The Open Carry movement of 2014 didn't contribute much to society. Its overall aim (no pun intended) may have been to bring a greater awareness to gun rights and fears over firearm control, but the images of grown men in camo hats walking into Chipotle with AR-15s really only did the opposite.
The only universal positive that emerged from such a staggering lack of common sense was the Open Carry Guitar Rally, a satirical rally that sprung from the mind of the Nervebreakers' Barry Kooda. Last summer the event sparked a peaceful, public exhibition of non-violent and just plain fun free-expression. The rally returned over the weekend for another gathering on the Continental Avenue Bridge.
The rally's triumphant return saw a beefed up version that was a bit more organized than last year's valiant first try. It featured a stage that housed performances by the pint-sized cover band the Tremors and blues guitarist Jim Suhler and his band Monkey Beat. It had a T-shirt stand bearing the rally's signature sayings like "Come and Take It!" under the silhouette of an acoustic guitar and "Don't Shred on Me!" under a coiled snake clutching a good ol' American six-string.
Attendees got to take home stickers, rubber wristbands and posters commemorating the occasion. The rally has grown from a simple gathering to a mini-music festival with an experimental purpose -- it isn't held to see how much the fans are willing to pay for a bottle of water before causing a full-scale riot.
Its growth is a signal of the direction that the rally will take as long as it has supporters and axe-grinders with an axe to grind both literally and figuratively on the bridge. "It's just fun being out here with friends and poking a little fun at the open carry crazies," said Dave Johnsen, who attended the festivities with a homemade gut bucket fashioned from a vegetable shortening jug.
Kooda may be a strident perfectionist but he said he learned to let go of the reins on this year's rally and seek some extra volunteer help. "We got a little more organized this year and I actually had to cut back," Kooda said in his signature hooded cap that has made him the icon of the Open Carry Guitar movement. "I needed a little more room to just be fucking crazy. If you try to control it, you'll just drive yourself crazy."
Kooda clearly had fun with the concept and all the familiar faces clutching guitars. It was hard to hold a full conversation with him since he was constantly shaking hands and doling out hugs to people he recognized. To be fair, it's hard to know if he had more fun this year since last summer he had to wear a mask in the blazing July heat due to some severe side effects from his medication.
In fact, it really didn't feel at all like a political rally. The topic of guns and whether they should be taken out for public walks like poodles with full metal jackets seemed like an afterthought. A rumor surfaced that a protestor was among the ranks, but the protestor never materialized. Musicians didn't hold debates over gun owners' rights or open carry laws. The loudest voices were musical and not politically driven.
Satire, politics and a rally cry for common sense among lawful gun owners may have given birth to the rally, but now that it has learned to stand on two legs, it has found its own way. It could continue to carry on long after the open carry issue has been settled.
"I'm happy to be associated with this event because it's a good natured poke at the open carry movement but it's not political," Suhler said before taking the stage. "It's just good natured fun."
Even if you believe bringing a gun into Chili's should be as easy as splitting an Awesome Blossom, the rally is such a high-spirited expression of joy that you can pick up your guitar, strum along with a stranger and forget what got you so hot-blooded in the first place.
"This year I decided that even if everything falls through, we can still rock," says Kooda. And rock they did.
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