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May 20, 2019

5/15/2019 12:28:00 PM
Guitar festival fills La Conner with music and money
LET THE MUSIC PLAY – Jazz guitarists Tim Lerch (also a mean blues player), left, from Seattle and Denver’s Sean McGowan joined together for the best way to spend a Friday afternoon: free music and great food, drink and conversation at Anelia’s Kitchen and Stage.  – Photo by Jacob Carver
+ click to enlarge
LET THE MUSIC PLAY – Jazz guitarists Tim Lerch (also a mean blues player), left, from Seattle and Denver’s Sean McGowan joined together for the best way to spend a Friday afternoon: free music and great food, drink and conversation at Anelia’s Kitchen and Stage.  – Photo by Jacob Carver
GUITAR PLAYERS – AND MAKERS – HEAVEN – Perhaps 1,700 guitar playing and music loving people flocked to the 3rd Annual La Conner Guitar Festival. Luthiers – makers of stringed musical instruments – were honored for the joy they bring to others. Hundreds of their artisan instruments were lovingly handled.  – Photo by Ken Stern
+ click to enlarge
GUITAR PLAYERS – AND MAKERS – HEAVEN – Perhaps 1,700 guitar playing and music loving people flocked to the 3rd Annual La Conner Guitar Festival. Luthiers – makers of stringed musical instruments – were honored for the joy they bring to others. Hundreds of their artisan instruments were lovingly handled.  – Photo by Ken Stern

From start to finish music played at Maple Hall, Civic Garden Club, in designated venues and anywhere a person could pick up a guitar and strum it: in a corner, a hallway, at exhibitor tables, the edge of Maple Hall’s stage, its three quiet rooms and the plaza outside. The third annual La Conner Guitar Festival was another smashing success, making everyone happy except, perhaps, the unexpecting tourists hoping for a quiet weekend before the summer rush.
From Friday through Sunday La Conner was the center of the universe for luthiers and their appreciators, valuing high quality handmade guitars, primarily, and also mandolins and ukuleles and at least one guitjo, a six-string banjo.Vender Wayne Johnson sold a guitar for $7,800 and estimated prices ranged from $5,000 to $50,000.
Johnson’s been building guitars since 2015, though “guitars have been a passion of mine my whole life.” He started playing when he was six. This was his second year here, up from Bremerton. Like just about everyone else, he was smiling and looked content.
Exhibitors and vendors came from throughout North America: Quebec, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, Chicago, Texas, the continent’s west coast and even more. Austin’s Jeremy Jenkins said a dealer from London “was taking one of my guitars with him” and Jenkins scored two orders. This was truly an international event.
At the mini-concerts professional musicians gushed quietly about their guitars and their makers. Frog and Toad, Brad Jones and Bell Willborn, played Randall “Sparky” Kramer’s guitars Friday afternoon to 25 attendees in Maple Hall’s upstairs room. One showed the Brazilian wood back while the other admitted to “plain old red spruce,” calling it “warm and friendly” and not biting. After playing their rendition of “Eleanor Rigby,” one confessed “that guitar does not suck.”
On the other side of the door, Tim Farrell was enjoying a Pennsylvania made guitar.
The attention could be quite personal. Jamie Stillway worked with two students taking her workshop in the Civic Garden Club, the last of the festival, Sunday afternoon. Workshops cost extra.
Saturday morning Tim Lerch worked with ten students wanting to “Jazz up the Blues.” His teaching was autobiographical: The advice, “take it slow,” he explained, came from a pro, “a bass player, an old black man, who leaned over and changed my life.” A white teen from the suburbs, Lerch was good enough to get into the clubs and play with the pros but he still had lots to learn.
“Our inclination is to rush,” he told his class of the simple advice that took a long time to learn.
It wasn’t a weekend for rushing, but crushed the town was, with a line onto the sidewalk at la Conner Brewery Friday night and business brought into Anelia’s, Sips, Waterfront Café and Santo Coyote by their being venues for free mini-concerts
Mayor Ramon Hayes said La Conner Pub owner Julie Lennartz told him that her best Saturday of the year was during the guitar festival. Skagit County Historical Museum Director Jo Wolfe, volunteering in Maple Hall, guessed that every room for rent in town was full.
It was a weekend for gushing, as several luthiers did about their peers but especially heaping praise on festival organizer Shirley Makela. They did not hesitate to praise her. While Duane Noble came from nearby Richland, he said “it was the only show I do anymore. It’s definitely a good show,” made better by two sales.
Makela was as mellow as the music. The international interest thrilled her, as did those who came from Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas to attend. She was estimating Sunday attendance was up 33 percent from Sunday 2018.
“Luthiers are such a good bunch,” she observed. “How many people are coming to La Conner from so many places.”
Makela was happy for town merchant and exhibitor success and the mingling among all of them.
Yen Lai said he is only a six hour plane ride from his New Jersey home. This was his first time. While he had neither sales or orders, he is coming back in 2020. More, he stayed an extra couple of days this week. “I love this town. Being here is a treat,” he said. “It’s very cute.”



Related Links:
• Ken Stern





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