Shane Speal was rushing to fix a broken string on his cigar box guitar in between sets at a recent concert when I sat down with him to get the lowdown on the upcoming Susquehanna Folk Festival.
“I can’t believe we’re going to be part of that fest,” said the York-based blues singer. “The more I look at the lineup, the more I wish I could clone myself so I can attend every show and workshop.”
He laughed at the thought as he wound a guitar string around an instrument cobbled from a cigar box and broomstick.
Speal is known as the “King of the Cigar Box Guitar” and fronts the jug band, Shane Speal & the Snakes. He has also become the unofficial spokesman for the Susquehanna Folk Fest, a two-day event in late July at Roundtop Mountain Resort, featuring dozens of musical acts and workshops.
Q: You’ve played a lot of festivals around here. What’s so different about the Susquehanna Folk Fest?
Speal: I’ve never seen one with so much diversity. I’ll be honest, when I think of folk music, my mind goes to Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie—you know, somebody strumming a guitar and singing revolution. However, these organizers, the Susquehanna Folk Music Society people, are hardcore fans of all kinds of folk music. They’ve booked blues icons, Celtic legends, African dancers and everything in between.
Q: Which blues icons?
Speal: David Bromberg and Rory Block will be there. I’ve done shows with Rory before, and she’s the real deal. She learned to play slide guitar at the feet of Son House, the guy who taught Robert Johnson how to play. And Bromberg is a fingerpicking monster who learned from Rev. Gary Davis.
Q: Bromberg also had some hits in the ‘70s.
Speal: Yeah, and played with everyone from George Harrison, Bob Dylan to a host of others. He’s an absolute legend. There’s going to be a Q&A workshop with him before his Sunday evening set that I’ll be attending.
Q: Is that part of the workshops you mentioned?
Speal: Yes, and Rory Block is giving a slide guitar workshop before her Saturday evening set. Unfortunately for me, I’ll be performing with my band on another stage at that time. I should see if they can move my stage time so I can learn to play like her [laughs].
Q: What are your personal picks for this fest?
Speal: Oh wow, let me see. There’s going to be an emerging artist competition on Saturday. I’ve played shows with many of the acts in there such as The Wild Hymns and Indian Summer Jars. All top notch. Don’t miss Olds & the Absolution in that one. Olds Sleeper is one of my favorite songwriters out there. He writes like John Prine and plays a mean guitar.
There’s going to be a jug band workshop by Slim Harrison and the Sunnyland Band on Saturday. I think that one’s for kids, but I’ll probably attend it anyway because I play in a jug band and maybe I can steal some ideas.
Q: So, there are things for kids to do?
Speal: Yeah, they thought of everything with this fest. Kids stuff, concerts, crafts. It’s like a two-day cultural explosion [laughs].
Q: What other shows will you go to?
Speal: The Quebe Sisters will be there both days, so I’ll probably catch at least one of their shows. They do that classic country swing music where they sing rich harmonies around one microphone. They’re fantastic fiddlers, too. I’m a big Hank Williams, Sr., fan, and they’re version of “Cold Cold Heart” gives me chills.
Q: Country swing at a folk festival?
Speal: And swing dance lessons, too! They’re bringing in a dance instructor from Victrola Swing Dance Club in York to teach people how to swing dance.
Q: Will you be dancing?
Speal: Oh, god, no. I once took swing dance lessons, but I failed miserably. You don’t want to see Shane Speal dance. Trust me.
Hold on. Let me look at the schedule on my phone because I know I’m missing a bunch of acts. There’s so much good acoustic music here. The Irish band, Trian features Daithi Sproule on guitar. He was one of the original innovators of Celtic DADGAD guitar. I think he’s doing a workshop, too. David Holt and Josh Goforth are an incredible duo that do a lot with old-time instruments and even hambone knee-slapping.
Q: Any other recommendations?
Speal: There’s so much. There’s a few jam sessions happening throughout the weekend, so I’ll probably stick my head in there for at least one. There’s gonna be bluegrass, blues and other styles, but I’d like to sit in with the Irish session because I love that music and never get to play it.
Q: People can bring their own guitars and instruments?
Speal: Hell, they’re encouraged to bring them. The Ski Roundtop people will have a secure instrument check-in area, too. That way, you can walk around without lugging your guitar the entire time. Quite honestly, some of the greatest magic will probably happen on the hillside as musicians start their own jam sessions.
Q: What about your concert at the festival? What can we expect?
Speal: Just imagine Motorhead as a jug band [laughs]. Expect our wild show of cigar box guitars, washtub bass, homemade drums and more, but we’re also pulling out some of our storytelling folky stuff.
The Susquehanna Folk Festival will be held July 28 to 29 at Roundtop Mountain Resort, Lewisberry. For tickets and information visit www.susquehannafolkfestival.org.