Tuesday, September 5, 2017

My Time at SBAIC

I just got back from the Santa Barbara Guitar Acoustic Instrument Celebration. This was the second year. It was fun last year, and way more classy and well done this year. I hope it continues on and we can do it again and again. Thanks to Kevin and his crew for making it happen.

Actually I have a special point of view here. I made my first guitar in Santa Barbara in the 1970’s, so being in Santa Barbara was very nostalgic: In 1972 I was learning to play guitar, make guitars, write music, body surf, hike those mysterious mountains above the town. These were golden years. I was a skinny barefoot kid living the life, trying to avoid getting a job. I had started this sweet little guitar repair shop called Wooden Music,  and I was equally focused on classical guitar, the beach, the mountain trails, the music, getting stoned, and the girls.

This festival was housed right on the main beach in the Fess Parker Doubletree Hotel. There is an irony here because the last year that I was living in Santa Barbara there was a strong political battle about what to do with the undeveloped beachfront land — make it into a park — or make it into a lucrative tourist hotel. In 1976 something — to the extent that I was paying attention — I was all about the park. And now in 2017 I was exhibiting and staying at the hotel, quite happily. How the world does turn!

At the Santa Barbara festival on Saturday night I had some time to kill. The David Lindley concert at the Lobero Theater was at 8:00, so I had two hours free time, I went looking for one of the local festival venues in downtown Santa Barbara to get a bite to eat.  SoHo. This venue is in a warren of shops downstairs and upstairs on State Street and I decided to just hang out in the bar, the back of the room, a little separate from the music stage.There was a fine acoustic guitar concert performance going on, but I sat in the back, I was the only customer at the bar. I was watching Spanish TV above the bar and my eyes caught the  architectural trusses above the TV. It was obviously an old building with brick walls and ancient skylights that had been remodeled many times, and now a a hipster joint, with a young guy tending bar, waiting for the the younger So-Cal crowd to come in later, maybe around midnight. I was sitting there by myself, the only person there besides the bartender.  The roof trusses struck some chord, I thought I had seen them somewhere, in the fog of memory I realized holy shit, I’ve been here before! In this upstairs building it hit me, this was my first guitar shop! 1972, my first business. Even this very spot, I kissed a girl. More than 40 years ago I was living my life in this exact GPS location, this was my first guitar shop!

I couldn’t help myself, had to share it with somebody, so I blurted it out to the young bartender, “This place was my first guitar shop." He could have said “yeah man, far out” and blown me off, but instead this nice guy listened to my nostalgia, I described the corner of the building, the old windows above the parking lot, and he said  “Oh that’s the green room now, wanna see it?"

I was stunned, instinctively thought I should demure, but I said heck yeah!. If not now, when? He led me through the pantry and kitchen to the corner room, to the old window looking over the parking lot. It felt smaller than I remembered but not much changed, only the cars were newer. Looking down through the wash of memory, the not forgotten beauties tossing pebbles up to the window so I would open the downstairs door. I couldn’t believe it, my heart exploded, my eyes burst. This was my first guitar shop! Almost 50 years! How did this happen? The privilege of memory was young again. Just for a moment, but wow, what a moment! It felt like the cards of my life were spread out in a brilliant fan from then to now, prescient, nostalgic and current and vital.  Adreniline, sentiment and satisfaction all rolled together.

I took a picture. And sorry, I cried. Then I retreated and thought about what I could do with this burst of experience, how to savor it. What luck to be here. I hung out for a while longer talking with this young bartender, nice guy, he has young kids. He is trying to figure out what to do with his own life. He asked how it was in 1974, how I knew what I wanted to do for my whole life, even up to now. He could see I was much older than him. But actually I didn’t know the answer. I felt concerned for him, he sounded confused, and I guess that’s not such an unusual question these days. I’ve never asked it for myself. I wanted to light a fire for him, a fire like I’ve had had since back then. I love young people. I used to be one myself.

All I could think of to say was to "do whatever it is that you can’t not do.” Again, "Do whatever it is that you cannot - not - do." That impulse isn’t totally reliable, sounds a bit trite,  but maybe it’s the best thing we’ve got to go on. It still works for me. I hope that young bartender finds his move. I’m sure grateful for mine.

Kenny Hill
August 2017

By the way, the David Lindley concert was more than amazing. If you ever have the chance to see him, don’t miss it. He is a monster, an icon!

The view from the window of my old Santa Barbara workshop.

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