Michael’s Harp Guitar ‘Darth’ at the MIM

by | Feb 15, 2024

By Brendan Hedges, Michael’s brother

If you haven’t been, you need to go.

Since its opening in 2010, Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum has become one of America’s most popular museums, of any kind. With good reason. It’s spectacular.

Featuring over 13,000 instruments and musical objects – from 200 countries from around the world, and throughout human history – the museum’s extraordinary collection fills its luminous, 200,000 square foot, two-story building.

Where else could you see a fife used by the Union Army in the Civil War, a paigu goblet drum that dates back to China’s Neolithic period and Elvis’s guitar, all in one place? At the museum’s superb 300-seat theater, you can see the likes of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Leo Kottke, Rickie Lee Jones, Judith Hill, Hiromi, John Scofield and the BoDeans all in the same month. There’s an entire gallery room dedicated to 19th Century player pianos, music boxes and other mechanical instruments that is simply wonderful.

Each year, the MIM curates a themed exhibit that will run for several months. Last November, I was fortunate to be on hand for the preview night opening of their latest: “Acoustic America.” Along with me were my brother Craig, his wife Theo, author Jake White (who’s currently writing the upcoming, comprehensive biography of Michael) and Jake’s son, Talmadge. 

It was a warm day, so we began our visit with a quick hike along the Pinnacle Peak Trail in nearby Scottsdale, then made our way to the museum for the gala events: a dinner under the stars on a lovely, clear evening; then, opening remarks, a reception and a private, first walk-through look at “Acoustic America.” For those of us lucky enough to attend as official guests, we had the museum to ourselves.

Jordi Harold, Mischa Hedges

Walking into the Museum, we were soon met by the MIM’s esteemed senior curator, Dr. Richard Walter. Having gotten to know him a bit over the last year, it was easy to be quickly and completely won over by his boundless knowledge, scholarship, expertise and enthusiasm for the MIM’s mission. Growing up in the ‘band instrument capital of the world’ (Elkhart, Indiana), Rich has a PhD in ethnomusicology and folklore from the University of Indiana.

And he’s a true Michael Hedges fan. 

We’d already been in touch with him about possibly filming at the MIM; also, the theater would be a perfect place for an event screening of “Oracle” (perhaps along with a mini-concert featuring some of our interviewees). When the theme for the 2023-24 “Acoustic America” exhibit was set, Rich requested that one of Michael’s guitars be included.

"Oracle" Co-Director Mischa Hedges. Photo credit: Julia Camp.

But which one?

For sheer uniqueness and visual flair, it’s hard to beat a harp guitar, and a jet black one at that. Michael’s 1913 Knutsen fit the bill (well-worn and well-played!) and it was soon on its way to Phoenix, where it will be on display through late 2024. Already, it’s made an impression: Dr. Walter told us that museum goers can’t help but be drawn to the striking instrument, which resides in a prime, featured island within the exhibit. 

Last year, when Mischa and I received an exclusive backstage tour of the MIM, we met several other dedicated members of Rich’s staff, including the primary photographer who documents all the incoming instruments and material to the museum. He, too, was a Hedges fan – and had seen Michael perform live several times. 

The rest of the “Acoustic America” exhibit is equally impressive. A large number of the items on display were loaned by David Grisman. We also spotted a violin from one of Michael’s Windham Hill label mates, the great Darol Anger. Peter, Paul and Mary were represented there, along with a fabulous banjo by the great Earl Scruggs. 

Check out the exhibit’s website and trailer here: https://mim.org/special-exhibitions/acoustic-america/

"Oracle" Co-Director Mischa Hedges. Photo credit: Julia Camp.
Michael Manring during his interview.

On our way out, we made a stop at the museum’s terrific bookstore, which has quite a few biographies available of featured artists at the MIM. Along with the film, we’re so excited for the coming ‘Hedges Renaissance’ – which certainly will include Jake’s biography of Michael that’s nearing completion. 

We came away from the fantastic evening with the glow of knowing that thousands upon thousands of music lovers of all ages will now get a glimpse of ‘Darth,’ and the rest of the beautifully curated instruments in this thoroughly impressive setting. From the start, our mission with this project is to spread the word about Michael’s life and music, far and wide. Imagine how many people may well discover it for the first time via the MIM. And again, if you’ve never been there, we can’t recommend it highly enough.

Since opening its doors, the Musical Instrument Museum has greeted millions of visitors from all over the world, and we couldn’t feel more at home there. 

Stay tuned. We’re already planning to return.

Next up: Documentary Grant Applications, Reviewing Archive Footage, and getting a headstart on Editing!


Become a Sponsor

This film will be funded in part by Michael’s fans, angel donors, business sponsors and grant funding.

Sponsorship packages range from $1,000-$75,000 and include various benefits. They are tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, the Stropes Foundation.

Review our available sponsorship packages and let us know if you’re interested in becoming a sponsor of the film.

Or by check

Write a check to “Stropes Foundation, Inc” with “Oracle Documentary” in the memo and mail to: 

Stropes Foundation, Inc.
1132 Lake Avenue
Racine, WI 53403


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