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Cigar Box Guitars rule the stage at upcoming concert
by Shane Speal

In just one week, the city of Huntsville, AL will be infested with strange musicians/inventors/madmen who call themselves The Cigar Box Guitar Revolution. Theyre the pariah of the blues community, the lost souls of folk, the modern incarnations of jug band past...and they will all be performing at the Cigar Box Guitar Extravaganza on Saturday, June 9th starting at 12 noon at the Flying Monkey Performing Arts Center. In just one week, the city of Huntsville, AL will be infested with strange musicians/inventors/madmen who call themselves "The Cigar Box Guitar Revolution." They're the pariah of the blues community, the lost souls of folk, the modern incarnations of jug band past...and they will all be performing at the Cigar Box Guitar Extravaganza on Saturday, June 9th starting at 12 noon at the Flying Monkey Performing Arts Center.

Cigar Box Guitar Extravaganza 2007 promises to be the largest yet, with many players from previous years returning and an overwhelming number of new artists signing on. The all-day event will feature performances by approximately one dozen regional and national acts. There will again be building workshops, a builder's contest, and a traveling exhibit of The National Cigar Box Guitar Museum will be on display containing examples of historic examples of cigar box instruments dating back to the mid 1800's. The event this year will be broadcast live on "Tha Goat", a streaming 24/7 Internet radio station on LIVE365, dedicated exclusively to cigar box music.

Performing at this year's festival: Microwave Dave (Huntsville, Alabama).
Microwave Dave Gallaher needs no introduction to North Alabama audiences. His live performances both as a solo act and with his band The Nukes are legendary. Dave has been incorporating a Lowebow into his solo performances for years. His support and promotion of this event is invaluable. We're very proud to have Dave on the lineup again this year.

Ben Prestage (South Florida). Born the grandson of a Mississippi sharecropper, Ben Prestage has been soaked in Blues tradition and Mississippi culture since birth. Growing up in the swamps of south central Florida, Prestage began to mix Mississippi Country Blues with his own brand of Florida Swamp Blues. This muddy-water-meets-black-water stew has led him to perform from California to the Carolinas to the Florida Keys, in large festivals, every kind of bar, and sometimes on downtown sidewalks.
Prestage spent some time as a street performer on historic Beale Street, while living in Memphis, TN. He used to share a spot in front of the New Daisy Theatre with modern blues legends Robert Belfour (Fat Possum Records) and Richard Johnston (2001 International Blues Competition winner).
Being a street musician in the "Blues capital of the South" threw Prestage's music in a new direction. To his show, he added a cigarbox guitar (made by Memphian an one-man-band John Lowe) which has stereo guitar and bass strings that can be played independently, at the same time. Then Ben added a series of four foot pedals that can be manipulated by the heels and toes of both feet to play a drumkit. The final result is Ben playing guitar, bass, and drums while singing his own brand of Blues which leaves bottles empty and dance floors full wherever his music takes him.

Johnny Lowebow (Memphis, Tennessee).Johnny Lowebow is the stage name of John Lowe, a Memphis, TN, based musician who's one man band performances became a fixture on world famous Beale Street. His live shows have been described as "brutal blues blasts" with set lists containing everything from Johnny Cash to punk pioneer, Iggy Pop. Lowe's set-up is a mixture of old drum parts, milk crates, guitar amps and his ever present Lowebow, a cigar box guitar made from two oak dowel rods, a wooden cigar box, three guitar strings and a bass string. It is played with a slide in the old blues tradition, but that's about the only thing traditional about it. Lowe co-designed the designed the instrument with another musician, Richard Johnston, who used it to win a major blues competition in Memphis. Since then, Lowe has attained a cult status among blues aficionados and has adopted the Lowebow as his main instrument. He currently plays in Clarksdale and in Memphis area rock clubs.

Gerry Thompson (Barrington, New Jersey) Gerry Thompson plays "backyard Americana" on a variety of cigarbox guitar. "I am not a musician " says Gerry who admits to being a "storyteller", adding that a storyteller without music is just a liar...hence the need for the instrument. "I sing sad songs for sunny days" says Gerry...."I think I'm one of the only hillbillies from a flat state...NEW JERSEY. South Jersey...that is....not north. Gerry will be traveling 18 hours to perform at this show.

Shane Speal (York, Pennsylvania). Shane is founder and curator of the National Cigar Box Guitar Museum, a traveling exibit which will be on display at the Cigar Box Guitar Extravaganza 2007. As a musician, Speal's career highlights include fronting the prim-rock band Jug Fusion; performing with the Presidents of the United States of America in March 2005 (he played a cigar box guitar with the band on the song "Back Porch." ); and having his music featured on FOX's reality TV Show "Simple Life" starring Paris Hilton - Shane's music appears in Season 1 finale (aka "The Lost Episode") Episode was included as bonus material in the Simple Life Season 2 DVD. Speal also operates Insurrection Records, an indie label specializing in prim-rock, a phrase he himself coined.

Timothy Renner (Glenville, Pennsylvania). Timothy is a musician and artist who contributes greatly to the evolution of wyrd folk music. He is part of Stone Breath and Mourning Cloak. He played on albums by Prydwyn his partner in Stone Breath, Spectral Light and Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree which he brought together. Tim also played a key role in the Poor Minstrels of Folk tours. His art work combines the original gothic with magical and alchemical inconography to create an evocative style.

David Williams (Tylersport, Pennsylvania). David has played guitar in jug bands, old-time string bands, blues bands and gospel groups for over forty years. He cobbled together his first cigar box guitar several years ago and found that such a primitive, no-frills instrument was perfectly suited for his roots-based music. On very dark and eerie nights, he dons his shades and arms himself from his collection of diddley bows to become "One-String Willie."

Bluesboy JAG (Little Rock, Arkansas). Thirty year music vet and guitar teacher goes lo-fi! I've been making CBG's for three years and I use them in my one man band featuring foot drums, cbg's and blues harp.

Leaving Miss Blue (Chattanooga, Tennessee): Forming in 2005, Leaving Miss Blue has created a new kind of music. Will Martin (cigar box guitar/vocal), Travis "Tater" Clark (guitar/vocal/washboard), and Andrew Minnick (drums) all pull from different influences and backgrounds to make this new kind of music. Since forming, Leaving Miss Blue has introduced several towns and cities to their brand of CBG-based "soulbilly prim-rock". Their live show is full of energy and intensity, keeping crowds on the edges of their seats.

Low Country Messiahs (Lowell, Massachusetts). A singular mood unto themselves for the listener. Borrowing heavily from pre-War Delta blues and African-American gospel idioms, the ensemble is to some extent alien to its sources, bringing an introverted and impressionistic sensibility to their vision of traditional music. Simple instruments are recorded very pure on unsophisticated machinery and treated with unconventional production values, giving the music a heartbreakingly genuine do-it-yourself feel.

Doctor Oakroot (Boston, Massachusetts). He was born in a taxi with no brakes, and, he says, "I been rolling ever since. I rolled right down to Hell, pulled up the devil by his tail and brought back some dark, dark songs." Unsatisfied with the ordinary, Oakroot's been making his own music on his own homemade instruments ever since he was a kid. Mostly cigar box guitars. When you get it down to a box a stick and a string, you have music with a rough edge that works at a primal level - nowhere to hide - and anything but ordinary.

Buckeye (Birmingham, Alabama). Buckeye hails from right here in the heart of the Dirty South: Birmingham. This trio is comprised of three guys who were friends long before the music started. Kirk Withrow, a 5 -string banjo player initially, handles the cigar box guitar and most of the hollerin'. The job of beating on the cans rests in the hands of Phil 'The Menace' Neuheller. Last but not least, the most recent addition to Buckeye is the great Chris Luker on the gutbucket. Together these guys belt out a hearty mix of old-tyme, rock, country, and blues that'll make you wiggle and grin.

WORKSHOPS: CBG Building WorkShop with Bill Jehle. Students learn to build a own cigar box guitar and carry home a finished instrument. $25 supplies included. Limit 25 spaces. To pre-register email Bill Jehle at: jellyjam@hiwaay.net

Advanced Cigar Box Guitar Playing with Shane Speal. Learn hot rod playing techniques for a 3-string slide CBG, including alternate tunings, speed sliding, partial slide chords using stubby slides, the Blind Willie Johnson playing secret, eBow and more. $20

CONTEST. CIGAR BOX INSTRUMENT BUILDER'S CONTEST: There are only two rules: #1. The instrument must contain at least one production cigar box in it's construction. #2. The Instrument must be playable and/or capable of producing a musical sound.

UA Documentary to Focus on Cigar Box Guitars. Sometimes one good thing leads to another. When Max Shores of the University of Alabama Center for Public Television & Radio directed a documentary on the popular Memphis street musician, Richard Johnston, he didn't know where it would lead. The documentary went on to win Second Place Documentary in the 2006 Tupelo Film Festival, First Place Documentary and Best of Show at the 2007 Macon Film Festival, and Best Professional Documentary as well as Best Alabama Film in the 2007 George Lindsey UNA Film Festival of Florence, Alabama. The documentary on Johnston also introduced Shores to cigar box guitars.

Johnston is one of many musicians who make use of lowly instruments made from boxes designed to hold tobacco products but given new life with the addition of some wood and strings. Instruments made from cigar boxes date back to the 1840s when cigars were first packaged in disposable boxes. By 1870, instructions for building cigar box instruments were published. Craftsmen, both amateur and professional, have been lovingly forming trash into treasure ever since and musicians have been stretching the limits of the instruments to create new sounds. They worked primarily in isolation until recent years.

The Internet changed that. Search the net for information on cigar box guitars and you'll soon discover Shane Speal's Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) Forum. It started as a way for the York, Pennsylvania advertising salesman to keep up with a few friends who shared his enthusiasm for CBGs but it grew quickly. It has spawned a record company which releases CBG cds and an Internet radio station that plays nothing but CBG music. Now the forum includes nearly 2, 000 members who trade tips on building and playing instruments. This communication between CBG fans led to the creation of special events to give them an opportunity to get together and one such event is the Cigar Box Guitar Extravaganza in Huntsville. The annual event will take place at the Flying Monkey Arts Center at 2211 Seminole Drive on Saturday, June 9th and Shores along with other UA staff and students will be capturing the excitement there for a documentary.

The CBG documentary may include production from other locations as well, and may take as long as a year to complete. Students will participate in the production as a part of the documentary studies program in UA's department of Telecommunications and Film. Shooting will begin at the annual Huntsville extravaganza which attracts CBG enthusiasts from across the U.S. and is open to the public.

"It's like a family reunion combined with a music festival, " says Shores who attended the extravaganza last year to screen his documentary on Richard Johnston. "The documentary was well received and I felt like I had become a member of the family although I don't make or play cigar box guitars."
Kirk Withrow of Birmingham aims to change that. He recently made an instrument for Shores and challenged him to conquer it. Withrow started out making CBGs and playing music for fun but seeing the Richard Johnston documentary at last year's extravaganza changed his perspective. "I realized how important the music was to me. Now it's not just a small part of my life. It is my life, " he says. Withrow's group, Buckeye, will be playing rowdy hill country blues at the extravaganza which runs from noon until midnight.

The Cigar Box Guitar Extravaganza is coordinated by Matt Crunk, a Huntsville tattoo artist and musician. It will include workshops, a guitar building contest, and Speal will bring specimens from his National Cigar Box Guitar Museum and perform onstage. Other performances will range from melancholy cigar box banjo ballads by Pennsylvania Goth musician Timothy Renner to delta blues by Bluesboy Jag from Arkansas. North Carolina's Dr. Oakroot will play his witty original songs on guitars that use nylon weed-whacker cord for strings and New Jersey's Gerry Thompson and his band, The Color of Skies, will perform folk and roots music.

Also playing are Florida guitar whiz Ben Prestage, Huntsville bluesman Microwave Dave, and Chattanooga southern rock band, Leaving Miss Blue, all of whom took up cigar box guitars made by Memphis craftsman John Lowe after hearing Richard Johnston play one. Lowe himself, in the stage persona of Johnny Lowebow, will play there too. Sometimes one good thing leads to another.

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source :: jazz press service
2005 jazz news :: home page