Three superstar guitarists, seven years of hard work and $1.2 million in funding wasn't enough for Donald K. Boswell to realize his music dream this year in Buffalo.
The president of WNED-TV (Channel 17) has been working for the past seven years to bring Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Jeff Beck together here for an unprecedented musical event on public television. It would be a similar presentation to that of the world-famous "Three Tenors." But instead of opera, Clapton, Santana and Beck would showcase the power and glory of the electric guitar.
Unfortunately, only one of the three will come to town.
The area will host a "Buffalo Niagara Guitar Festival" June 14-17, and Clapton will play at HSBC Arena as part of his world tour, but Santana and Beck won't be appearing.
Boswell's plans go beyond a big concert at the arena. He wants to broaden the event into a community-wide guitar festival, which will begin on June 14 with a "Thursday at Lafayette Square" outdoor concert. Clapton plays the next night, and the weekend will be filled with club performances, guitar workshops and competitions. Also on tap is a guitar movie festival.
Among the performers contacted, but not confirmed for playing here: k.d. lang, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Coco Montoya, Johnny Lang, Charlie Hunter and Stanley Jordan.
Several performers are on the schedule. One is classical guitarist Sharon Isbin,who is nominated for a Grammy Award this year. Jazz guitarist John Scofield is scheduled to play the Tralf. Another is Reggie Wooten, a noted guitar teacher who has performed with the Temptations and James Brown. He is the older brother of Victor Wooten, who plays with Bela Fleck.
Still, it's not exactly as Boswell had envisioned it. "For me, getting these three together remains a long-term project, and I still believe it's going to happen," said Boswell, who first began the project while working for the North Texas Public Broadcasting in Dallas.
Boswell had been putting the final pieces together for the past three years, but the resurgent career of Carlos Santana changed the plans.
When Boswell started making arrangements, Santana was hardly a contemporary superstar. He was best known for his hit records during the 1960s and stellar performing career for the past three decades.
Then, two years ago, Santana released the album, "Supernatural," which sold more than 13 million copies in the United States, and Santana's popularity exploded. The guitarist's touring and recording schedule was jammed, and he couldn't make the Buffalo date.
"I can't tell you how disappointed I am because this June we were supposed to be filming the three guitarists in Buffalo for a broadcast around the world," Boswell said.
There's more on the line here than Boswell's musical and broadcast aspirations. At stake is his credibility and worldwide attention for WNED and the City of Buffalo. And also a lot of money.
Boswell had already secured a $1.2 million grant from the Frito-Lay corporation for the broadcast of the three guitarists. That money is still in place, he said, adding that he also is looking for more sponsors. HSBC Bank is already on board as the presenting sponsor.
"We think the festival has the potential to become a signature event," said Alexander Flockhart, senior vice president for HSBC.
Ironically, Clapton, the most revered rock guitarist of the modern generation, will be here on June 15 for a solo concert as part of his world tour.
"We had talked to Eric's people and the original plan was for him to set aside some time in Buffalo," Boswell said. "Eric agreed to do it, working it in with his world tour.
"We had been talking to Santana's and Beck's management; everything was falling into place. All of them wanted to do it, but then Santana's album got so big, everything changed."
What hasn't changed is Boswell's vision.
"We want to grow this guitar festival every year and make it an international event for Buffalo," he said. The television executive is not just thinking about the Public Broadcasting Service, of which Channel 17 is a member. He wants to expand the telecast to such national commercial cable outlets as MTV, VH1 and BET.
"We (WNED) can do the production and be the content provider," Boswell said.
It sounds good, but can all this really happen with stars of this magnitude?
"There's no question it's a high-concept project and will draw worldwide attention," said David Cahn, of Hamburg, who runs an advertising agency and is still involved in the music business. Cahn has also worked in the record industry for Warner Brothers.
"I'd say the odds of getting three performers like that for an this event are about 50-50, but they get better because of Don Boswell," Cahn said. "He wants to make it happen and he just won't give up. This is his vision and he's got a lot of perseverance."
The three guitarists will have to put their egos in check to work on the project.
"All of them are consummate professionals, and I think they would enjoy playing with each other" Cahn said. "These aren't kids, they've had a lot of ups and downs in their careers and lives, but they all still play great."
Even without two of the three, the local guitar festival holds promise.
"It's always fun to see Clapton," Cahn said. "He's making some of the best music of his career."
The real impact for the guitar festival that follows Clapton's concert may come for the downtown clubs.
"We hope to piggy-back on the festival," said Nick Veltri, who books acts for the Blues Room on Washington Street. "We hope this will bring a lot of music fans downtown this year, who will come for the festival and visit the clubs."
Boswell doesn't just want to bring stars to the arena.
"We want to make this as diverse as we can to appeal to all segments of the community," he said.< "We want to help the clubs and we want to get people here involved with music."
Boswell said he has contacted the University at Buffalo School of Music, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. He wants to also have a guitar exhibit and possibly honor local performers.
"There's nothing like this anywhere else and we want to make it work in Buffalo," Boswell said. "It's only going to get bigger."