, see the event’s Facebook page or website. Check out Jeremy Gordon’s photos from Guitar Mash 7 below!