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30th Anniversary: Dallas International Guitar Festival

Most of us have been to a guitar show or two; look through the local papers, and odds are you’ll be able to find a swap show down at

Dallas International Guitar Festival

Dallas International Guitar Festival Most of us have been to a guitar show or two; look through the local papers, and odds are you’ll be able to find a swap show down at the local Marriott. You’ll find guitar shows all across the country – all across the world, to be more accurate, with more than 2,000 guitar shows and festivals staged each year. Some are one-day events, designed to help dealers trade their valuable guitars, while some are multi-day festivals, celebrating all aspects of the instrument.

And while these guitar shows are fun, educational and great way to spend a Saturday afternoon looking at vintage Les Paul Bursts, there are a few shows which remain in a league of their own. The Dallas International Guitar Festival, scheduled this year for the weekend of April 20th, is arguably the biggest players in the industry, and has been breaking its own records for years. With the approach of this year’s show, it’s clear that 2007 will certainly be no different.

In true Texas fashion, this show’s roots are much more humble. Charley Wirz, a Dallas guitar shop owner, had the bright idea of organizing a vintage guitar show, in the same vein as the collectible and trade shows that visited the area regularly. With the help of partners John Brinkmann and Danny Thorpe, he would promote the shows, sign up dealers and collectors and lease display space. He would encourage like-minded guitar nuts to attend, and the result was the Greater Southwest Vintage Guitar Show.

The first year of its existence, 1978, found the Bee Gees and Paul McCartney atop the charts, while a small group of diehard guitar fanatics gathered in a small hotel meeting room in Dallas. Trading guitars and stories, there wasn’t the glitz and glam of modern shows – just nice instruments and a few willing buyers.

The first shows were admittedly undistinguished – with only a few exhibitors leasing space to sell their axes. However, Charley’s idea to take the guitar culture from a small, inclusive club to a public stage was arguably ahead of its time. The vintage show would attract more dealers and collectors each year, and would open the door for the rapid rise of interest – from both players and collectors – in vintage guitars.

In 1985, Charley passed away suddenly, and the show ended up in the hands of his close friend and lifelong guitarist, Mark Pollock. Under Mark’s ownership, the show continued to grow and he instituted some key changes that would dramatically increase the show’s visibility. In 1989, Mark would bring Jimmy Wallace – one of the original exhibitors from the 1978 show – on board to assist in the planning and vision of the festival.

Dallas International Guitar Festival 

As the years have progressed, the show has increased in size and popularity. More and more people are coming to learn about guitars, whether it is experienced players, young children picking up their first guitar or savvy investors coming to the market. The show has grown at an incredible rate, and can now claim to be the world’s foremost celebration of the guitar.

One of the biggest changes to the festival since its inception has been the inclusion of live music. When Mark took ownership of the festival, he realized that music was an integral part of the guitar, and should be part of the show. In 1985, he started the Saturday Night Jam – a small party at a local nightclub featuring “really good players,” according to Mark. It has since featured accomplished musicians like Rick Derringer, Andy Timmons and James Burton – all playing together, for a once-ina- lifetime experience.

Building upon the appeal of the Saturday Night Jam, 1997 saw the inclusion of Musicfest into the show, bringing even more of the public into the guitar world. Spanning multiple indoor and outdoor stages, Musicfest featured the best local, regional and national acts throughout the weekend. “The Musicfest is starting to rival the guitars,” Mark has said. “People want to hear the music as much as they want to see the guitars.” This year’s acts will include Paul Reed Smith, Junior Brown, Phil Keaggy and George Lynch, just to name a select few.

Along with the addition of live music, the Dallas Guitar Festival has moved venues several times in its journey to becoming the world’s oldest and largest guitar show. In 1985, to support increasing crowds, Mark made the decision to move to a much larger venue. His first thought was to move into Dallas Market Hall, the site of Dallas’ largest shows and the world’s largest privately owned exhibition hall. “When Charley Wirz died in February of 1985, the first place I went to was Dallas Market Hall … I was told the months of February to May were booked for virtually 20 years.”

In 2004, after stints at the Dallas Convention Center and Fair Park, Mark was finally able to move into the Dallas Market Hall. This has provided various benefits for both vendors and attendees, including free parking and close accommodations, and has added to the Dallas show’s reputation as the world’s premier guitar show.

Dallas International Guitar Festival As the 2007 Dallas International Guitar Festival opens, the promoters will be pulling out all the stops to celebrate the festival’s 30th anniversary, with over 800 booths, exhibitions and clinics. Attendees can expect a variety of great music and thousands of cool guitars.

This year’s show will feature the neverbefore- seen Holy Grail Guitar Exhibition, sponsored by PRS Guitars. The museumquality offering will showcase Eric Clapton’s “Blackie,” a custom Fender Stratocaster, played by Clapton and auctioned at Christie’s in 2004 for $959,500 – making it the most expensive guitar of its kind to ever be auctioned. It will be displayed with his 1956 Fender Stratocaster “Brownie,” as well as the 1964 Gibson ES-335 that he played extensively with Cream. Also included in the exhibit will be guitars owned by Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana, as well as some of Leo Fender’s original designs and the first Marshall amplifiers ever produced.

With more than 18,000 attendees and more than $3 million of instruments and memorabilia trading hands in 2006, it’s safe to say that attendees of the original Greater Southwest Vintage Guitar Show might have never dreamed the show would reach such heights. With this year’s additions, and the continued strength of the vintage market, the 2007 show will surely be the best yet. We’ll see you there.

Dallas Intrntl Guitar Festival 30th Anniversary