Sunday profile: Yes, they are all ‘Steve’s Guitars’
Step inside Steve’s Guitars and you are immediately surrounded by guitars of every shape, style and color — a virtual army of guitars standing sentry on every wall, and looming overhead, like soldiers in the battle for authentic, original music.
I asked Steve Standiford — Steve’s Guitars owner and namesake — the obvious question: Are all of these actually your guitars?
“They are,” he said. “I think there’s one that might be contested. Somebody got drunk and left it here and never came back for it. So I guess it’s mine now!”
So… how does one acquire so many guitars?
“One at a time,” Standiford said. “Except when I first bought (the business) I bought a couple dozen. Every other one has come in with its own unique, one-of-a-kind story. Either I found it down the street at a second hand shop, or I was in California and picked one up at a pawn shop. Some of them were just given to me.
“When I stopped doing retail I started just keeping all my guitars. Every once in a while I’ll sell one to a musician, but that’s about the only thing that pries them loose from this orphanage.”
Despite its size, (some describe it as “intimate”) Steve’s Guitars has become one of the premiere live music venues in the region, hosting over 100 concerts a year by high-level musicians playing original music.
“That was one of the original intents, to have a space where you can hear original music,” Standiford said.
The taking of Wally’s world
While growing up in Southern California, Standiford delved into the L.A. music scene, including attending the now legendary Elton John performance at the Troubadour depicted in last year’s biopic “Rocketman.”
“He looked normal then,” Standiford said. “I didn’t know it at the time but Cheech and Chong were over at the bar. I was oblivious to that (celebrity) scene. They weren’t famous yet, and I was just there to see the guy who did ‘Your Song’ on the radio, that I loved.”
Standiford and wife Mary Margaret O’Gara moved in 1979 to the Roaring Fork Valley where Steve began working for the nonprofit environmental organization Roaring Fork Energy Center.
The following year he bought two guitars from Wally’s Music in Carbondale’s Dinkle Building — the same space that is now Steve’s Guitars. He started playing in a band, and was drawn into the Valley’s live music scene when, a few years later, a unique opportunity presented itself.
“Wally (Bacon, now the owner of Glenwood’s Guitar Cellar) wanted to sell the place and I was able to afford it because I had acquired 5 acres in Idaho, and I was able to sell it for the same amount that Wally wanted for the business,” Standiford said. “So he kick-started me into the music world.”
In 1994 Standiford and O’Gara opened Sopris Music in the space they shared with a couple of friends — luthier Louis Hayes, who now plys his trade in Paonia, and guitarist Pat Winger of Valle Musico.
“So we had three people take over this space, including upstairs,” Standiford said. “The back room was used to make guitars — about 40 or 50 guitars were made there.”
After four years of holding informal musical gatherings in a small upstairs room, Standiford turned the front room of Steve’s into a music hall and began booking musicians.
“(Hayes and Winger) eventually found better places for themselves, and I figured out a way to pay the whole rent, and that was by putting on 100 shows a year. That was the niche we settled into.
“That’s when I got stuck on ‘let’s do this; this will be our focus. Forget the coffee shop, forget all the other retail ideas, let’s just be a live music venue and be the best we can,” he said. “I think that appeals to a lot of people because they come for the music, then they realize how much fun it is to socialize, hang out and root on a band together. It’s a very inclusive kind of feeling.”
Musical admiration society
The ticketing policy at Steve’s Guitars is about as informal as can be, (think house show as opposed to Ticketmaster). The jar is by the door, and the price is very affordable, generally $20-$30, which is split between the band and the venue.
“That’s one of our keys to success is that we don’t guarantee (the bands) anything but a good sound system and a good time, and the rest is a door split, so it’s kind of risk sharing,” Standiford said. “In the beginning our shows were not lucrative, but for some reason we’re getting more popular. People want this. They want every new venue to be this.”
Two other keys to the venue’s success are the quality of the bands — Red Rocks Ampitheatre quality like Trampled by Turtles, Lake Street Dive and Elephant Revival, among others — and the quality of the sound.
Ralph Pitt of Mad Dog Ranch Studios recently helped Standiford improve the sound system in the little room, and the results have been exceptional.
“The sound is just magnificent,” Standiford said. “I’ve been lucky enough to visit a whole lot of different venues all over the world, and it’s the best I’ve heard in my life.”
Standiford’s vision for Steve’s also included making it into a venue with a vibe that is all about music appreciation and respect for the performers.
“At the Troubadour the vibe was everybody talking, but here it’s like ‘sit down and shut up, because we came to hear them,’” Standiford said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time that’s what happens. People will wait until the end of the last note (to clap). Good Lord, that’s attention!”
Standiford is currently in the midst of a fundraising drive to acquire the equipment needed to fulfill his goal of creating “Streamin’ Steve’s” — live streamed concerts from Steve’s Guitars.
“We came up with an original goal of about $20,000 to raise to buy all new HD cameras, all new switcher, controllers, the whole nine yards,” Standiford said. “We’re over halfway to that goal thanks to 1st Bank of Carbondale, which put up $6,000, and GrassRoots TV is putting up funding, too. So it’s starting to snowball, but it’s still at the stage where we’re hopeful.”
Standiford also will continue to partner with the town of Carbondale this summer to produce the long-standing Second Sundays in Sopris Park concert series, which are free live concerts on the second Sundays of June, July, August and September.
The success of Steve’s Guitars is a tribute to Standiford’s business plan — or lack thereof — that he describes as “random.”
“You want it to be organic, changing, evolving, getting better. That was always the goal.”
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