Cigar-box guitarist Glenn Kaiser
Cigar-box guitarist Glenn Kaiser will perform at the Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival on Saturday, Aug. 25, at The York Emporium, 343 W. Market St., York. (www.grrrrecords.com)

It started about five years ago with a cookie tin.

Not the love of playing music, no -- for blues musician Glenn Kaiser, that love started in his boyhood, almost five decades ago now. But the desire to turn everyday objects into guitars and play them on stage? That's a relatively new love.

"There is something very fetching about playing cool music on something you can build out of very cheap and even free parts," he writes in a recent email interview.

At 59, Kaiser knows a lot about playing cool music. He started when he was 12, a self-taught musician who learned by watching his friends.

"I was singing in their band and learned to make two-string 'chords' on one of their six-string guitars," he writes.

In the decades since, Kaiser has added drums, bass, harmonica and dulcimer to his repertoire, but guitar remains his favorite. And, he adds, "a few other things -- but those are really what I'm confident with."

Meaning and history: Kaiser should be confident; he rose to international fame in the 1970s as the leader of Resurrection Band, planting the seeds for the Christian metal genre. The band stayed together for nearly 30 years, pumping out a mix of blues and hard rock with a strong message. The music has occasionally mellowed through the years, but the message is always close to Kaiser's heart.

"I'm a lifelong student of blues music, the American South, slavery, racism and black music styles and culture," he writes. "It all ties in with poverty, simplicity and authenticity for me."

His 2011 album "Cardboard Box" looks at American life through the eyes of hardship and homelessness.

"Too many people have little or no concept of how people end up out of work, homeless, in poverty," he writes. "Caring takes grace, sacrifice and more than a vote or lip service."

Kaiser knows those voices; he works with a fellowship that offers shelter to hundreds of men, women and children in need -- a fellowship based in the same inner-city area of Chicago where he has lived for almost 40 years. Music can be beautiful, but it's people who matter most to this blues guitarist and singer-songwriter.

"Relationships are the stuff of life. Music is kind of a desert next to the main course," he writes. Well, not quite a desert, he qualifies with a laugh. "Maybe a major garnish would be more accurate in my personal view. I love it but I love people so much more."

Sharing his soul: Kaiser's interest in found-object and cigar-box guitars is a step on that shared journey, an exploration of the soul of his art. Making fewer mistakes isn't the only benefit of age and experience, after all.

"I hope I'm deeper into the soul of what I do as I age," he writes. "Blues is so core to me and has been early on until now. I hope to go deeper, and I think these guitars are part of that path."

It's a path that will bring Kaiser to York for the Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival at The York Emporium on Saturday, Aug. 25. He'll cap the festival with a solo show at 5 p.m. on the outdoor stage, but don't be surprised if special guests -- like local cigar-box master Shane Speal -- turn up for a jam. The audience will be hearing some of Kaiser's newest pieces.

"An entire CD full of nothing (but cigar-box guitar music) is in the works, likely to be released late in 2013," he writes. He's also been busy teaching the skills to other aspiring guitarists, leading workshops on building found-object guitars and using them to help others learn guitar "in the most basic, approachable way."

And that first found-object guitar he made? How'd it turn out?

"Amazingly well. Still have it," Kaiser writes. "I still play it in live shows on occasion."

Maybe, if we're lucky, he'll break it out for the York show and inspire another guitarist to see the possibilities in a small metal cookie tin.

 

See the show

 

Glenn Kaiser is one of 14 acts set to perform in the third annual Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival.

The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at The York Emporium, 343 W. Market St. in downtown York. The free festival is just blocks from the annual Yorkfest celebration going on at the same time.

The Emporium will host indoor and outdoor stages all day, and festival attendees can check out the homemade guitars and learn a bit about what goes into making them.

For more information about Kaiser, visit www.grrrrecords.com.

For more information about the festival, visit www.facebook.com/YorkEmporium or call (717) 846-2866.

-- Reach Mel Barber at mbarber@yorkdispatch.com.