Byron Berline unlocks the door to his new shop in Guthrie, OK
Byron Berline was on the golf course in Mexico one Saturday in February when a message he’ll recall forever beeped on his phone… “The shop is on fire.”
Berline immediately placed a call home, gathered up his clubs and bag, and he and his wife Bette boarded the earliest flight possible with tears in their eyes. Thankful that there were no personal injuries, but heartbroken that their Double Stop Fiddle Shop was gone… just like that, literally a flash in the pan.
The Shop was like a repository of his life and career in bluegrass. Instruments, mementoes, photographs, albums… burned to a crisp. It was both the passion and the livelihood of this iconic musician, and all he had learned from his days with The Dillards, Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys. Country Gazette, and his own Byron Berline Band. There they sold and restored fiddles, held concerts, and offered a meeting place for lovers of bluegrass in the region.
Sunday after the fire, the Berline’s could be found in total shock in their hometown of Guthrie, OK. News crews, music lovers, and curious people stood outside on the sidewalk, in disbelief of what fierce winds and a stray cigarette had caused, just 24 hours before.
Berline had multiple interviews that day, and it seemed like there was always a camera in his face. One could see the devastation in his deep blue eyes, which looked to have lost their sparkle. A new worry … should he rebuild? And if he did, what would he put in his store? As he had said, “It’s all gone.”
Berline had several safes in the basement of the shop, which was now flooded by the firefighters’ efforts to douse the blaze. His most fervent hope was that something could be saved. On Monday, the approval from the fire marshal came to lift them out of the smoldering ash. As the winch inched its way upward you could hear nothing other than prayers. With the first crack of the vault door, Byron literally turned around in disgust, as it appeared to be nothing inside but burnt cases.
With tremblings hands, Berline lifted and opened each one. After the third case, he pulled out his beloved Lloyd Loar F-5 mandolin. He couldn’t find it within himself to unlatch it, so he turned his back on it and proceeded back to the fireproof vault. His emotions were literally on his sleeve, and it was like something pushed him to turn around. As he did he rubbed his hands down the seam of his denim blue jeans and said, “well, I might as well look.” His hands were trembling, as his throat choked back a sob. Slowly, he lifted the lid….Byron’s beautiful blue eyes sparkled as he grabbed his Loar and thanked God. It was intact! A little charred, but it was THERE. Byron played a tune on it singing… Thank you God!
The next few days were a living nightmare for Berline, his family, and his band. Over the next few days, cases were opened, filled with water. And ruined instruments were lined along the streets in Guthrie, OK. There was little hope, as they loaded each case and took them “home.” Carefully, Berline and his son-in-law placed each instrument out to dry. Next was the puzzle, how do you put something together that has popped into several pieces? What do you do with the rubble left from a fire?
With true Byron passion, he took the stage almost immediately, having his first live show within two weeks of his life being turned upside down. The Community Church stepped up and donated their event center so music lovers could still enjoy Byron and the his band. Oklahoma has and will always be fully supportive when devastation hits one in their community. Within hours of the fire, there were fundraisers being scheduled, as family and friends stood talking about their memories of Byron and his shop.
As of today’s date, the community of music fans has raised over $30,000. Of course the Berline’s had insurance, but insurance can’t replace the joy of the instrument pals lost on that windy Saturday. There was over $3 million worth of damage to those two brick buildings on the East end of Division St.
There is one more motherload of entertainment scheduled in Guthrie, OK, with all proceeds to go to Byron Berline. Appearing on May 7 with Berline and his band will be Vince Gill, Turnpike Troubadors, and Larry Gatlin. Berline has touched many in his life of music ,and it shows through the support. Berline is like a Timex watch.. Takes a licking and keeps on fiddling.
Berline has now opened the doors to his next dream, a new building, and the next level of entertainment in Guthrie, OK.
The Phoenix actually does rise. The Phoenix of bluegrass remains. Byron Berline – WOW!