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Doug Clark: Patrick Coleman’s gift of Pig Out guitars hits right chord

Pig Out in the Park patrons got a surprise serving of pork Friday.

They did if they were listening to Pig Out founder Bill Burke’s band, Yellow Dog, that is. Yellow Dog started rocking oldies from my childhood at noon on the Imax stage.

The band had just finished a rollicking version of the Beatles’ “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” (honestly, how many bands have the artistic vision to attempt that one?) when a guy approached the stage asking for some microphone time.

It was Patrick Coleman, a Spokane Valley guitar maker. He came bearing gifts.

“I’m a big fan of Pig Out,” Coleman told the crowd, adding that he appreciated the 37 years that Burke had devoted to this enormously popular annual festival.

Coleman then gave Burke a custom Pig Out-themed electric guitar that he built. The one-of-a-kind instrument is festooned with expertly airbrushed graphics depicting Spokane’s iconic Riverfront Park: the Clocktower, the Falls and the Monroe Street Bridge.

A winking pink porker occupies the back of the guitar.

“This stuff brings me to tears,” Burke said in a choked voice that sounded like he wasn’t kidding.

I don’t think he was.

But wait, there was more. Unbeknownst to Burke, Yellow Dog guitar player Paul Ashley already had received a Pig Out ax from Coleman earlier in the week.

Unlike Burke’s guitar, which was cut in the traditional shape of a Fender Esquire, this baby was a pure custom job. It boar (get it?) the pink shape of a speckled, snarling pig.

Burke couldn’t believe his eyes. After a bit of tuning, the porcine guitars made their debut on another song nobody does anymore: the dark and brilliant “Reflections of My Life,” originally performed by The Marmalade, a Scottish pop band.

“Reflections” came out in 1969. Just hearing the haunting lyrics took me back to high school and the faces of friends who lost their lives in Vietnam.

“I’m totally humbled by this,” Burke told me later in the day. “Then Paul gets a guitar. Now I’ve gotta figure out how to buy it from him.”

Like Burke needs another guitar.

The man has sunk a small fortune into building a fabulous collection that now stands at something like 190 vintage guitars.

Oops. Make that 191 after Friday.

He considers this trove his retirement and, from what I’ve seen, he’s way ahead of the IRA game.

Coleman’s gifts weren’t completely philanthropic.

The guitar maker hoped his six-string offerings would pay off with some publicity. I’m happy to oblige.

I have a soft spot for anyone who carries on the virtuous traditions of instrument making. Competing against giant corporations with big advertising budgets puts any small-timer in a long-odds game of ever making any money at it.

Coleman’s guitars carry the Lynn Ellsworth label.

A legendary luthier who settled in Spokane Valley, Ellsworth long ago made the neck and body of the guitar that became Frankenstein, the black-and-white-striped icon of Eddie Van Halen fame.

The guitar-building partnership between Coleman and Ellsworth ended early this year with Coleman assuming the brand.

Despite the acrimonious split, however, Coleman is quick to say how appreciative he is of everything he learned from Ellsworth about guitar making.

He should be, of course. Ellsworth is a recognized master.

Coleman said he spent 80 hours creating the Pig Out guitars in the shop next to his Spokane Valley home.

The stellar graphics?

Those, he said, are the work of Josh McCurdy of KRE-8 Airbrush Studio.

“I’m thrilled,” Coleman noted after seeing his offspring played for the first time onstage. “They look great. They sound great. It’s a validation.”

I left the Yellow Dog band and wandered past peripatetic eaters of corn dogs, fries and barbecue.

I love Pig Out. It’s our far less pretentious version of that snootier festival to the west.

“Bite Me, Seattle,” I think it’s called.

Even better, Pig Out allows musicians from 80-some bands to strum and twang and live the dream every year. Speaking as one of the deluded dreamers, I can’t envision a better summer’s end.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.