AURORA — The best place for a guitar maker is where the music is.
So with Harper Guitars being one of the sponsors for last week’s 30th edition of the Hot August Blues Festival at Kenlake State Resort Park, Harper founder and Murray State University alum Jacob Ian Harper decided to go a little farther than having the company name plastered throughout the park.
“We ran full tech service for the entire festival, so every musician that rolls through here, we’re doing free setups and checking their instruments out,” Harper said over the sounds of the Memphis All-Stars during their set at a packed Kenlake Amphitheater, adding that this offer was made to all musicians, regardless of whether or not they play Harper electric guitars or basses. “We have had the hospitality area this year, along with giving them use of our camper, just to make them feel more comfortable.
“And we offer, if they want, to go ahead and play our stuff. We’ve got a lot of our products here for them to look at.”
One of this year’s headliners, Princeton blues man Alonzo Pennington, already is a Harper ax wielder. He performed with a Harper Comet during the Friday night session. Pennington is the son of famed acoustic and electric thumb picker Eddie Pennington.
“This is where we want to be,” Harper said. “We’ve been so busy with wrapping stuff up at the shop (near Evansville, Indiana) that any second I get to work on a guitar out here helps me out, so we had just finished some and had the opportunity to break them in here. Those will be delivered next week.”
In other words, the large assortment of Harper models that were displayed backstage in the hospitality area consisted of guitars already taken. Those were delivered this week.
As for how the company is faring these days, Harper said business is hot.
“We’re still working with the guys from Cage the Elephant (a Bowling Green-based rock outfit that won the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Rock Album, “Tell Me I’m Pretty”) and 3 Doors Down (“Kryptonite,” “Love Me When I’m Gone,” “Not My Time” and others) and we’ve been recently talking with Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule and David Allan Coe) and built him a guitar, so we’re still working with that one.”
A few years ago, country music superstar Vince Gill was also using a Harper, but he chose to give that one to Nashville’s George Gruhn, owner of Gruhn Guitars, one of the foremost guitar shops in the world. That recently worked in Harper’s favor.
“They sold it off. We didn’t even know it happened,” Harper said. “Evidently, someone wanted it and that’s always a good thing.”
Harper said the exposure at Aurora, even if no contracts were signed that weekend for sales, is also a big positive.
“We appreciate (main Hot August promoter) Lew Jetton and (festival organizer) Eric Allen for getting us involved,” Harper said. “This is our third year as a sponsor, and something else we do is build a guitar for them to raise funds, and we do the same thing the W.C. Handy Fest in Henderson.
“This gives us a great chance to make new connections and help out with the festival. It’s no problem at all to make a guitar and give it away if it means that we’re getting that kind of exposure and talking to the people we need to talk to.”
One artist that was quite appreciative of the Harper service in Aurora was Mark Parsons, bassist for another of this year’s big-name acts, Big Al and the Heavyweights from blues haven New Orleans.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that at a festival like this, ever! I can’t say enough about that guy,” Parsons said. “The first thing he asks, ‘You need anything tuned up or tweaked?’ I said, ‘Yeah, go ahead and look at it.’ That’s because everything needs a tuneup eventually, as much as we play.
“When I get home, I think I’m going to see what the bank account looks like and see what I can do about looking at his stuff. He’s a real nice guy.”