The Blissful Anxiety of Guitar Player LIVE!

Why would a publishing company, in a season of economic unrest, do something as risky as launching a weekend guitar festival in a Bay Area suburb?

Why would a publishing company, in a season of economic unrest, do something as risky as launching a weekend guitar festival in a Bay Area suburb?

After all, many people are still carefully managing their beaten-down entertainment budgets, so attendance projections can be worrisome and iffy. It didn’t help that limited, third- and fourth-quarter cash resources made it difficult to promote the event through massive regional advertising. We also had to ask ourselves whether newspapers and radio stations would be effective ad buys to reach guitarists and guitar-music fans. How much could we depend on e-mail alerts to our core readers? Would our initial forays into social networking deliver enough community outreach to seduce guitar fanatics into trekking to the big show?

Then, we had to worry about whether the weekend traffic would be enough to satisfy the manufacturers who had secured booth space to sell and promote their gear in the “expo tent.” We worried whether the audiences would be big enough to impress the guitar stars we had asked to perform—for little or no compensation—at the weekend’s free and paid concerts, or share their knowledge and experience at a series of free clinics. Would the host city love us or despise us during and after the event? Would we make money (hooray!), or lose money at a time when losing money can be a deadly proposition?

And these are just the MAJOR concerns facing GUITAR PLAYER when it committed itself to producing GUITAR PLAYER LIVE! in Livermore, California, on September 11, 12, and 13, 2009. Hundreds of administrative and logistical goblins dropped themselves onto the planning table, as well.

So, again—why would we do this thing?

Ah, let me count the reasons…

[1] GUITAR PLAYER is committed to evangelizing the glory of playing guitar, and that evangelism should be not limited to the printed page or even Internet electrons. Our mission is interactive. We wanted to SHOW real people in real-time the joy, ultra coolness, and giddy passion of playing guitar.

[2] We want to bring our two great communities—guitar-obsessed GP readers and the companies who make the gear they crave—closer together. NAMM shows are for the trade only, which means the general public can’t get in. As a result, everyday people are denied a fabulous opportunity to handle and test, and learn about new products. But the GPL! Expo Tent—and assorted clinics—afforded people the opportunity to play with tons of new products. And if they liked what they played, they could usually buy the gear right on the spot.

[3] We want to share our relationships with professional players and guitar stars, and bring them “to the street,” so to speak, to interact with the general public, music fans, and guitarists in deep and meaningful ways. Happily, the GPL! clinics were a blast, and well attended. How often do you get an almost personal lesson from someone like Earl Slick on how to get a good tone? Is Laurence Juber going to walk into your living room and serve up a master class on solo-acoustic performance? GUITAR PLAYER was jazzed to be able to bring players of this caliber into relatively intimate environments to thrill and educate—and we are humbled and delighted that these great guitarists believed in the event, and graciously went to the trouble of coming to Livermore to talk about their craft with everyday people.

[4] Is it a bad thing to have an entire town talking about guitar? I think not. And how great was it to walk the downtown streets and see so many people wearing GPL! shirts and hats? Pretty darn cool.

[5] With help from the Livermore Performing Arts Center, we were able to launch more than 40 artists playing on four different stages all weekend long. And these were just the FREE concerts! We also offered paid shows such as Shrapnel Records Night with Richie Kotzen, Michael Lee Firkins, and Chris Duarte, and Triple Threat Guitar with Laurence Juber, Jennifer Batten, and Vicki Genfan. That’s a lot of guitar music blasting into the air!

[6] Our GUITAR SUPERSTAR competition—now in its fifth year—continues to promote brilliant guitar playing to the public, and it’s great to find so much unsigned and relatively unknown talent out there, and to bring it to the attention of guitar fans everywhere.

I could go on, but why blabber? You get the idea.

While I don’t want to make this blog something that seems like a self-congratulatory promo piece for NEW BAY MEDIA and GUITAR PLAYER, I can’t help but be thankful that this company—and its truly superb staffs of people—are willing to commit to optimism, evangelism, and community outreach. We didn’t retreat. We tried something different. We launched a little dream. And, yes, we experienced hardships and anxieties. But GUITAR PLAYER LIVE! came off, it put “GUITAR” right out there in the atmosphere for three wonderful days, and it energized several communities of fans, players, and gear makers.

In the end, that’s a pretty groovy victory for guitar players everywhere.

Michael Molenda, Guitar Player Editor in Chief