CAMDEN — Harvey Curtis has bittersweet feelings about the closing of his longtime business, K2 Music, the popular Camden store at Reny’s Plaza that he owns with his wife, Jody. Harvey wants to exit the retail business, but music is his soul, and over the last seven years, K2 Music has been far more to the Midcoast than just a shop to purchase instruments and equipment.
In the summer, Harvey’s partner in crime, Mac Economy, will sit in a lawn chair on the front sidewalk by the laundromat and pick away on his electric guitar. If you live or work nearby, you open the windows wider to let the music in. (Mac also has written a book, Learning to Speak on Guitar, a Categorical Method for Improvisation.)
K2 Music is the cool place, figuratively and literally, and musicians gather there any time of the day. Mac and Harvey have hosted indoor mini-music festivals in the winter, and larger outdoor jamborees in the parking lot on warm summer evenings. Acoustic, blues, jazz, country — it doesn’t matter, because they appreciate all genres.
You might be lucky enough to be at the store when Harvey and Matt Brown, who is always on the stool nearby the counter, are listening to new music that sounds an awful lot like Frank Zappa, and deconstructing it as only musicians can do.
Brown, who has a long history with K2 Music, which was preceded by Northern Kingdom Music, had first established Wild Rufus Records in downtown Camden. His friendship with Harvey was established decades ago when Harvey worked at Northern Kingdom. Over his lifetime, Matt has acquired thousands guitars.
“I’ve collected guitars all my life, and probably 1,600 to 1,700 in Harvey’s lifetime,” said Brown. “At one point or another, they have been touched by Harvey because he’s the one guy in the world who knows how to set up a guitar the way I like it to be set up.”
How is that?
“The same way he is doing it for your guitar,” said Brown, speaking to the reporter who dropped by on a hot July afternoon. “He knows how I like to play. And every guitar player has a different feel they are looking for between the right hand, the left hand, and the neck.”
Brown gets a little more specific.
“Mine is lower than most,” he said. “A little buzz is not a bad thing because I play very lightly. Most people whom I would ask to set up a guitar would say, ‘I’m not doing that. Too low. It’s not right.’ But Harvey gets right all the time.”
Harvey, Jody and Mac worked together to open K2 seven years ago after Northern Kingdom closed. That music store, located just down Route 1 in Rockport, had been the music go-to place for decades. Young middle and high school students would get their band instruments there and take lessons, while the older musicians, many of them in bands, would flow through the doors constantly for help with their equipment.
With K2 Music, the legacy of Northern Kingdom evolved, but the essence has always been the same: Doors wide open to musicians of all genres and levels of competency. If you had the inclination to learn and play, you were encouraged and supported.
“The idea of the lack of a record store, and a music store in town really depresses me,” said Brown. “And it depresses a lot of people. When Harvey is gone I’m just going to sit down in front on a chair and cry. And pine away.”
Brown is not alone. More than 100 comments filled the K2 Music Facebook page when Harvey announced June 22 that he was shuttering the business.
But as Harvey noted, the last 18 months have been a financial struggle due, in large part, to the internet’s dampening effect on business. And it’s not only the internet; the larger guitar companies are choking small businesses with their love for big numbers.
“People are buying on the internet,” said Brown. “It’s a hard time to run any retail store these days. But what Harvey has been providing for 30 years, or for certainly seven years as owner of K2 is that if you buy something from Harvey, he is going to take care of it for you. Forever. And guitars are made out of wood and they need care.”
“The biggest problem is there’s not going to be a store where you walk in and say, ‘hey my guitar’s not playing well,’ and in 20 minutes, it’s playing well,” said Brown. “Which is going to be missed. Dearly.”
He added: “I told Harvey, you have all these roadside vegetable stands, how about a roadside guitar stand? The good news, as Harvey says, after 30 years he will be able to spend time with people. So we are going to be hanging out. Playing music.”
“Yeah!” said Harvey.
“Don’t get a job too quick,” said Brown. “Because we need to hang out and play guitar.”
Likewise, Harvey wants to hang out. But he also needs to get a job.
He knows what he wants to do, and that is to work with developmentally challenged children.
“My ideal next-step would have started back in 1988 and I would have gone to school to be a pediatric occupational therapist,” he said.
But that takes four years of school, and Harvey has bills to pay.
Harvey graduated 30 years ago from Medomak Valley High School in 1988 and immediately got a job with Northern Kingdom.
“This is all I’ve done for 30 years,” he added. And he has loved it all.
When you’re 18 years old, that’s a dream job,” said Harvey. “To go work in a guitar store. I loved music, did a little bit of D.J – ing. I had wonderful people I worked with. It was an amazing company, as long as Ted [Pieri] and Elwood [Doran] owned it, it was great. Fortunately I met Matt early on, and he has been a major constant in my life.”
At this stage of life, however, Harvey wants to put his musical career to a different use by helping children.
“I would love to!” he said.
He has some ideas of places to approach for possible jobs working with children, just to see if, “if there’s something I can do to get in,” and progress toward working one-on-one with them.
“It’s going to be baby steps,” he said. “I may end up working at Reny’s for a while.”
Harvey has a stepdaughter and two “wonderful grandchildren,” and has seen children move through life stages.
“It would be cool,” he said, while standing at the K2 counter, filing down the frets of a guitar for a customer.
He enjoys working on guitars, especially when someone comes in and asks him to fix it.
“Let me see if I can,” he said. “I don’t know if I can, but let me try and see what we can do.”
Wouldn’t that be great to do that with a human being? Let’s see what we’ve got, and let’s see what we can do.
“Exactly,” said Harvey. “And young kids are amazing. I think special needs kids are even more amazing.”
The best memories he has of of running the store have been the connections he has made with other human beings.
“I have been honored by the trust you all have given me to be part of your musical journey,” he wrote in the Facebook post. “I can truly say that many of you started as customers and over the years, have become wonderful friends. That will be what I miss the most.”
He has been watching the work of another musician in Florida who is working with autistic children, and noted their progress.
“It is amazing work with nonverbal kids,” he said. “He figures out a way to communicate.”
It’s pretty simple, he said.
“Everyone wants to be loved, everyone wants to communicate.”