In case you haven’t heard, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. Yeah, I know, you’ve heard. So let’s indulge in a bit of nostalgia, whether or not we were actually there 50 years ago.

Snarkiness aside, can you believe that it’s the 50th anniversary of Woodstock? Like it or not, this remarkable event, encompassing music, culture, political and social awareness, and so much more has shaped so much of society that we are probably not aware of its full impact.

Your MI Spy does admit to not having been to the original Woodstock (but Woodstock ‘99 is a different story!). I do love the Woodstock documentary, however; it’s in my Top 5 list of films. The musical performances, the fans running around and sliding in mud, the staff and Max Yasgur speaking to the crowds, the cars abandoned on the New York Thruway: All those scenes and many more make it a thoroughly fascinating film. And yeah, if a young MI Spy could have been there, it would have been … far out, man.

Well, anniversaries aside, living in the past isn’t really the MI Spy’s style. But what is the MI Spy’s style? Checking out the musical instrument stores in the region that hosted Woodstock those many years ago, of course. And while I was a bit surprised that there were not dozens of such stores in the area, there are many artisans designing and building musical instruments in their homes and studios. As far as full-fledged stores that stock a variety of musical instruments, there are some intriguing shops that I did get to ply some spycraft in.

To say that these stores echo the Woodstock Festival itself would be a stretch, although one did capture some of the essence of the festival, in a non-slick, somewhat surprising manner.

Planet Woodstock Music
1112 Morton Blvd.
Kingston, NY 12401

Planet Woodstock Music has railroad tracks behind it, and if you like trains, this is a cool visual perk (but if you get stuck waiting for a loooong train to pass by, you might be cooling your heels and wheels). And there is a large sculpture of a guitar beside the main entrance, an enticing artistic touch. My assistant for the day and I found ample parking in front of the store, and we slipped inside. Shortly after entering, your MI Spy spotted one of the ginchiest novelty instruments I’ve ever seen: the Vibraslap. Where has this item been all my life? At Planet Woodstock, it was beside a few other quirky musical things. This store has a wide variety of new and used musical instruments, as well as used records, used and new CDs, and other stuff. Why, it even offered a three-string Mickey Mouse lunchbox guitar, plastic handle included. (There was another kiddy lunchbox guitar, as well as a more modest cigar box model.)

There was a healthy variety of acoustic guitars for sale here, and lots of sheet music. The prices were labeled clearly for the most part, and there was a good range of prices.

The Dollar Record Bin was a plus, and there were lots of enticing (and dusty) 45s. I bought four golden oldies. The store also sells more expensive and rarer items, such as old jazz albums. (John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk were prominently displayed.) And it has a selection of discs by local bands and artists.

Part of the store resembled a music lover’s studio apartment, with a few drum sets surrounding a dowdy comfy chair and music-themed pillow. A clear bowl at the main counter held a healthy assortment of guitar picks in different colors, stamped with the store name.

The worker at the counter had earlier greeted us with a “Hey, how are you?” when we first walked into the store. I asked him about the Vibraslap and he showed me how to use it successfully. “You hear it at the start of ‘Crazy Train,’ for instance,” he said. “It’s a really cool percussion instrument.”

I asked him if there were others he liked in particular. He showed us a few examples of shakers and told us, “It’s not just for little kids. These can really add something special to a video or a recording or a club date. Bands and kids come here for their gear. People like to come combing through the inventory.” The store does have a bit of a “collector’s hangout” feel in some of its corners. Heck, my assistant was tickled to find a “Partridge Family” record in the discount bin.

Overall, this is a good local store with a bit of a local vibe (again, local performers sell their CDs here), and the owner is a local guy who studied music in California. There is a little of something for nearly everyone at Planet Woodstock, although the depth is mostly in the guitars, sheet music and percussion.

Stockade Guitars
41 N. Front St.
Kingston, NY 12401

The backside of the Stockade Guitars business card has a unique list of statistics: the weight of “Elvis On Other Planets” which includes Mars (97 pounds), Pluto (13 pounds), Uranus (232 pounds), the Sun (7,140 pounds) and others. This may or may not be the deciding factor in your patronizing this store, which specializes in special guitars and other stringed instruments.

Located across from a record store aptly called Records, Stockade offers several guitars. The day MI Spy popped by, I saw a 2013 SG Standard for $1,100, a 2006 Ibanez for $350, and both used and new acoustics. They also had a used Fouke Industrial guitar for $550, which has to be seen to be believed. There were guitars just a bit more than $100, and others over $3,000. There was a whole showcase of Electro-Harmonix pedals, and other pedals on display as well.

MI Spy has noticed a trend in tastefully and strategically decorated music shops as of late — unusual record albums placed along the walls, little shrines to musicians and so on. Stockade participates in this trend, with a Santo & Johnny album on a shelf, sitting next to bodega candles. It established the mood.

Interested in non-guitar offerings here? I also spied a 1950s Martin uke for $800, in addition to the tasty selection of guitar effects pedals. I did feel like the ugly duckling for at least 10 minutes when I first came into the store, because I received no greeting. There were two other customers there already, but no one cast a glance toward me, and no one uttered a cheery “Hey, how are you?” Two guys chatted while I picked a few licks on an electric guitar.

Then, I was finally asked, “Are you looking for anything in particular?” I asked about the Godin acoustic on display, an expensive but beautiful looking instrument. The salesman did open up then, and he provided me with interesting details about it, the pickups (“These are far superior to so many other guitars out there, distinctive, really.”) and the fact that this guitar is made in Canada. “The company is partially subsidized by the Canadian government. It has a really good sound to it,” he explained.

Then a customer came in with a high-end guitar that needed repairs. I eavesdropped on his conversation with a store employee, which was similar to a patient and a doctor going back and forth.

This is a store with such impressive guitars, and it has the feel of a being shrine more than a store. And once I zeroed in on a particular guitar, the guy at the store warmed up and spoke freely.

Saker Guitar Works
528 Broadway
Kingston, NY 12401
Barcone’s Music
528 Broadway
Kingston, NY 12401

Sitting side by side on Broadway in Kingston are two music shops. First, I stopped into Saker Guitar Works, which is a quite an appealing destination for guitarists in particular.

One other customer was in the shop when I stopped by, and he was wrapping up his transaction with the owner. The owner is a laid back, friendly guy who told me about the guitars he stocks, the repairs he offers and even those guitars he actually builds. We chatted while he performed maintenance on an acoustic. In fact, I had noticed a customer coming out the door when I entered, and the guy looked so happy. “I did this difficult repair on his guitar,” the owner explained. “He was worried it was a goner, almost.”

I asked him about the four Danelectro guitars on the wall, and he was enthusiastic. “They’re new, and they are something to look at.” I told him a bit naïvely that I had thought the brand had folded. “Oh, no, they came back around 1998. And they’re really good products. They’re much more than museum replicas. They do have a fine sound.” And he asked, “What brings you here? Not everybody just walks in.” I told him I was interested in guitars for a young person I know who studies jazz guitar at a local college. “Bring him or her by and I will show them some excellent guitars, and also some good accessories.”

Would you like a Snark for your guitar? That is a good question, folks. Saker has a lot of those tuners for sale.

The price schedule for labor and repairs is prominently displayed on the wall, so customers know well in advance what they’re getting into. The shop has lots of acoustic guitars, but I was particularly fascinated by the colorful electrics in one room. There are some really nice-looking guitars in this place, and lots of Boss pedals.

When I left to visit Barcone’s, I parked my MI Spy mobile behind the Barcone’s van. The van proclaimed that Barcone’s has existed since 1890. This is indeed impressive: nearly 120 years in the music business! And the decorative sign above their main door shows a few of the instruments the store stocks, focusing on trumpet, clarinet, sax, flute and violin. It’s a nice logo.

Barcone’s stocks these instruments and a healthy selection of others, such as keyboards, guitars, ukuleles, French horns, small percussion instruments, plastic egg shakers, harmonicas and more. It also sells lots of instructional sheet music and books, as well as accessories and the like. And it has its own logo baseball cap, along with other items.

This all seems rather encouraging for a potential customer who walks in. There was a young woman behind the counter while I was there, and a few minutes after I entered the store, she said “Hello” to me and asked if I needed any help. I asked one general question, which elicited one short answer, and then she didn’t say another word to me. I stood there and silently begged her to ask me questions, to pick up an item and ask me if I wished to try it out, to tell me about sale items, anything. Nope.

I did ask her if the store stocked guitars, and she said, “I recommend the store next door,” without mentioning its name. And that was it.

Barcone’s is clean and orderly but not antiseptic. There is a lot of sheet music offered, especially for the piano, and lots of instructional materials for young music students.

Imperial Guitar & Soundworks
2A Cherry Hill Road
New Paltz, NY 12561

Lastly, I wandered into the town of New Paltz, which has a Woodstockian vibe filtered through a modern sensibility. Imperial Guitar & Soundworks, just minutes away from State University of New York at New Paltz, is a top-notch guitar shop. This is fitting because SUNY New Paltz has an excellent music program, with strong concentrations in both jazz and classical music.

“Imperial” sounds like a high-falutin’ name for a guitar store, but it’s actually the owner’s last name. With its striped guitar pick logo, Imperial Guitar is a place you will remember if you are a guitar player, or if you aspire to be. There is a deep variety of new and used acoustic and electric guitars here, with a smattering of other instruments (saxophones, stand-up basses, mandolins, ukes, etc.). Amps? Accessories? Guitar parts? Plenty of these and more are on display.

I was particularly enamored of an expensive but gorgeous Valente acoustic guitar. The guy working the floor explained to me that, “It’s tuned D to D, and sounds like a mandolin.” He picked it up and played it for a minute, and the sound was excellent.

“We also stock a lot of less expensive guitars, guitars in all kinds of price ranges, and we have a lot of accessories.” He pointed out different groupings of accessories and repair items. “We do a lot repairs too, for students and instructors at the college, some at the high school, local teachers and others.”

When I stopped by Imperial Guitar & Soundworks, it was near closing time, so I was concerned the workers might rush me out, but they were relaxed and did not pressure me while I browsed.

The Sale

Hudson Valley musicians have their options. The independent music store is alive and well in the region that once hosted the Woodstock Festival, which is an encouraging sign for lovers of music and music history.

If you are hooked on guitars, then you have some solid options. Imperial is your best bet for a number of reasons: excellent inventory, gregarious staff, good parking lot, you name it. So, it is this month’s winner.

Saker is a very good store, but really only for guitars, not other instruments.

Woodstock Music is a very good music store all around, and it has a lot of surprises. The slightly quirky vibe and offerings, including the used records and lunchbox guitars, make this a very good stop for musicians of varying abilities.

Barcone’s has been around a long time and must be doing something right. But the day that I stopped by, I was certainly disappointed by the disinterested staff.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go frolick in the mud with some flowers in my hair.

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