By Danny Ringo - In 2014 Aaron and I made a trip to the University of Texas at Brownsville. We were there as a vendor at the Brownsville Guitar Festival and Competition showing five of Aaron's classical guitars. Aaron is a luthier who builds hand crafted guitars for his company Wood Ring Guitars.
This was not the only guitar festival we had been to that year. There are several classical guitar festivals that occur around Texas every year. Many are centered around university guitar programs. Many of the major universities in Texas and several community colleges and high schools and even some elementary schools now have classical guitar programs who are taught by a group of very talented guitarists. This is resulting in more and more people being introduced to the classical guitar and the amazing music written for it. The quality of the competition and the performances at all of these festivals is outstanding and every year the crowds get larger and larger in response to this.
I think of all the festivals we attended in 2014, I enjoyed the Brownsville festival the most. This is not because the entertainment and quality of competition was not as good at the other festivals. I favored the UTB festival because it is unique in that the competition is ensemble based rather than being individually based. There is an amazing spirit that permeates this competition because the ensemble competition requires each group of individuals to focus on working together as a team rather than competing as individuals. Dr. Michael Quantz is the head of the guitar program and he created an elite classical guitar program that is affecting the classical guitar scene throughout Texas and the Southwest in an extremely positive way. I think many of the other university guitar program heads in the Southwest would agree with this, based on their growing participation at the yearly festival.
I have included quite a few photos from our trip from Wood Ring Guitar headquarters in Weatherford, Texas to UTB. Aaron and I made the trip in one day, alternating in the driver's seat every couple of hours. This made it an easy drive. We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard hotel which was recommended by the festival and we got a festival discount resulting in a nightly cost of $89.00 which was extremely reasonable for such a nice hotel.
Once we settled in at the hotel and got all of our luggage and guitars squared away, we relaxed a bit and then we went to a local Japanese restaurant for dinner. The sushi was fantastic, but we learned to never order Thai food at a Japenese restaurant. We ordered Pad Thai, which is normally a very delicious Thai noodle dish. Instead it tasted like an odd mixture of Thai Spiced noodles in a spaghetti sauce laced with mexican spices. Not very good! We also dodged a bullet that evening when we ordered sushi because we heard later that the spicy tuna roll at various sushi restaurants in the area caused a rash of food poisonings.
The next day, we set up our booth at the new Arts Center at the university. It is a beautiful building that has a gorgeous foyer and a wonderful concert hall that was acoustically tuned to perfection. Our booth was in the foyer in front of the concert hall entrance. Dr. Quantz and his staff met us as we entered the building to set up our booth and throughout the festival they were exceedingly helpful and made our gig at this festival extremely enjoyable.
For the next three days, Aaron and I talked to more than a couple of hundred people interested in touching, holding, playing and talking about the Wood Ring Guitars that we brought. It was a great experience for both of us. We met and talked to many folks who, like us, love the guitar and all kinds of guitar music, especially classical guitar music. We also were able to visit with many of our friends who teach guitar and who play professionally. We also had the treat of being able to visit with members of two groups who headlined the entertainment for the last two nights of the festival.
On Friday night the Texas Guitar Quartet played. It was an outstanding performance from four of the best professional classical guitarists on the Texas scene these days. This performance was done in conjunction with the realease of their first CD which is named Red for the title song on the CD. The entire concert was played beautifully. On Saturday night members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet played an amazing concert. I have seen these guys play several times in the past couple of years and they always amaze me with their virtuoso performances. This concert was no exception. It included a premier of a new piece written for a large guitar ensemble written by Shingo Fuji in honor of the victims of the 2011 Japan earthquake. Mr. Fuji conducted the ensemble which included both LAGQ and the UTB Guitar Ensembles. It was beautiful and moving to be sure. The entire program was extremely entertaining and the guitar playing was impeccable.
It was not all work. We work very hard at this. Sometimes we end up working seven days a week. Thus when we get an opportunity to travel for business purposes, I am a big believer in having a little enjoyment and down time during each trip to experience the culture of each place we visit. We did not have much time, so for this trip, Aaron and I drove to South Padre Island to have breakfast on Pier 19 and then to walk on the beach to enjoy the sun and the smell of the ocean breezes for an hour or so. It was great.
After the festival, we drove back home. About 30 miles North of Brownsville we were stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint. We were asked if we were citizens and then told we could go on, but not before about 30 or 40 cameras had taken our pictures to help them determine that we were ok.
As we proceeded north of San Antonio we were able to photograph some of the millions of bluebonnets that are currently blooming. This year they are exceptionally beautiful because there has been abundant rain. It seems to me the beauty and abundance is enhanced because of the terrible draught that we had in Texas last year. The contrast from last year was amazing.
Aaron and I had a great time. It is really cool to be able to make a living doing what you love to do. Aaron has discovered that he has a real talent in designing and making these guitars. I have a strong science background and I have helped him, by using the principles of physics and acoustics, to work out a guitar design that really sounds great. Combined with Aaron's amazing craftsmanship and his unique artistic and design skills, I believe we are beginning on a journey that is full of adventure and fun all the while offering some of the guitarists of the world with outstanding instruments to play. What could be better than that?