Back in February I was poking around on Facebook and I stumbled across this hidden gem that Boston musician (and Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music) Lisa Guyer posted back in 2014:
What the heck? Here was an event Ben was involved in that I had never heard of before, and with another of my favorite Boston rockers, Charlie Farren! Lisa’s post gave me some obvious clues to the story behind the photo and I was eager to start digging.
Initially, there wasn’t much to find. At the end of the day my little file consisted of the Facebook screen shot above, one newspaper clipping, and a newfound familiarity with the Hatch Memorial Shell and the song “Dirty Water” by The Standells.
Though I couldn’t find an exact listing for it on the Guinness Book of World Records website, apparently there is a category for most guitarists (or musicians?) playing one song for the longest period of time. In 1994, 1,322 guitarists jammed with Randy Bachman to “Taking Care of Business” for 68 minutes and 40 seconds, and I think that was the record… But then it gets kind of confusing, because there seems to be some crossover between setting a record for the largest guitar ensemble playing one song, and the largest guitar ensemble playing one song for the longest time, and I just can’t figure it all out right now so… let’s just settle on knowing that in 1997, hundreds of guitar players and musicians in Boston gathered in attempt to break a Guinness world record by playing “Dirty Water” by The Standells for a really long time.
That song, by the way, is a beloved Boston anthem. The tune has been cranked for cheering crowds after home victories by the Bruins and the Red Sox since about 1995. Written by Standells producer Ed Cobb and released in 1965, the lyrics draw attention to some of the less savory elements of Boston history and what used to be the disgustingly polluted Charles River, and yet the singer declares, “I love that dirty water. Boston, you’re my home!” The simplicity of its garage rock beat and catchy riff seal the deal as a natural song choice for tackling this world record (whatever exactly it may be).
And the venue… Officially titled the Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell, Bostontonians have been enjoying a variety of free outdoor concerts, movies, and public events at the Hatch Shell for over 90 years. Its unique structure is located on the Charles River Esplanade and is surrounded by a large and inviting lawn. The Shell’s spacious wooden interior, which is famous for regularly accommodating the Boston Pops Orchestra, provides plenty of room for multiple guitarists, drummers, and keyboard players to spread out. Isn’t it gorgeous?
After gleaning these tidbits, I had to table the topic. But a most happy circumstance has brought it back to the forefront! Jonathan R. discovered and generously shared a very recent YouTube upload of some live footage from this event ~ including Benjamin!
There are actually five video clips all together. I’ve created a playlist of the segments in chronological order.
The video clips armed me with new keywords to search and angles to pursue, and I was able to find a couple more articles from The Boston Globe. Here are some additional factoids I picked up:
- The Dirty Water Guitar Marathon took place on September 13, 1997.
- The event was the brainchild of Promotions/Artist Relations Director Candi Bramante (now Bettencourt). Candi’s family owned Daddy’s Junky Music, and this gathering was, in part, a way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that beloved New England guitar and audio equipment chain. She’s also the one that uploaded the footage to Youtube. I’m SO grateful she did!
- The original vision for the record-breaking attempt was hammered out and refined at the Hard Rock Cafe in March of 1997 with input from Charlie Farren, Johnny A (Peter Wolf) and Brandan Sweeney (Notary Public), among others. Those who met together were hoping for around 3,000 guitarists to join the cause.
- The entry fee to register as a player was only $5. Part of the proceeds from the event were donated to charity, including contributions to the House of Blues Foundation and the Bob Woolf Charitable Foundation.
Lisa Guyer and Mama Kicks performed as the ‘house band’ and backed the other musicians for the entire show. Wowza! No wonder she said in her Facebook post that the song now makes her cringe a little!
- Many other Boston legends are seen in the footage, like Rich Bartlett, Tom Hambridge, Hirsh Gardner, John Muzzy, and Phil Bynoe. I can’t make out some of the names that the announcer says in the videos so if you recognize any other artists, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.
Other musicians slated to play (but I’m not positive that they did) were Barry Goudreau, John Cafferty, Gary Gramolini (of the Beaver Brown Band), Jon Butcher, Johnny A, Stu Hamm (Joe Satriani), and David Minehan (The Neighborhoods). You can see the highlighted guests on the back of the event t-shirt to the right. I wonder if any of the coordinators kept their final list of all the participants?
- The whole swarm ended up playing “Dirty Water” continuously for one hour and 29 minutes, which reportedly set a record for the longest time a band (the rockers on stage) played one song for an audience. Unfortunately, the gig only ended up with about 1,200 registered guitarists, which was 400 short of setting the Guinness record they were actually targeting. It certainly wasn’t a bust, though: amateurs, professionals, and spectators alike all had a great time, coming together as a Boston rock-and-roll family. ❤
You know, there were at least a half a dozen photographers crawling on and around that stage. What a treasure it would be if they would dig out their booty and share photos of the show with us! Pretty please?
And while we’re at it, I would love it if Candi Bettencourt would upload the entire uncut footage. Even if it’s not the best camera work, fans would rejoice in being able to experience this bit of Boston history with so many incredible musicians.
There are a couple of cool photographic dots we can connect here, by the way.
First, this is the same event our friend AJ Wachtel told us about; it was the last time he remembers getting to hang out with Ben. This photo on the right is from that day — click here to read the full article.
Also, Mazarkis S. pointed out that this event is also the likely location of another classic Ben photo. It’s kind of tricky, because Ben wore his ABATE shirt a couple of times (I’m thinking particularly of Ben with Tom Hambridge at the Snowfest in Two Rivers, Wisconsin), but based on the color of the lanyard and access pass, I believe Mazarkis is right.
That’s about all I could come up with. I’ll post the newspaper articles in an album on Facebook. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that maybe others will chime in with their memories, photos, or videos of that day. I remain optimistic that more bits o’ Benjamin history will surface; surely there is more to discover!
Whenever I am researching something specific like this, I end up going down sooooo many little rabbit holes, which is frustrating because it then takes forever for me to finish an article, but it’s also cool because I tend to discover some pretty interesting stuff. Here are a couple of the ‘bonus features’ I found when I was working on this article.
- This hilarious 2020 commercial features a snippet of “Dirty Water.”
- The Standells were central characters in an episode of The Munsters!
- Last one: Created from a block of silicon, and based on the Fender Stratocaster, the world’s smallest guitar is about the size of a single human blood cell and has strings that can be plucked. Seriously! Basic nerd link: click here. Super-science-nerd link: click here.
Okay, enough of that. I’ll leave you with this bit of grand delight. Enjoy!