Curated by Christine McMahon Tumpson  |  Photographs from Stereotype Photography, Maria Palermo, Palermo Photo

Elias Khouri, A Pittsburgh born and raised guitarist, who is making strides at becoming a popular figure in the the Pittsburgh music scene. Elias is 16-years-old and is already performing at top venues in and around the area. He recently performed at the Three Rivers Arts Festival this summer on the Dollar Bank main stage at Point State Park on June 8, 2018 for WYEP day.

Elias started playing guitar when he was 13-years-old, playing mostly air guitar to his dad’s record collection. His dad’s collection is comprised of nearly every genre. But Elias was into guitar. It was the instrument that took front stage. That’s when Rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Santana, Aerosmith, and The Eagles became his main focus. After acting out the part, he now wanted to be a Rock Star.  One summer day, his dad heard him playing air guitar to Eddie Van Halen’s lead guitar and his dad made him a bet that he could never play it, the bet was $100. Elias practiced for 6 weeks straight day and night, playing the tune and imitating it, until he finally got it. He called his dad in the room and played it for him, earning his first $100. As time went by, he focused mainly on the music of the 70’s – the energy, the depth and the soul of that music gave Elias the drive to become more and more like his rock & roll idols. By 14-years-old, Elias was already getting the attention of folk and rock & roll local musicians, by attending and performing at the area’s open mic sessions. But it wasn’t very easy at first. Here comes this kid with an afro and a guitar, ha ha ha…yeah, he was the new kid in town and he did not look like everyone else and he could tell that they did not take him seriously. Until he got up on stage and he started playing and all you heard were screams and cheers and loud ongoing applause. They heard the sound of his guitar and they watched the energy and intensity of each note as he played and immediately this doubt was replaced with instant respect. By 15-years-old, Elias started exploring other styles of music, exploring soul and r&b groups from the late 60s and early 70s, but still staying true to his original style, rock & roll, as he started playing steady gigs and shows at local venues. 

As more and more people began to accept this new kid, it gave him the confidence to go out there and become what he always dreamed he could be, and by doing this he realized something important, he is making a difference. This difference may be small to some, but the small ones are important, especially when younger kids come up to him and say, “how do you do that? I want to play just like you.” This is the change that he brings, this is the hope that he brings, this is the joy that he brings. At the High School that Elias attends, he tries to be as much an inspiration to other aspiring musicians as he can. He helps others realize that they too can do it, just put in the time and the effort and the reward is there. Also keeping grounded is important to him. It’s not about making yourself seem pretentious – everyone wants to be a star – but it comes down to your attitude and how you are perceived and how down to earth you can remain through it all.  On social media, Elias has had friends comment that he is the best guitarist they know, and his reply is thanks, I am the best guitarist on my block, lol. His philosophy is that, he not trying to be the best, he does it because he loves to play and if playing can bring him happiness, then that is all he needs. As far as changing perceptions as an African American rock & roll artist, his views are that he cannot change the world, he can only be a part of it and be that change.

“l gave him the encouragementhe needed and l stepped back and watched it happen.” – Najeeb Khouri

Elias is the now 16-year-old, and now feels that he is playing on a different level and has landed gigs at places such as the “legendary” Mr. Smalls Theater. Elias playing larger venues caught the attention of many Pittsburgh promoters who got him gigs at places such as The Rex Theater and the Andy Warhol Museum.  Elias biggest event so far this year was the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which gave him a wider audience of music loving Pittsburghers. We hope that this will be the start of bigger and better things to come for this Pittsburgh native.

Check out Elias and the EK Band  at the following dates and be sure to connect with them on Facebook @Musicboy122

July 13th: Deutschtown Music Festival
July 15th: Polish Hill Arts Festival
July 21st: Pittsburgh Blues and Roots

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