Since it first began on a cold March evening in 2000 at a small coffeehouse in Falcon Heights, the Minnesota Resophonic Guitar Festival has grown dramatically in stature and popularity among fans of the unique sounding resonator guitar and the performers who use it as a lead instrument in bluegrass, blues, country, rock and folk music. Designed by John Dopyera and manufactured by the National Stringed Instrument Corporation in 1927, the resonator guitar's unique designed focused on the hubcap-shaped resonator placed in the middle of the guitar body, serving as an amplification device in an era that was sans amplifiers.
The 4th Annual Minnesota Resophonic Guitar Festival featured one full day and two nights of music and workshops, including some of the finest resophonic players performing today. The weekend also offered some of the local talent an opportunity to perform publically in front of an interested and enthusiastic audience.
The Festival opened on Friday evening with a concert featuring several local and regional performers, along with headliners Steve James, Del Rey and Cindy Cashdollar. Enhancing the opening festivities was the fact that the concert began early (around 7:00 p.m.), extending well past midnight as the headliners enthralled the crowd with their collective talents.
Local picker Dan Rumsey led off Friday evening at the Cedar Cultural Center with an enjoyable 20 minute set featuring two original songs and covers of songs by John Prine and Curtis Mayfield, featuring more of the folk/blues use of the resophonic guitar. Joined halfway by a flute player (named Sally (?)), the noticeably nervous Rumsey got everything off to a fine start, generating a nice response from the still gathering crowd.
Following a brief bit of humorous banter by show host Dakota Dave Hull, Andy Kozak and friends climbed onto the stage, offering up some tasty reels and bluegrass. The ensemble included Kozak on resophonic (played lap style), Bill Hinckley (mandolin), Sally Belville (fiddle) and her brother, Rob Belville picking on another resophonic. Their 20 minutes in the spotlight was packed full of shuffles, reels, bluegrass and humor as the quartet visibly enjoyed their time on stage, infecting the crowd with their laid back enthusiasm.
The breakneck pace of the evening continued as local performer, Baby Grant Johnson took over the stage. Johnson stayed more on the bluesy side of things, opening with an original entitled "Happy Tonight" and concluding with the Skip James tune, "Be Ready When He Comes." Johnson's set included other original material and covers such as Charlie Patton's, "High Sheriff."
After the conclusion of Johnson's set, the evening shifted to a more regional flavor as Jim Miller took his place on stage. Wearing a Chicago Bears football jersey bearing the number and identity of his namesake, Bears' quarterback Jim Miller, the grizzled and somewhat outspoken Miller blazed through a set that included covers of songs like "On The Road Again" by Canned Heat and the social commentary laden original, "Mr. Fundy You Make The Whole Town Small."
The next performer to take the stage, following Miller's fine set, was noted regional talent Joe Price. Hailing from the town of Lansing, Iowa, Price's slam-bang 40 minute set probably would have gone well beyond the allotted time since it was evident that "Ol' Joe" was willing to stay up on stage and play until someone dragged him off. Of all the performers to that point, Price was clearly the most animated; swaying, twisting and head-wobbling until you'd swear he was going to fly right out of his seat and into the audience. Opening with "Suitcase Boogie," Price demonstrated variety in his repertoire, pausing in between songs for a sip of beer and to ask if everyone was having a good time. After concluding his set with "Tell Me Who's That Girl," Price stepped down assured that he had prepped everyone quite well for the upcoming trio of headliners that would follow.
After the first true break in the music for the evening, Steve James stepped onto the stage. The Austin, Texas resident serving as the "opener" for the final portion of the evening represented a slight change from the published program, but certainly not a disappointing one. James' four solo numbers included the title track from his recent release on Burnside Records, Fast Texas. After finishing up with Prince Albert Hunt's "Blues In A Bottle," James beckoned slide/steel guitar maven Cindy Cashdollar and country blues virtuoso Del Rey, to the stage. Cashdollar, a former member of the country swing band Asleep At The Wheel and a side musician in great demand, opened with a song called "Slideshow" from her forthcoming CD of the same name, accompanied by James and Del Rey on guitars.
The trio was clearly comfortable working together on a variety of songs and styles. Cashdollar slipped effortlessly between lap style and upright resonator, while James demonstrated his talents on acoustic guitar, resonator and mandolin. Del Rey showed that she was up for the evening as well, displaying her musical versatility on resonator and ukelele, while lightening the overall mood of the evening with some comedic side commentary. Steve James handled most of the vocals for the trio, although his vocal duets with Del Rey on songs like "That River" were exceptionally well done. The entire set was filled with anecdotes and educational information about the music and the musical instruments, most notably the resophonic guitar. Cindy Cashdollar's tribute to Josh Grave's, "Grave's Rave," offered a nice touch to the evening regarding the man who she credited with having a tremendous influence on the development of the resophonic guitar from a novelty to a featured instrument.
When Cashdollar broke a string late during the set, it appeared that the evening might soon be drawing to a close since it was already after 11:00 p.m. However, to the apparent delight of the audience, James announced that after a short break, the threesome would be returning for a second set!
[Editor's note] That "second" set featured the trio again followed by some more Steve James and concluded with a superb long set by Del Rey. This was quite an evening and Saturday continued with more of the same outstanding resonator guitar performances both throughout the day by many local musicians and into the night with headliners: Tom Feldmann, Jerry Kosak, Bobby Ekstrand, Lonesome Dan Kase, Molly Maher & Her Disbelievers, Charlie Parr, and Catfish Keith. If you were not able to make it this year I suggest you keep an eye out for next year's festival. This is becoming quite a remarkable event here in the Twin Cities and a special thanks to Deb George and gang for putting this event together.
1st Annual Minnesota Resophonic Guitar Festival
2nd Annual - Interview & pictures from the 2nd Annual Minnesota Resophonic Guitar Festival
3nd Annual - Pictures from the 3nd Annual Minnesota Resophonic Guitar Festival
4th Annual Minnesota Resophonic Guitar Festival
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