The night before last, I participated in something pretty exciting. To celebrate 50 years of music in downtown Concord – the home of the Concord Records, Dave Brubeck and my current home – one of the local business associations organized an event to break the world record for most acoustic guitars playing a single song at once. The old record stood at 1,802, set last year by folks in Germany. The goal was to beat it squarely with at least 2,000 guitarists – we did it with a total of 2,052! Very exciting.
The song was “This Land is Your Land” by folk legend Woody Guthrie and headed by 60s radical Country Joe McDonald. In order for the number to count, participants had to register. I registered early online, got there at about 4:30pm, got my T-shirt (I’ll rant about this some other time – by why do they never have XXL giveaway T-shirts? America is getting larger, folks… take that into account) and found a shady spot in the back of Todos Santos Plaza. I was going to meet a group from my local church, including our contemporary music director Diane Loehr with whim I have the distinct pleasure to play alongside every Sunday morning.
I don’t think I’ve talked about my enthusiasm for playing guitar here before. I’m not great – basically just a chord strummer – but I’ve gotten better since I started playing at the St. Michael’s Episcopalian church Sunday morning contemporary service (9am on Bonifacio in Concord – check us out!). I’ve played on and off since the 5th grade, but mostly off. I never had the patience to really practice and play. I’ve sung in choirs of one sort or another for most of my life, but learning music is a bit of a frustration for me. I never really seem to be able to grasp the concepts.
Since playing on a regular basis, however, this has changed. In high school, I took some Christmas money my father gave me and bought an entry-level Washburn from the Guitar Center for about $150. That became my main guitar. I also own a Strat Squier I bought around the same time from the same place for about the same price. In other words, I played on cheap guitars. Since I was never all that committed to playing consistently, I never upgraded.
In high school, a friend of mine owned a beautiful black Ovation Celebrity. Oh, man… whenever I picked it up, it just rang in my hands. It made me want to just sit there and pluck the strings – I didn’t care whether I was playing a song or not. It just sounded good. Ever since then, I’ve dreamed of owning an Ovation. When I took the guitar back up a year or so ago after joining the church choir, I made a promise to myself that, when I felt I had reached a particular level of competency, I would buy myself an Ovation.
I’d drag poor Danielle to the Guitar Center over in Concord once every couple of weeks. I’d immediately make a bee line to the back room where they kept the acoustics, and I’d take each of the Ovations down one by one and strum them. My favorite became this gorgeous sunburst mid-shallow beauty with inlaid wooden epaulets. It looked beautiful and sounded like Heaven.
This past Christmas, Dani decided that I had my level of competency. She went out and bought me my Ovation – an $1,100 guitar she somehow bought for only $600! I can not walk by this thing and not pick it up. Of all the material things I own, this is by far my absolute favorite. Lately, I’ve been rather overworked, so I’ve been leaving it in its case just so that I can actually focus. Otherwise, it sits on its stand on the other side of the room, glowing and beckoning to me. I never knew such a thing could give me so much joy. I am in love with this guitar, as I am with the woman who gave it to me. Best. Gift. EVAR!
So I took my baby down to the park in downtown Concord and joined the fray. What an amazing experience. I subscribe to Acoustic Guitar magazine (which I refer to as “Guitar Fetishist Quarterly”) which features tons of high-quality, low production guitars like Larivees and Badens. I saw a huge number of them in person being toted by the multitude of folks who turned out. Whenever I see someone walking down the street with a gig bag slung over their shoulder, I wonder what they’re up to and where they’re going to play. When I parked the car, I saw everyone with a gig bag or a guitar case swarming to the park. A lot of folks sat around and exchanged licks or shared stories. One of the folks from my group, Ken, told me the amazing story of how, in New York, he was visiting the Sam Ash store and picking on one of the dozens of Martins they sell there when a man walked up to him and said, “You know, when I designed that guitar for Eric Clapton, I intended it to be more of a strumming guitar.” It turned out C.F. Martin and some of his team were there to check out their display!
When 6:30 rolled around, Country Joe told us all to hold up our guitars. Then, at once, we got into position and followed him along in the record-breaking song. So, what does 2,052 guitars all playing the same song sound like? Ummm… cacophonous. I was about three quarters toward the back of the crowd, so I didn’t quite get to hear it as well as I’d hoped, but I heard most of my neighbors, and that was a lot of fun. Some folks pushed the limits of “acoustic guitar” and brought ukuleles, mandolins and even solid-body electric guitars. Regardless, it was a lot of fun and a rather exciting event. I love living in a community that not has the wherewithal to do things like this, but also the wonderful facilities. And, while my name may not actually go in the book of records, it is registered with Guinness as having been a participant, and that is pretty darned cool in my book.