Where Did All the Guitar Players Go?

As part of Spring’s marketing campaign for the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival we did a guerilla project using guitar cases. Street musicians have always been synonymous with folk, rock, and blues music so we thought it was only natural to give a nod to the street by employing the international symbol of the busker – the empty instrument case left open on the sidewalk.
The idea was the easy part, finding cheap guitar cases for sale was a little trickier. After scouring local pawnshops, music stores, and Craigslist for a few weeks we managed to find some that fit our requirements, and didn’t cost an arm and a leg. We decided to place them a few days before the August 13 festival in downtown Vancouver, in places where buskers play that have lots of foot traffic. Each case would be left open on the sidewalk, secured to a post with a bike lock, filled with festival flyers and the Blues and Roots Festival guitar picks, and have a hand-lettered cardboard sign informing the passersby “Gone to Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival, Back Here On Sunday”.
Going into this we knew that some or all of the cases might be stolen during the 3-day run, as this is downtown Vancouver, where even things that are tied down often mysteriously vanish. By Thursday we had already lost some, with a case in Gastown gone without a trace despite the bike lock still being intact. With the other cases some of the signs were taken by someone who either hates guerilla advertising, music festivals, cardboard, or all three. The good news was the flyers and guitar picks were gone as well, so people obviously understood the concept and took the picks. Check out our film to see how it all went down.

Our efforts, along with our Pop-Up Concert series, seem to have worked. Tourism Burnaby reports that festival attendance was up 50% to 9,000 people, compared to last year’s 6,000. Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that are the most effective.
So what did we learn? Finding used guitar cases that don’t come with guitars is pretty
hard. Tom Lee Music sometimes has ridiculous sales. Somebody in Vancouver sure hates cardboard signs. And people love free stuff, which we kind of always knew.

– Matt Mitchell

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