In an extraordinary misstep in an otherwise distinguished career as the impresario of the Sierra Nevada Big Room, Bob Littell recently made the mistake of booking guitar wizard Larry Carlton to play the room on a hot Tuesday night in Chico. With an enormous catalogue of recordings to his credit, Carlton was expected to be good, and the venue sold out. But high expectations weren’t nearly high enough. Carlton and his band exceeded even the wildest fantasies of the most fevered closet air-guitarists in the ecstatic audience.
Carlton’s appearance prompted a big turnout from budding guitarists in a town where seven out of ten males between the ages of 14 and 74 play the guitar—or try. That’s where Littell’s booking strategy proved to have a downside of unintended consequences. After watching Carlton dominate his instrument for nearly two hours, local guitarists were initially euphoric, but by the time they got home and picked up their own guitars, severe depression set in for most. Local hotlines were swamped with calls from desperately unhappy musicians; in the days following the Carlton appearance, local pawn shops were busy with musicians who wanted to unload their instruments—all of them badly bummed out by the realization that, try as they might, they would never be able to accomplish what they’d seen and heard Larry Carlton do. Local dumps are also reporting a large number of discarded guitars turning up in the county’s landfills.
Public health officials said that the effects of the Carlton concert created a serious uptick in cases of depression among local guitarists, and called upon Mr. Littell to be more responsible in future bookings. In a hastily arranged press conference, Littell apologized, but said it was too late to cancel the upcoming appearance by Albert Lee—a guitar maestro many believe to be as masterful as Carlton. Whether the community of local guitarists can survive this double-whammy of guitar wizardry remains to be seen, but county mental-health workers are extending on-call hours to handle the anticipated overload when Lee plays the room on July 8th.