Cigar Box Festival Was A Feast For The Senses

Anita Campbell
County Reporter
A huge crowd flocked to Drake Harbor on Saturday and Sunday to enjoy the music of the Third Annual Cigar Box Guitar festival.
Last year’s Cigar Box Guitar Music Festival was a huge hit. So much so that the American Blues Scene rated this festival the #4 of the Top Five Blues Festivals in Missouri!.
Ryan Mackey was a co-organizer of the event.  Mackey had been involved with a guitar festival in Kansas City and when the event closed he helped to bring it to Warsaw.
This year’s event was even bigger and better. This two-day family-friendly event featured nationally-recognized musicians playing their hand-made instruments featuring all different genres of music. Artists and musicians featured their homemade cigar box guitars, which are made of recyclable materials. As the name implies, the body is made of an empty cigar box. The head and neck can be made out of anything from broom handles to wooden slates or sticks and the actual body out of bedpans, skillets and anything in between. These cigar box guitars were showcased for sale during the event. The musicians sell their creations starting at $20 and going up to around $500 on average. 
International touring artists, nationally-recognized and amateur musicians played live bluegrass, rock, country and blues music using their handmade cigar box guitars. 
“Handmade guitars have been around since slavery days,” explained Earl Keune of New Boston, MO.  “Bo Diddley took his name from the one string guitar.  It is very much a grass roots instrument what every guitar is based upon.”
Wayne Yost of Springfield had a tent set up on the Harbor where he displayed his unique cigar box guitars.  “We use only wooden boxes since the cardboard boxes just don’t hold up,” Yost said.  He also had guitars made out of license plates.
The event was hosted by the Benton County Missouri Tourism and Recreation. 
KCBS sanctioned Back Yard BBQ Competition was held during the festival with Miller’s Backyard BBQ taking first prize. There were 15 competitors.
The cigar box guitar has a storied history. If you’ve ever wondered why folks decided to turn cigar boxes into their version of the gimbri, it had a lot to do with U.S. shipping and tax regulations in the mid-1800’s. Cigars used to be shipped in big barrels, but the government needed to tax them and made a law that cigars needed to be packaged in boxed of 20 or 50. Since cigars were popular at the time, these decorative wooden boxes could be found everywhere. The instruments soon followed and so did the instructions for creating them. By the 1920’s, the simple, three and four stringed instruments were spotted  far away from the deep south where they had originated.