No Strings Attached

Step into the 214,000 square-foot warehouse and gape at the rows and rows of guitars.Classical, acoustic, electric, vintage – there more types than the average music lover could ever name. Hear about 30 different guitar melodies simultaneously; all are live. Some come from professional guitarists playing on any of the five stages dispersed throughout the hall, but most are attendees of the world’s largest guitar festival experimenting on their potentially new guitars at one of the 800 exhibitors’ booths. Blend in with the infinitely diverse group of guitar-lovers and skim the array of guitars, some of which date back to 1923 – when the first electric guitar was made.


According to the Dallas International Guitar Festival show guide, 30 years ago, the Dallas International Guitar Festival was a humble get-together of guitar dealers and collectors in a small hotel meeting room called Greater Southwest Vintage Guitar Show. About 20 years later, live music came onto the scene, bringing in more people. In 2004, the guitar festival made its way into the Dallas Market Hall, the world’s largest privately owned exhibition hall, and enjoys the reputation of being the world’s premier guitar show today.

The Crowd

The demographics of this year’s attendees shifted slightly from the more-seasoned Monte Montgomery fans with an appreciation for vintage collectibles to the fresher music-lovers as the festival brought in younger musicians such as Green River Ordinance and Hero Factor. These attractions were brought in through Trivate Entertainment, a managing company responsible for booking younger bands and promoting the festival to the college-age population, said Amy Graziano, a Trivate employee and senior advertising/public relations major.

The Holy Grail Guitar Exhibition

The Holy Grail, sponsored by PRS Guitars, was a miniature guitar museum, “featuring 60 of the world’s most famous guitars and memorabilia,” according to the festival Web site. Its attractions ranged from the guitar Jimi Hendrix couldn’t buy because he died before making it to southern California to make the purchase, to the first electric guitar ever made, which looked like a cross between a symphonic guitar and a harp; from a million-dollar guitar to Carlos Santana to Eric Clapton’s very own guitars on loan from the artists themselves.

The Music

Most performances were fairly humble: a small stage, a cluster of plastic fold-out chairs – more than half were empty. Passers-by would stop for a moment to get a taste of the current performer’s music; some walked on to find a better suiting stage for their tastes, some sat down with a slight slouch, heads tilted up with alert. These stages in most part showcased one or two guitar players; some also sang and some were accompanied by one or two other instruments. But one thing was obvious – this festival was meant to highlight and heighten the public’s appreciation for guitars and their masters.

The musicians were far from the stereotypical rock star guitarists one might envision at a guitar festival. They blended in pretty well with the rest of the attendees in their button-up shirts and khaki shorts. However, once they got their hands on a guitar, their scurrying fingers immediately demanded attention and admiration.

One Brazilian duo in particular, Brazilian Greats, attracted listeners through flowing and intricate melodies resembling a waterfall trickling down tier after tier, every note smoothly flowing into the next. Their appearance wasn’t eye-catching, as they sat in T-shirts and shorts, and nor were their instruments: acoustic guitars. Their fingers easily and rapidly – almost carelessly – darted down the guitar necks but produced crisp, clear notes, fully intended and perfect. The melodies are easy and soothing to the ears but as Felipe Nacif and Joao Erbetta said, their virtuosity results from 20 years of practice.

When asked how they spent their days when not playing the guitar, Nacif blankly replied after a moment of silence: “sleep?”

Erbetta frankly admitted that he plays “all the time.”

“I think people think I’m boring because I play so much,” he said.

Jars of Clay

As Jars of Clay, the headlining band of the festival took its place on stage, the sun hovered over the horizon, as if waiting for permission to retire. The performance wasn’t the typical rock show, where attendees push and shove to get a better view of their favorite musicians. Some stood and swayed to the music by the stage, while others sat on the black hardtop parking lot and listened from a distance. The set was balanced between energetic, interactive sing-alongs and poignant, gentle sounds. Although Jars of Clay is now a well-known, mainstream band, its performance was in fact a unique one among the many other performances that took place in the market hall Saturday. The spotlight wasn’t solely on the guitarist like the others; it was shared by a drummer, keyboardist, vocalist and two guitarists. The sky darkened, and a stimulating light show pulsated with the music as Jars of Clay epitomized the festival’s essence with honest, loud and simply good music.