For over 40 years, Music City has been providing the Greater Binghamton music scene and its musicians with instruments, lessons, and love.
Music City belongs to a certain class of businesses that are as synonymous with Greater Binghamton as carousels and marinated chicken. The big national companies founded in Binghamton—IBM, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc.—may have put Binghamton on the map, but places like Music City, Nirchi’s, Jones Humdinger, Robot City, and Ellis Brothers, to name a few, are what give Binghamton its personality and vibe.
It’s difficult to imagine how the Binghamton music scene would’ve evolved through the years had it not been for Music City and its owner, legendary local bassist and guitarist Benny Fiacco. If you play guitar or bass and you’ve spent any amount of time living in Binghamton, chances are you know Benny. And more impressively, there’s a good chance Benny knows you, too.
Music City is a cornerstone of the Binghamton music scene
Music City is of course notable for its tremendous catalog of guitars and basses on offer, not to mention a staggering collection of vinyl records, CDs, and more. But you don’t just get an instrument at Music City … you also get excellent advice from Benny Fiacco and his expert staff, who take the time to get to know your tastes.
Unlike a particular guitar-focused chain store that shall not be mentioned, Music City doesn’t constantly try to upsell you on gear you don’t need. You’re not just a walking, talking ATM. You’re a musician, talking with another musician. And that’s a hugely important distinction that sets Music City apart from any other shop in the region.
My first visit to Music City happened in 1987. I was seven years old, and needed new strings for the guitar my uncle David had given me for my birthday a few months earlier. Since then I haven’t had a single visit where Benny didn’t address me by name. I bought my dream guitar there in 2022—a stunning heritage cherry Gibson Les Paul I’d wanted since I was a kid—and Benny gave it an absolutely perfect setup without needing any notes from me. He just knew how I’d want it, and he made it flawless. When my daughter is old enough to pick out her first guitar, there’s no question where I’ll be taking her.
When I started Parlor City Sound, I knew I wanted this website to not only discuss unsigned and indie music acts, but also the small businesses that make their music possible. And there was really only one local business I wanted to start with: Music City. I recently interviewed Benny Fiacco to learn more about this store’s history and its impact on the Binghamton music scene.
I think the Music City story is really the Benny Fiacco story, so I’d like to start with a question about you personally. When did you first fall in love with music? Who inspired you early on to start playing?
I first fell in love with music when I heard John Lennon‘s voice on the early Beatles records. I was not much of a music fan before that, but hearing his voice captured me and opened the door to my interest in music. Right around the same time, I was 9 or 10 years old, my cousin Lou Liguori would play his acoustic guitar at family gatherings and I knew then after seeing him that I would love to play guitar too.
A lot of Greater Binghamton musicians will say they got their first guitar or bass at Music City, but where did you get your first instrument?
My first instrument was an acoustic guitar that came from the equivalent of a CVS store. It was a Christmas present from my mom and dad, which I wanted so badly and was so happy to get for Christmas that year.
Take us on a trip back to 1981. What led you on this journey to start a music store? That must’ve been a major undertaking.
Funny story, Music City started out on a whim. I was laid off from my job at a machine shop. My neighbor was a Binghamton fireman and he was doing remodeling on the side. He needed extra help so he hired me on to do remodeling with him. One day, we stopped for lunch at a local downtown diner called DaLores. I said to him it would be nice to open a record store in downtown. His reply to me was “Do you want to?” So we did right next door! We opened the store with absolutely no business experience. I was extremely thrilled to have this opportunity, but he wasn’t, so after one year he decided to leave and I bought out his share of the business.
What was Music City like in those early days? When did you decide to start selling instruments, and not just records and posters?
Music City in the early days was a lot of fun. I’ve met a lot of new friends from them being customers. In the beginning, we started out selling records, cassette tapes, rock t-shirts, and guitar strings. A good friend of mine named Terry Burke owned a music store in Endicott, called the Music Workshop. He would send some of his overstock guitars to me to sell for him on consignment. Eventually, another friend of mine, Bruce at the House of Guitars in Rochester, would sell me guitars to sell at my store.
Many people consider Music City to be the area’s premier music shop. What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced through the years while building this stellar reputation?
One of the challenges that we faced in the early days was that there were some established record stores and music stores in the area. Most of the record stores were in the Oakdale Mall. The instrument stores were locally owned. Most of those stores had a lot more inventory to offer to their customers than we did at the time. So I worked hard to overcome that and invested everything back into the business for a lot of years.
Gibson, Fender, Epiphone, Gretsch, Jackson—Music City carries a lot of top-tier guitars and basses. Have you ever had a guitar or bass come through that you were especially proud of? Like you saw it and felt honored to get to sell it?
Yes, that happens quite often. But I cannot take every stray dog home, even though I would love to.
Music City moved to Vestal in 2007. Having been to both the old and new locations, it’s a no-brainer why you chose the new store—it’s huge! I imagine that was a great decision. Is there anything you miss about that old Binghamton store?
Yes, I do miss the old store in Binghamton. That’s where we started, that’s where I started building a customer base. That’s where I met so many good people. I have a lot of memories of those days. Man, believe me, they were fun!
Binghamton has been home to a lot of incredibly talented acts through the years. As someone who probably knows the local music scene better and more personally than anyone, which acts have really stood out to you? Which ones did you hear and think wow, that’s really good?
There is a lot of good local talent in our area, it would be impossible to list all the good ones who have stood out throughout the years. A few that I’ve seen recently that really impressed me were the Nate Gross Band, Caviar and Grits, and the Grownups. I admire anyone who is out there playing original music. The 607 music scene is shining brightly and every musician should be proud of their efforts and musical contributions to the community.
It’s not just the music scene you know personally. It’s your customers, too. I think that’s a major factor in what makes Music City fantastic; you know your customers, you know their preferences and their style, and you never seem to forget a name or a face. I’ve always wondered how you do that. It’s like a comic book superpower.
Our customers are very important to us. A lot of them have been our customers for decades. We actually have customers with three generations of family members shopping at Music City.
Speaking of knowing customers, I feel like I should give a shout-out here to one of your sales associates, Josh Sifert. He sold my wife, Sara, a telecaster a year or two ago, and on a recent visit he somehow remembered her name. Needless to say, we were both blown away by that. Is that a trait you look for in employees? Is it something you train them for?
When we hire someone to work at Music City, we do look for personality traits that show that they would be helpful to our customers. We want to make our customers feel welcome and feel special at Music City. Josh Sifert is an incredible asset to Music City. Josh and the rest of our staff go above and beyond to do the best they can for our customers. I am very fortunate and thankful to have such a good team.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a nightmare for most businesses large and small. How did Music City weather that storm? And how has business been since everything opened back up?
COVID-19 was an unexpected obstacle for all businesses including Music City. We were forced to close from March 2020 through May 2020. During that time we did sell a lot of guitars through an online service called Reverb.com. We also sold a lot of Vinyl on Discogs. All in all, we did not suffer much financially during the COVID shutdown. This is because many people started new hobbies during the COVID. Playing guitar was one of the popular hobbies that people picked up during this period of time. When we reopened at the end of May 2020, our customers were happy to be back and sales of guitars, vinyl, and all accessories were up considerably.
You’re not only the city’s best-known instrument dealer. You’re also an accomplished musician, having performed with some legendary local and regional acts including Frostbit Blue and Brothers of the Road. It looks like the B-3 band is gaining a lot of momentum now, too. Would you say being an active local musician has been instrumental, no pun intended, in helping Music City thrive?
Having the opportunity to play in a successful regional band has had a positive impact on Music City. Playing with Frostbit Blue has given me the opportunity to share the stage with many nationally known artists, such as the Marshall Tucker band, the Charlie Daniels band, ZZ Top, Blue Öyster Cult, members of the Allman Brothers band, and more. The exposure as a result has brought more public awareness to Music City.
Let’s say a local band has just released a new album, and they want to sell copies at Music City. Is that something they can do? How does that work? Are there requirements they’d need to fulfill in order to see their CD, vinyl, or cassette sold in Music City?
We do carry music from local bands at Music City. We are proud of our local artists and would like to see them flourish musically. They can bring in their CD, cassette tape, or vinyl for us to sell on consignment. We encourage everyone to package their music in a professional way.
There’s been this huge surge in recent years in the popularity of vinyl. I’ve even seen cassette tapes getting sold by bands at shows in Toronto and NYC in recent years. Binghamton native Jim Search is selling cassettes of his new comedy album, too. Why do you think that rebirth of classic mediums has been happening? Is it simple nostalgia, or maybe something else?
When we first started, vinyl was the biggest-selling music format, followed by cassettes. In the early 90s, the compact discs commonly known as CDs became the main format, leaving vinyl and cassette tapes to be almost extinct. Then we went through the changes of the digital formats—iPads, MP3s, and streaming—this had a negative impact on the recorded music industry, but in the early 2000s vinyl started making a comeback. Vinyl is now a larger selling format than it’s ever been. CDs are coming back into popularity and so are cassette tapes. I do feel that if the vinyl comeback was a nostalgic thing it would’ve been over with by now, but it looks like it’s here to stay for some time.
One last question for any aspiring musicians out there reading this. What advice would you give to someone just getting started on their musical journey?
My advice to the aspiring young musicians out there and to people who are just learning how to play an instrument is to have fun, work hard, believe in yourself, believe in your music, believe in what you do, and follow your dreams.
You can visit Music City at 3104 Vestal Parkway East in Vestal, or give them a call at (607) 723-2615.