Cigar Box Festival

New event to draw musicians
who play unique brand of music

By Helen E. McKinney

CARROLLTON, Ky. (May 2004) – Shane Speal claims he has “found the smallest untouched niche in music history.” He is referring to a musical oddity known as the cigar box guitar.
Speal not only plays a cigar box guitar, but he creates them as well. All he needs to craft this primitive instrument is three strings, a plank and a wooden cigar box.

Shane Speal

Photo provided

Shane Speal plays
a cigar box guitar.

"I’ve always been a student of music,” said Speal, a resident of York, Pa. While delving into the blues in 1993, Speal came across an article describing a simple two-string cigar box guitar that legendary guitar player Carl Perkins had made. Perkin’s construction of an instrument from a box, a stick and baling wire inspired Speal to build his own cigar box guitar.
Speal is part of a band, Jug Fusion, which has been labeled as the world’s leading “primitive rock” band. The band and Speal will perform locally during the inaugural Carrollton Cigar Box Guitar Festival, set for May 14-16 at Gen. Butler State Resort Park.
“This is an incredible opportunity for folks from Cincinnati to Louisville, Indianapolis to Lexington to travel a short distance and gather together with the top performers in this field,” said Carrollton-Carroll County Tourism & Convention Commission Executive Director Robin Caldwell.
All performances will be held in front of Butler Lake, and the adjoining shelter house will accommodate professionals who will assist guests in purchasing items to build their own cigar box guitars. Food vendors will be on hand.
Festival organizer Kurt Schoen said 10 acts are scheduled to perform from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, May 15. Acts are coming from as far away as Copenhagen, Denmark, Oregon, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
“Musical styles will range from acoustic blues to bluegrass to country to electric rock,” said Schoen, who also makes and sells cigar box guitars of his own design. Stewart-MacDonald Guitar Parts, the Kentucky Arts Council, WFPK Radio Louisville and Ear X-Tacy will sponsor this event.

Cigar Box Guitar

Photo provided

A cigar box guitar.

In addition to performing, Speal will also present a seminar on the history of these guitars. Speal, 33, is the curator of the National Cigar Box Guitar Museum, which he hopes to open later this year in historic York, Pa., inside an 1880s Farmer’s Market.
The museum’s entire collection will be on display during the festival. Speal has spent countless hours researching and tracking down his rare collection of antique and modern cigar box guitars. It consists of more than 30 instruments, including a signed and dated cigar box violin from 1885. Recordings, prints, pictures and other historical images include an etching of two Civil War soldiers relaxing beside a campfire, while one strums a cigar box violin.
Speal operated his own cigar box guitar company, Catfish Music Works, from 1994-1999.
He built more than 200 cigar box guitars, many of which were bought by stars such as BB King, Ted Nugent, Jethro Tull and actor Tim Allen.
As a way to promote his product, Speal began to play the cigar box guitar exclusively. Jug Fusion was formed while working on a solo album several years ago, said Speal. He recruited a few heavy metal musicians to back him up, and the band derived its name from their unique sound of “jazz fusion.”
“I originally intended the music to be a simple representation of my live shows, but as I went along, I would build and add new instruments, invite friends to come in and play them and the whole thing mutated into a primitive Sgt. Peppers.”
Caldwell said, “This music works well for our community.” In addition to Blues to the Point, the Bluegrass Bash and the Music in the Park series, this event “establishes our area as a well-rounded destination for good quality music that takes the listener back to the roots of current music.”
Speal said that of the six albums he’s recorded, he has composed at least 50 percent of the material. He’s written jazz, new age, blues and heavy metal music on his three-string cigar box guitar. “I’ve never played an instrument that inspires new music as does the cigar box guitar,” he said.
On Friday, May 14, performers and organizers will be teaching 150 Carroll County Middle School students about “the heritage, practice and techniques of home-made musical instruments,” said Schoen. For every $150 donated to the group, an instrument will be donated to the Carroll County School system to enhance the Mary Ellis Comb’s “Appalachian Music History” curriculum, said Caldwell.
Speal is well on his way to achieving his goal of becoming the movement’s innovator. He has secured a guitar string endorsement with John Pearse Guitar Strings and now operates Insurrection Records, the first record label dedicated to cigar box guitars.
The music of Jug Fusion was featured on the season finale of Paris Hilton’s FOX TV show, “The Simple Life.” This was the first international broadcast of a cigar box guitar. They are also are scheduled to appear on MTV’s “Real World” and “Road Rules.”

• For more information on the Cigar Box Guitar Festival, call the tourism office at 1-800-325-4290 or visit Speal’s website at www.cigarboxguitars.com for a complete list of performers and seminars.

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