A magical night at Steve’s Guitars | AspenTimes.com

A magical night at Steve’s Guitars

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A few Friday nights ago, I made a visit to Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale. It was the 100th concert since husband-and-wife Steve Standiford and Mary Margaret O’Gara moved their operations into the cozy listening room on Fourth Street, but the first performance I have seen there. Local band Little Blue, joined by guitar superstar Jeff Pevar, played the centennial show in what Standiford swears was just a fortuitous coincidence.

The music was world-class that night, of a quality you dream about hearing in a room that size. But in the ranking of things that made an impression on me, the music came in third or fourth. The space itself, and the atmosphere Standiford and O’Gara have created at Steve’s Guitars, were as rare as the music.

Simply walking into Steve’s was an unforgettable experience. Showtime was half an hour away, but the place was packed with people and heavy with anticipation.

Concertgoers were whistling, yelling to friends across the room, getting psyched for the show. Though the room was crowded and busy, I had no worries about having brought my 4-year-old daughter: As is customary at Steve’s, this audience was there to listen, not party.

Steve’s wasn’t an instant success. When Standiford and O’Gara moved their guitar shop from the upstairs of the Dinkel Building to their current location a year-and-a-half ago, people weren’t exactly clamoring for a local listening room, one without a bar. “Every other week, we’d have a night where eight or 10 people would come in,” said Standiford.

But Standiford, who handles the music side of the business, was committed to offering live music every Friday night. He and his “advisors” – the corps of local musicians who wanted a place to play – believed that consistency would bring quality and crowds. “The musicians wanted not only a place to play, but they wanted there to be a place that, every Friday night, there would be live music in town,” said Standiford.

The musicians came quickly: “Once you make the decision to do it every Friday, you come up with two or three acts to fill that spot,” said Standiford, who has staged concerts by numerous local bands and a handful of touring acts. “There are a lot of people out there in the valley who want to play. There is no shortage of people wanting to step up to the plate and play our room.”

The crowds eventually followed. Big crowds are the norm on Friday nights, and even the barely known acts draw a decent following of Steve’s devotees. What they find is not only a gem of a listening experience – no bar noise, no talking over the music, no pickup efforts – but a rare community experience. Most everybody knows most everybody else; kids, even dogs, are common. The backstage is only nominally for the artists and employees; anyone, it seems, with a plausible reason finds their way backstage.

“People come for the social aspect of it, which is different than most venues,” said Standiford. “And we have the back area, where you can have a whole different thing going on – and there usually is. That’s one thing I didn’t expect.”

My most lasting memory of my first Steve’s experience came in the back area, and it was far from expected. Halfway through the show, a young girl came floating through the backstage, twirling a flower in her fingers and a dreamy look on her face. This was Standiford and O’Gara’s 12-year-old daughter, Shannon, just returned from her first-ever date. Other indelible impressions from the night: the brownies that O’Gara passed around (as she does at most shows), the sofa that had been reserved for us in consideration of my daughter, the backstage appearance of a friend who I was sure was still on vacation in Florida.

With 105 concerts under his belt, Standiford remains tickled by what he sees each week. “What amazes me is the level of talent we’re getting – Jeff Pevar and Hickory Project – playing not for the money, but just the love of playing music in a small room where people are really listening,” he said. “When Little Blue finished, they were excited. They were in a circle and high-fiving each other like they had won a football game. There’s something special about that room.”

Things may just be getting started at Steve’s. The Southern California-born Standiford, a guitar junkie since the age of 10, when his parents scraped together enough to buy him a 1960 Stratocaster and amp, is about to retire from his job as director of the nonprofit Roaring Fork Energy Center, a position he has held since 1980. His next career will be devoted exclusively to Steve’s, where he plans to have the guitar shop doors open more regularly by day – and lots more concerts at night. And that is surely music to the ears of the Steve’s regulars.

“From the start, we said the goal was just to keep it open,” he said. “And we wanted it to be a place about music, and not about drinking and picking up women. And – knock on wood – that seems to be a chord that resonates with everyone.”

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