CEDAR FALLS - There are no gavels at the monthly meetings of the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association. The members wouldn't stand for it.

"We have a little bit of business, but it's mostly music," said Rick Vanderwall, one of the group's founders. "If we talk for too long, one of the more crusty players in the organization will say, 'Let's make music.'"

And they do, forming a circle and trading songs for up to two hours. It's a routine the area's guitar players have perfected since the association formed a decade ago.

"We came together because we wanted to play," said Rick Price, the group's other founder. "Most of us were just basement players before the association. Now, we're a community."

Roughly 20 guitarists attend the monthly song swaps. The association hosts free summer concerts in Overman Park, and several members are regulars at Wednesday's open mike night at Jameson's Public House. Next month, the group will hold its spring "Music on Main" concert. Proceeds from the show fund the rest of the association's performances.

Vanderwall is happy the organization has given local musicians a chance to perform, but the Price Laboratory School teacher thinks the group's true strength lies in the camaraderie of its players. Making music is about give and take, collaboration and critique, he explained.

"When you play with a group, you get encouragement, mentoring, engagement and connection," Vanderwall said. "You are inspired by others, and hopefully, they are inspired by you."

At last week's meeting at Voodoo Lounge, a diverse group of guitarists joined the playing circle. Professional musicians, clergy members, third-shift workers and university professors took turns performing for their peers. Songs included Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," the 1930s jazz standard "Willow Weep for Me" and "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," made famous by Johnny Cash. A handful of members, including 14-year-old Devon Mettlin, played their own material.

"I didn't get the whole song finished yet, but here it goes," the Cedar Falls teen warned before strumming out "Leaving Me," a folk-rock ode to love lost.

When he finished, the musicians clapped.

"That's really coming along," Vanderwall exclaimed.

"Thanks," said Mettlin, offering a small smile as he shuffled though his songwriting notebook. "It's almost done."

Exchanges like those are what keep musicians involved in the guitar association, said Price. The organization does not charge dues, and regular members strive to create a friendly environment for newcomers. Rookies share notes with local guitar greats including Uncle Chuck Finch and Raldo Schneider.

"We welcome all kinds of players, all genres of music, all ability levels," Price said. "There are no dues, and we try to keep things as unstructured as possible."

The result? A club that feels like a family. Musicians that have moved out of the area continue to stay in touch with members. Recently, the group sent a video tribute to David Morse, a guitarist serving in Iraq with the Iowa National Guard.

"Everyone was talking to (David), and playing songs for him," said Price. "He checks up on us and we wanted to let him know we were thinking about him."

Karla Ruth, a singer-songwriter, was one of the first guitarists to join the association. She credits the group with keeping her on track as an artist.

"This came along at just the right time for me," Ruth said. "I was trying to get back into my music, and I found a bunch of people who loved playing as much as I did and encouraged me to stick with it."

She enjoys performing during association concerts but stays with the group for the support offered at the monthly meetings.

"We love to play and we love music," Ruth said. "The rests just goes from there."

Contact Mary Stegmeir at (319) 291-1482 or mary.stegmeir@wcfcourier.com.

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