Published: June 1, 2017
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Unprecedented. How else can one describe the joyful scene at NYC’s Brooklyn Bowl on May 31, where a packed house throbbed to the sounds of great musicians paying tribute to the late Jerry Garcia and his beloved guitar, “Wolf.” Guernsey’s orchestrated this extraordinary evening centered around the sale of the iconic instrument to benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Halfway through, the music paused long enough to allow for the sale of Wolf which, in the end, saw $3.2 million going to SPLC. With a reduced buyer’s premium (the auction house, in the spirit of the event, did not take a seller’s commission), the “all-in” amount spent equaled $3,532,500, far and away a world record for any guitar ever sold. With ticket and streaming sales also going to the non-profit, the amount was even higher, according to Guernsey’s.
“It was as memorable an occasion I can remember event in 40 years — a perfect storm,” Guernsey’s founder Arlen Ettinger told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, still emotionally affected by the previous night’s event, which he said was “full of great things – an iconic, beloved object, the most passionate fans, performances by magnificent musicians — a magical night.”
Fifteen years ago, Guernsey’s set what were then world records when it sold “Wolf” and its mate, “Tiger,” with each guitar bringing just under $1 million. Recently, Dan Pritzker (“Wolf’s” owner), in an effort to support SPLC’s fight against racism and hate groups, re-consigned the instrument to the auction house. With enthusiastic support from the Relix Group and the Brooklyn Bowl, the event proved magical. Morris Dees, the founder of SPLC, inspired the crowd as did Jerry’s daughter, Trixie Garcia. The music, provided by such accomplished performers as Joe Russo, John Scofield, Nels Cline, Neal Casal and Billy Martin not only thrilled those there at the Bowl but also the huge audience that streamed the event online.
Ettinger emceed the night. There were many moments of thunderous applause and cheering, including the introduction of firefighters from the NYFD’s Ladder Co. 13. When those firemen requested one of the funky posters created for the event, the auction house remembered that that ladder company had suffered a great loss during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With that in mind, they were treated to the evening.
Customized by luthier Doug Irwin and labeled “D. Irwin 001,” “Wolf” was delivered to Garcia and first appeared in a 1973 New York City performance the Grateful Dead gave for the Hell’s Angels. Over the following two decades, “Wolf” became almost as well known as the performer himself as it was played in countless concerts and on treasured recordings throughout Garcia’s fabled career. Indeed, the 1977 film “The Grateful Dead Movie” directed by Garcia features extensive footage of the beloved musician on-stage playing “Wolf.”
It now belongs to Brian Halligan, chief executive and co-founder of HubSpot, a marketing software company based in Cambridge, Mass. Ettinger said that Hallligan, who is tall, was waved onto the stage and excitedly jumped up and down to thunderous applause. “It looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve,” said the auctioneer.
For information, www.guernseys.com or 212-794-2280.
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