People traveling through eastern Kentucky along U.S. 23 find themselves faced with a truly unusual guitar when they pull into Louisa for gasoline, bathrooms or a meal.
By the front doors at The Kentucky Pavilion, a 10-foot tall guitar with a painted scene of show-business people making their way along a red carpet greets customers.
“It’s supposed to be depicting the characters of Nashville,” explained owner Eric Clevenger when asked about the imagery on the gigantic Gibson guitar by the front doors at the combination convenience store/tourist destination/restaurant complex on the northern tip of Louisa.
The big guitar is known as “The Red Carpet Guitar” he said, and was part of the Gibson guitar company’s “Nashville’s GuitarTown Project” a decade back. It is one of five he was able to submit winning bids for once the public art effort came to an end.
The guitar’s paint job shows a collection of show-biz types, including a sequin-gowned gal carrying a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer while being interviewed by a radio reporter, as well as a man with a camera and another carrying what appears to be a moonshine jug.
“It was supposed to be the ‘big dog’ at the auction,” he said, adding the elaborate guitar apparently came onto the auction block late in the day after the bidding had slowed down, allowing him a chance to make a play for it.
He was also able to make the winning bid for the “Connected To The Music” guitar by artist Eileen; the “VanZandt” guitar by artist Will VanZandt, depicting songwriter Townes VanZandt and his line “To Live is to fly” on the headstock.
Another pair of other giant Gibsons, one of which Clevenger calls “Big Brown” with a UPS theme along with another reflecting an artist’s vision, are also on display at the Taco Bell inside The Pavilion, as well as near the nearby intersection with the main road.
A natural choice to go with U.S. 23’s designation as “The Country Music Highway” as well as The Pavilion’s collection of clothing, guitars and memorabilia from country music stars who were born along the road, Clevenger said the big guitars make a big impression upon visitors.
“They usually gather around and have their picture taken with them,” he said. “A lot of people are amused by the red guitar. And, I’m sure a lot of people don’t know what to think.”
Clevenger said he’s spent considerable time studying the red-carpet guitar, and is no closer to diving a meaning.
“You look at it and just see more and more. There’s a story there — I just don’t know what it is. I think there’s actually two or three things going on,” he said.
According to Gibson’s website “Nashville’s GuitarTown Project,” a public arts project that featured 10-foot tall fiberglass Gibson Les Paul or Chet Atkins model guitars was launched in April 2004.
The guitar sculptures were designed by local and nationally acclaimed visual artists and displayed throughout Nashville in front of city landmarks and businesses. Many guitar sculptures were partnered with a Country Music Artist and backed by a corporate sponsor.
The GuitarTown Project united the Nashville art, music and business communities and raised money for four worthy charitable organizations: Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, The DISTRICT and the United Way of Nashville.
The guitars completed their tour of Nashville in January 2006 and were then sold at the GuitarTown Auction Gala Event, hosted by BMI on Feb. 23, 2006, with all proceeds benefiting the above named charitable organizations.
Clevenger said the big guitars have been at home in Louisa since shortly after he got them at auction, noting the massive guitars require considerable effort to relocate.
“They’re heavy. They haven’t been moved,” he said with a laugh.
And, Clevenger seems to have his own version of Guitar-Acquisition-Syndrome (known as GAS in musician’s circles).
“I wanted to use some as architectural elements in a building,” he said. “I’m actually still looking for one more.”
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.