In June of 2004 my girlfriend (now wife) and I stepped off of a plane in New Orleans and began our first day of work with the National Guitar Workshop. At the time, we had no idea what a profound effect NGW would have on our life. It simply was going to be a cool month-long job that we had in the summer and then moved on. Not so. We were thoroughly indoctrinated into a long-standing community where we didn’t really feel like the “new” people but just long lost members of a tribe who have finally found their way back. With NGW, it was all about the people, the music, and the hang. It was all about the hang.
It was announced a few months ago that the National Guitar Workshop is no more.
The news was sudden and it took everyone by surprise. Faculty members had no idea and soon I was getting emails/calls/texts asking if it was really true. For the first time in nearly three decades there wasn’t going to be a Workshop this summer.
For me, it took a while for it to sink in. It’s even hard to believe now. I left NGW in 2010, but I still keep in close touch with many people I met during my time with the Workshop. Luckily, I am even in a place to actually hire some of my friends and heroes to write for PG. I always thought of that as some small token for all the knowledge, music, and laughs they passed on to me.
Although I wasn’t a Workshop “OG” – as Matt Smith would say – I always felt welcome. Once the evening concert was over all the faculty would gather in a lounge or someone’s apartment. Sometimes we would pass around a guitar, other times not, but we would always have a great time. Always.
Even though Dave, Barbara, and Jesse Smolover are likely feeling the outpouring of love and appreciation from alumni, staff, and faculty I don’t think they will ever really know how many thousands of live were changed through their life’s work. Just thinking about all the students who came through during my tenure is simply staggering.
Naturally, when something as deep as the Workshop ends it becomes a time to reflect on all the good times and what the spirit of the Workshop really meant. To me, there was one special student who personified that spirit.
Every year – going back several years before I was involved – Charles would pack his Dimebag Darrell Dean in his truck and hit the road. We would usually see him at two or three locations per year. He was a very quiet guy and sometimes he would make it to class, other times not. It was a matter of interest or laziness, but some rather serious health issues. I always made sure that Charles would get a single room somewhere near the faculty – even if he didn’t pay for it – just to make things a little more comfortable for him. You see, Workshop was a place where nobody judged Charles for how he looked or how well he could play. He was one of us.
Even though he might have been scarce during the day, the closing slot on the last night of the student concert belonged to Charles. That first summer in Austin I remember asking Greg Horne why Charles closed the show and he said, “Just wait. You’ll see.”