(Originally scheduled for Thursday, July 28 but postponed due to bad weather, this event has been rescheduled for Tuesday, August 30.)
There are hootenannies, there are supergroups and then there is the unique annual harmonic convergence of hundreds of guitars on the Hoboken waterfront in the spirit of communal music- and merry-making. And, just maybe one of these years, a world record for the largest band.
Whether you spend quality time with your guitar every day or you have an old, warped axe which you’re normally too sheepish to take out of the house, this Thursday’s Guitar Bar world record attempt at Sinatra Park is the one night a year when everyone’s welcome to join together with the band.
“The idea for the world record attempt came three years ago, when Bob Dylan was doing a concert in Hoboken,” says Guitar Bar proprietor James Mastro. “Our shop house band – the Guitar Bar All-Stars – thought it’d be nice to pay tribute by doing a set of Dylan songs for our concert that he probably wouldn’t play at his own show the next evening. The beauty of Dylan’s songs is that, while lyrically very deep, the chords are simple enough for even the beginning guitarist to play. I figured it’d be fun to ask our students and anyone else who wanted to bring a guitar to come join the band. And from there, over the years it’s just snowballed.”
That first event in 2013 saw about 150 audience members playing along. By last year’s show, about 1,200 people were in attendance, with more than 400 playing guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, banjos, violins, accordions and horns. Any acoustic instruments are welcome. Oversize chord charts for all the songs will be displayed in real time from the front of the stage, so players can follow along with the ensemble of teachers and staff from Guitar Bar’s two Hoboken locations as well as the new Guitar Bar/Drum Den outpost in Jersey City Heights.
Mastro, who first gained notice as guitarist for ’80s Hoboken indie legends The Bongos and has played with many notables, most recently as a longtime member of Ian Hunter’s band, says the massive audience participation aspect of the show makes it unique in his experience. “I’ve played to huge crowds at festivals like Glastonbury and the Isle of Wight,” he says. “But with no hesitation, I have to say these shows we do are by far are the most special to me. When I looked out at the crowd the first year we did this, seeing all those arms strumming guitars in unison, everyone in sync…well, I’d never seen anything like it. My heart nearly exploded.”
While many who participate are seasoned performers, axe-slingers of all skill levels are encouraged to join in. “Whether accomplished or a stone-cold beginner,” says Mastro, “everyone attends for one main purpose – to enjoy themselves. Music is not a competitive sport, it’s meant to be shared. And I’ve heard several stories from people afterwards of how they met people at these events and formed their own bands. If you’re worried that someone will hear you play a wrong chord, don’t worry - they’ll drown you out. And you’ll do the same when they hit the wrong one.
“If we never break any official record, it’s ok. The ‘world record attempt’ is a motivator, but not the goal, for me, anyway. When this first began, the only thing I hoped to accomplish was have some people hopefully show up. What we got in return is nothing any of us ever expected. As corny as it may sound, there is such a sense of unity and goodwill, and to see that feeling grow and spread each year is payback enough.
“On any given night around the world there are thousands of bands playing, including the likes of The Rolling Stones, Radiohead and others. But on this night, I know our band of hundreds is the best band in the world playing that day.”
To keep things fresh, each year the event features a new set list curated by Guitar Bar staff. Beginning with the traditional opener “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” the lone holdover from the all-Dylan debut show in 2013, this year’s set includes tributes to David Bowie (“Heroes”), Prince (“The Cross”), Merle Haggard (“The Bottle Let Me Down”) and Ralph Stanley (“Man Of Constant Sorrow”) as well as classics from Bob Marley to Tom Petty and more recent indie favorites like Florence & The Machine and Arcade Fire.
So what would happen if anyone with a dated sense of humor were to yell out a request for “Free Bird,” as just happened to Dylan at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California earlier this year?
“The Hoboken Fire Department will be on standby with hoses to douse any ‘Free Bird’ hecklers,” Mastro joked. “That song is filled with the F chord, which is the beginning guitarist’s nightmare chord. That said, if everyone promised to practice their F chord for next year, we just might consider doing that Skynyrd classic.”
The Guitar Bar World Record Attempt takes place this
Thursday, July 28 TUESDAY, AUGUST 30. The show, which is free to all participants and observers, starts at 7 p.m., but those bringing instruments are encouraged to arrive starting at 6 to register – a tally of all those playing is kept – and get a good seat. Guitar Bar is also offering half-price restrings up until the event for anyone who wants to get their instrument a quick tune-up. For full set list, chord guides and more information, visit www.guitarbar.com/worldrecord.
Mike Cimicata is a producer for The Orchard, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment. A longtime Hoboken resident, he has been DJing around town regularly since 1999. www.mikecmusic.com