Band and orchestra store opens in west Lawrence; Cheech from Cheech and Chong coming to town

Darrell Cox, an employee at Ernie Williamson Music, stands with some of the store's brass and woodwind instruments on Aug. 15, 2018.

I know my kids have the lungs to be the next Louis Armstrong, but that doesn’t mean I want to buy them a trumpet or drive to an out-of-town music store when it needs repair. (No sir, I don’t know how the mouthpiece got sealed with concrete.) Now, Lawrence residents have an in-town option for all that fun.

Ernie Williamson Music has opened in the Orchards Shopping Center at Bob Billings Parkway and Kasold Drive. The store is part of a small chain that operates another Ernie Williamson store in Joplin, Mo., a Fazio’s music store in St. Louis, and several Springfield Music stores, including one in Shawnee.

In a lot of those markets, guitars are a big part of their business. In Lawrence — home to thousands of guitar players who have college as a backup plan — there already are quite a few guitar shops, and even a violin shop. What was lacking, though, was a full-service band and orchestra store.

“We were really surprised there wasn’t one in town,” said Donovan Bankhead, president of the company. “There had been one a decade or so ago (Hume Music), but they closed down, and I guess that put a hex on it for everybody else.”

Bankhead, though, said the Lawrence market looks to be a solid one. He noted the area high schools have strong band programs and said Free State and Lawrence high schools have particularly large orchestra programs.

Ernie Williamson Music

The Lawrence store is set up to cater to those markets. It sells all your standard band instruments such as trumpets, trombones, clarinets, tubas and other brass and woodwind instruments. Plus, the store sells orchestra instruments, including the wide array of stringed instruments. The shop also has a bit of a guitar area focused mainly on people looking for an entry-level guitar.

Importantly, the store has a rental program too.

“A lot of parents who are getting an instrument for their kids, they want to rent first,” Bankhead said. “You never know whether they are going to stick with it.”

The shop also buys back instruments and sells used instruments. Repair service also is offered, although the repair shop is not actually on site.

Bankhead said the music business remains strong, calling it an almost recession-proof industry. He equated learning to play music to learning to speak a foreign language, saying the exotic nature of it continues to appeal to many people. (If so, I think my performances were the equivalent of “¿Dónde está el baño?”)

Plus, he thinks both parents and students alike still recognize some of the benefits that band programs offer go beyond music education.

“I’ve always said that band and music classes are the original social network,” Bankhead said. “You spend so much time with the other people in the class and make so many connections. I still stay in touch with people who I was in band with.”

The store, which is on the south side of the shopping center near The SconeLady’s Coffee Shop, is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.


In other news and notes:

• I won’t vouch for the lung capacity of this next guy, but I will tell you that Cheech Marin is coming to Lawrence. Marin is part of the counterculture, dope-smoking comedy routine of Cheech and Chong. Marin won’t be coming to Lawrence to do that act, but rather will be a featured speaker at the 2018 Free State Festival. He will be talking about the history of Chicano art and his passion for collecting it. He also will be hosting a book-signing. His talk is set for 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Free State Festival organizers have released the entire schedule for this year’s festival. We’ll have more about the complete schedule, which you can see here, soon. The festival runs Sept. 17-23, and tickets go on sale Friday, according to the event’s website.

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