Rambler Newspapers

Serving Irving, Coppell and Grand Prairie

Jamboree Shares Love of Steel Guitars

Photo by Stephen Hunt

Irving—The Texas Steel Guitar Association Jamboree drew around 1,000 visitors to the DFW Sheraton Airport Hotel, March 10-13.Thecrowd included many folks from across Texas andthe country as well as visitors from Australia and Japan.

“This is a great event with a welcoming vibe where everyone has a shared interest,” Fort Worth resident Mitch Fennersaid.

The console steel guitar features multiple guitar necks tuned differently, mounted onto a frame supported by legs, allowing the player to sit and play. The pedal steel guitar also features foot pedals to allow players expand the types of sounds generated.

Visitors at the jamboree also saw nearly 50 vendors selling guitars and itemsrelated to them.

There was plenty of live music, including an appearance by Stephen Pride, youngest brother of legendary country music artist Charley Pride, who joined a band fronted by Ronnie Miller. Millerpreviously played steel guitar for Charley, a 2000 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Stephen Pride sang several of his brother’s songs including the classic “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” which drew a rousing response from the assembled crowd. Charley Pride spent much of his life in the Dallas area and was a part owner of the Texas Rangers prior to his 2020 passing.

Steel guitar fans also hadopportunities to reconnect with friends from previous jamborees for the first time since 2020 as last year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guestscould also receive tips from veteran players through various symposiums.

Two highlights of the jamboree were western swing dancing on Saturday night and a Gospel service on Sunday morning.

This marked the 38th edition of the jamboree, an event which Billy Phelps of Full Circle Sound has seen experience growth since he first started attending in the 1980s.

“It’s just ballooned like crazy; it’s almost exponential,” Phelps said. “The first time I came here, there was about 600 people. The highest I’ve ever seen was about 3,700. Then, COVID had to smack us, but it could be worse. Everything could always be worse. I just thank God I don’t taste dirt.”

Playing the steel guitar is a passion Phelps has pursued for about three decades.

Maybe the greatest thing about this gathering of steel fans is seasoned players were never hesitant to offer tips to the younger generation, creating a truly welcoming atmosphere.

“It’s just one of those things. God blessed me with being able to play 14 instruments, nine of them professionally,” Phelps said.“I’m at home just about anywhere I go.

“I had an industrial accident about a year ago and am losing part of my hearing, but I’m still able to play.I’ve played about every convention there is around the country and a couple overseas too.”

Fort Worth resident, Landon Dodd, fronts local band Landon Dodd and the Dance Hall Drifters, and in 2000, was named Texas Steel Guitar Player of the Year.

He admits he missed seeing many of his “fellow steel guitar nerds” after the 2021 event was cancelled.

“The steel guitar is really steeped in the tradition of country music,” Dodd said. “It’s a bunch of people nerdin’ out over steel guitar. That’s how my wife categorizes it. Most of the people here are either closet steel players or musicians in their own right who love traditional country.

“I have a band and have a steel guitar in my band. I know a bunch of people here, and I’m here to see friends from all over the country and nerd out over steel guitars. There’s some great music here, steel guitar players from all over the country that are at the top of their craft.”

Fenner built his first guitar in 1979, but after his first visit to a steel guitar event, he was immediately hooked, and not just because of the instrument itself.

“What really hit me coming here was the people. They’re so nice and friendly,” Fenner said. “I’ve been to some shows, rock and roll type shows, it was just hectic and everybody was running around. But this is just so laid back.

“The people come here come from all over the nation. The last time we had it here, there were people from Finland, Argentina, Australia, Japan. They fly in from all over the world for the pedal steel music that’s here. That’s what really keeps me coming back, is the people I see once a year. It’s like a reunion almost. It’s more of a vacation for me. It’s really been enjoyable.”

Dodd says part of his “nerding out” involves seeing some of the steel players he idolizes play in person.

“I’ve been coming on and off for 10 years,” Dodd said. “I’ve gotten to meet and hear some of the best steel guitar players in the country like Mike Johnson, Paul Franklin, JayDee Maness, Lloyd Green, guys who have played on all the records I love.”