Natchitoches native Mike Snowden will present a cigar box guitar workshop at Junior Ranger Day to be held at the Cane River Creole National Historical Park at Oakland Plantation on April 19, 2014 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Snowden will perform original songs on some of the guitars he has handcrafted and will discuss the history of cigar box guitars. Children participating in the event will have an opportunity to construct their own guitars out of real wooden cigar boxes.
During the time Snowden was in high school, he played bass guitar with several local Natchitoches musicians, whom he regards as his mentors,Donnie Hyams, David Dollar, Sammie Nix, and Hardrick Rivers. He often performed with them in local pubs and bars. ‘They showed me that the music universe is much larger than heavy metal, the type of music I was first turned on to as a kid.’
Since moving to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1989 after graduating from Natchitoches Central High School, Snowden has pursued his dream of making music. He was the bassist with several bands, most notably the Band de Soleil that traveled extensively, both headlining and opening for bands such as Indigo Girls, the Dave Matthews Band, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. The band also opened for Joe Cocker at the Fox Theater in Atlanta.
After the Band de Soleil broke up, Snowden took a break from music. In 2007 he started building guitars out of wooden cigar boxes.
‘Cigar box guitars were first made around the 1870s. Prior to that cigars were shipped in large wooden crates. Around 1870 or so they started shipping them in smaller wooden boxes. The first known cigar box instrument was a fiddle from around 1870,’ Snowden noted. Some of the old blues singers make crude cigar box guitars, some with only one string.
So far, Snowden has built around 750 guitars in his home studio in Marietta, Georgia where he lives with wife, the former Monique Cardino, and 10-year-old daughter Madison. His instruments have either three or four strings and are easy to play. He has sold them to music enthusiasts all over the world. Kristian Bush of the country music duo Sugarland fame has purchased several dozen of them to give as gifts, and last year when actor Jeff Daniels was in Atlanta filming ‘Dumb and Dumber Too,’ he contacted Snowden and bought two guitars.
The instruments, which sell for $350-$400, are finely crafted pieces that can be played acoustically or amplified. ‘I use a variety of exotic woods for the necks,walnut, zebra, bird's eye maple, sapele, curly maple, cypress, and mahogany, to name a few,’ said Snowden. Some are made of Natchitoches pecan wood.
Since becoming obsessed with guitar box cigars, Snowden has put out five CDs of original songs played on his guitars. In August of 2012, he was also invited to be one of the featured artists at the Boxstock Festival in Manchester, England, an international event devoted to cigar box guitars. While in England, he performed at a number of venues, including London. He has been invited to play in Norway in 2015.
For children planning to participate in Junior Rangers Day, Snowden promises that ‘no previous musical experience is required. It will be a fun day. Cigar box guitars are super easy to play. You can pick one up and play a song the first day.’
Junior Ranger Activity Stations will be set up throughout the park for the April 19 event. Children will also be able to visit with Elvin Shields, who as a child lived with his tenant farmer family at Oakland. He will share stories about his childhood and show off some of his ‘Plantation Toys.’
Oakland Plantation is located at 4386 Hwy 494 in Natchez, Louisiana. For further information about Junior Ranger Day, call 318-356-8441 or visit the National Park Service website at http://www.nps.gov/cari/.
For more information about Mike Snowden's cigar box guitars, visit his website www.snowdenguitars.com. A number of his original compositions and several tutorials on how to play the cigar box guitar can be seen on YouTube.
Snowden Guitars on Youtube