Cigar Box Guitar Festival puts Treasure Coast on the musical map

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Cigar Box Guitar Festival puts Treasure Coast on the musical map

Laurie K. Blandford  Treasure Coast Newspapers
Published 9:49 AM EST Feb 1, 2019

The Florida Cigar Box Guitar Festival is the only one of its kind on the Treasure Coast.

Gary Roberts, a musician and history buff who owns Summer Crush Vineyard & Winery north of Fort Pierce, saw the need for a local event featuring this type of music and started it in 2018.

“I’m always just trying to find something different,” Roberts said. “The idea was one that had grown from several little sources.”

The foundation was laid when he visited the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi, but the inspiration for the festival came after he attended the Florida Folk Festival northwest of Lake City.

“I met a guy there that was selling cigar box instruments,” Roberts said. “I bought a mandolin cigar box instrument for the mandolin player in our little band (Southern Vine), and I thought ‘man, this was a cool concept.’ ”

Archie Storey says he uses what ever items he can find to construct his cigar box guitars, such as a drawer pull tailpiece (center). Story will be featured on CNN's "Somebody's Gotta Do It" airing Thursday.
Joe Ellis/The Clarion-Ledger

The history of cigar box guitars goes back to before the Civil War when people couldn’t afford manufactured instruments, he said.

Cigars started to be shipped in smaller boxers in the mid-1800s, and people found other uses for the boxes, including making them into instruments using household items such as broom handles.

“It started in the deep south, a lot of it in Mississippi, so it took on that Delta blues flavor,” Roberts said. “The roots of cigar box instruments are blues. So, anybody that likes blues will also love guitar box instruments.”

Roberts heard there were festivals dedicated to cigar box guitars across the nation but couldn’t find many in Florida.

Florida swamp blues, cigar box and diddley bow legend Ben Prestage will perform at the Florida Cigar Box Guitar Festival.

At the Florida Folk Festival, he had spent some time with musician Ben Prestage and got to know his impressive background.

Prestage, who grew up in rural Florida, was a street performer on historic Beale Street in Memphis. He took fourth, third and second place in three consecutive years at the International Blues Challenge, the world’s largest gathering of blues musicians. He was the only two-time recipient of the Lyon/Pitchford Award for Best Diddley Bow Player.

He’s often referred to as a one-man band. Prestage started with just a guitar and his voice as a busker but realized he could attract more of an audience — and enhance his music — if he also played the drums with his feet at the same time. He made it his schtick.

Given all this experience and talent, Roberts recruited Prestage to create the local festival.

“He helped give me a little encouragement,” Roberts said. “Between the two of us, we pulled it together.”

Homegrown: Summer Crush Vineyard & Winery in Fort Pierce turns native muscadine grapes into wine

More than 300 people attended the first year, Roberts said. The two vendors for cigar box instruments sold out.

He hoped for the local festival to continue every year and grow even bigger.

“There’s big festivals in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi, where more of the roots are, and they’re growing all over — they’re up in Pennsylvania now,” Roberts said. “Musically, I think it kind of puts the Treasure Coast on the map.”

Laurie K. Blandford is TCPalm's entertainment reporter and columnist dedicated to finding the best things to do on the Treasure Coast. Read her weekly column, Laurie's Stories, on Follow her on Twitter at @TCPalmLaurie or Facebook at

Florida Cigar Box Guitar Festival

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Summer Crush Vineyard & Winery, 4200 Johnston Road, north of Fort Pierce

Who: Ben Prestage, Travis Bowlin and Steve Arvey

Tickets: $9 each through Friday, $10 the day of the festival

Info: 772-460-0500 or

Published 9:49 AM EST Feb 1, 2019
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