On May 1, 2016, The Guitar Guinness Record Festival in Wroclaw, Poland — which is casually known as the “Thanks Jimi Festival” due to its celebration of Hendrix’s guitar wizardry and music—smashed the previous Guinness World Record for Largest Guitar Orchestra by logging 7,356 guitarists simultaneously strumming to “Hey Joe.”
What chords are those? — (front, left to right) Grzegorz Bogdan Skawiński, Greg Koch, bassist David Price, and me during the record attempt on “Hey Joe.”
Trying to hear my solo above the roar of dozens of amps during “Wild Thing,” as Leszek Cichoński (left) and vocalist/ guitarist LeBurn Maddox (right) listen for clams.
The 2017 run at the record fell short at 6,299, but that didn’t seem to matter much to the throngs of players crammed into Wroclaw’s Market Square joyously singing and playing along to Hendrix songs/covers such as “Foxy Lady,” “Voodoo Child,” “Little Wing,” “Red House,” “Wild Thing,” and “Hey Joe”(once again, the song tallied for the record attempt).
For the 15th annual event this year—also held on May 1—a second stage was added, a DVD was filmed for future release, and the city of Wroclaw honored festival founder Leszek Cichoński with a permanent “guitar gnome” statue in the Market Square. (Wroclaw is known as the “City of Gnomes,” and more than 350 krasnoludki appear throughout the town. The appearance of the gnomes began as a way for surrealists to ridicule authoritarianism during Poland’s martial-law era.) The festival is free and open to all, and while it’s a big deal in Europe—film clips from the guitar party are all over the European news during the day—American companies are beginning to take notice. Fender recently brought on Cichoński as an endorser (he proudly showcased his new, olive-hued Fender American Professional Series Stratocaster, dubbed “Jolivia”), and Epiphone had a big tent filled with guitars on the Square. (In the past, Ibanez has been the main presence at the festivities.)
How it feels to perform at the Guitar Guinness Record Festival was brilliantly summed up by Polish guitar hero Grzegorz Bogdan Skawiński, who said, “There’s nothing like this energy anywhere. I’ve been lucky enough to play in front of large audiences, but never with the people all playing guitar along with the band. So much spirit!”