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Finger-Picking Good

Alexandria’s Steve Hung can’t sing, but his guitar can.

Know your audience. That’s the mantra for Steve Hung, a guitar instrumentalist who lives in Alexandria, when he approaches a gig.

“At the beginning of the set, I might try a quiet, pretty folk finger-picking song. Then I might pick a blues song. I'll see how the audience reacts, and go in that direction,” he said.

It’s a mindset that allows him to tailor each of his live shows to a certain venue. For example, don’t expect to hear a carbon copy set list at his gig in St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub on Jan. 19 and his set at Austin Grill on Jan. 27.

Mainly because he doesn’t have a set list. “I just have a big list of songs I know.”

Hung first started playing guitar at 15 years old, growing up in the mid-1990s in Houston, Texas. “It's a typical story: I liked to listen to alternative music in high school, and there's plenty of heavy guitar rock in those songs. So I just wanted to take guitar to play my favorite Pearl Jam and Nirvana songs.”

He fell for the electric guitar, and played it on into college at the University of Texas in Austin. Eventually, as he bounced from band to band, he decided to go solo; since the electric axe demands a backing band, he decided to go acoustic.

“I'm an instrumentalist because I can't sing very well. I tried to do the singer/songwriter thing but I couldn't sing very well. To make up for my lack of singing, I tried to learn more intricate guitar parts.”

HUNG IS BILLED as a “Texas Fingerpicker,” a style of folk guitar work that he developed while plying his trade at open mic nights in Austin. Primarily, he used to star at The Cactus Café, a popular acoustic venue that also happened to be at the Texas student center.

Graduating in Dec. 2005, Hung began playing in coffee shops and other venues and began seeing results. "I knew my music had an effect on people, so when I moved up here I wanted to do my best in getting more people to hear it,” he said.

As his career evolves, so do his musical tastes. “I listen to stuff that motivates me to listen to music. It's a little bit of everything.”

That means exploring jazz and blues music to find new inspirations for his own work. Lately, that exploration has included hip-hop, which a friend turned him onto. "Hip-hop has sort of become the future of popular music. I think pop culture is revolving around hip-hop now,” said Hung.

Finally — someone to bridge the gap between Stevie Ray Vaughan and Ludacris.