As most of us know, the arts are among the first to suffer during an economic downturn. But a few institutions usually hold fast during tough times – mostly ones that are so woven into the American pop-cultural fabric that they’re relatively indefatigable by diminished funds to support them.
Guitars, and the music associated with them, are one such category. They’re the basis for much of pop music for more than half a century, and the instrument is a coveted symbol and tool for American males (and some females) ages 7-70. It’s a largely working-class icon of rebellion, freedom and youth that will likely retain that status for at least two more generations, and that’s part of the reason why the Dallas International Guitar Festival – the first and still one of the largest of its kind on the planet – should do just fine when it consumes Dallas Market Hall on April 17-19.
With acoustic Texas swing outfit the Texas Gypsies as a backdrop at shabby-fab Bar Belmont, I had a great discussion about the festival’s relevance with several folks (festival co-owner Jimmy Wallace, KZPS-FM (92.5) morning-drive DJ Jim White (without Bo, I might add), Stevie Ray Vaughan memorabilia hound Craig Hopkins, others) during the fest’s media primer on Thursday.
Yeah, Baby Boomers drive the collectability of guitars, much like they do for muscle cars, Harley-Davidsons and movie memorabilia. Yeah, the DIGF’s narrow appeal – reflected best in its performers, nearly all of whom are barely known outside the guitar-freak community – restricts its growth demographically. Yeah, the show is long on vintage/collectible gear and short on new products and accessories (that’s mainly the province of this insider-only event, anyway).
But I have another theory: the disappearance of the locally owned music store.
For its size, Dallas has always had a pittance of such places, even before Guitar Center (the Best Buy of instrument stores) and MARS moved into the area in the early 1990s. (Most of those local outlets operated on the fringes in the blue-collar ‘burbs, anyway.) But since Larry Morgan Music closed its doors in downtown Garland early last year, decent independent rock-instrument stores in Dallas can be counted on one hand (and you won’t even use all of its fingers).
Yes, the internet and rock-tool megastores can both be blamed for the indie rock shop’s downfall. But that one such local remnant, Charley’s Guitar Shop, was the birthplace for the DIGF back in 1978 is telling. It’s not that the rock-musically inclined haven’t wanted such shops around. There’s plenty of demand. It’s that music-instrument stores are social, tactile places where musicians go to form a bond with an instrument (or an amplifier, or a sound-effect “stomp box”, and so on) and talk about it with like-minded folks before buying it – and Dallas has never had many of those types of places around. (And no, Guitar Center doesn’t count for several reasons that I won’t get into here).
The DIGF satiates that urge for guitarists on a grand scale. On top of that, you’ll see many families at Dallas Market Hall in two weekends because area parents see the festival as an ideal place to show curious, Guitar Hero-loving sons and daughters what being a guitar geek is really about: comraderie, feel, spirit and soul – all of which gain value during a recession.
Yes, monetary sales will likely be down this year; the early-1950s Fender Telecasters on sale for $35K and up last year will probably not move. But other things will be moved – and I bet that keeps the festival relevant and successful for a long while.