'This is bigger for us than Christmas': Cigar Box Guitar Festival returns to York City

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

In two weeks, The York Emporium will transform into a musician's playground. 

The 11th annual Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival — celebrating folk, electric and bluegrass tunes — will invite 14 bands and hundreds of music enthusiasts to jam out on two stages from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, in the parking lot of the bookstore at 343 W. Market St. 

The prime instrument used: a do-it-yourself guitar made from an empty cigar box.

“Last year on the date it would have happened, I was sitting in the store virtually alone, and I was so depressed,” said Jim Lewin, event organizer and owner of The York Emporium. “Usually it’s a huge day here.”

After Lewin was forced to cancel last year’s festival, he began planning the 2021 event in February.

Gus Tritsch, 14, of The Alley Cats based in Millheim, Centre County, performs during the 8th Annual Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival at The York Emporium in York City, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. The festival featured 14 bands, each using a homemade cigar box guitar. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Typically, 1,000 to 2,000 people attend the free event.

An array of vendors and food trucks will populate the closed-off street in front of The York Emporium, while 14 bands take turns playing on stages inside Lewin’s shop and in the parking lot.

This year, a few new bands will make appearances, including Philadelphia-based James Day & The Fish Fry and Alabama-native John Nickel.

The cigar box guitar is a traditional folk instrument that was first documented during the Civil War, Lewin said. 

It rose in popularity since and has roots in bluegrass and Appalachia music. 

The 8th Annual Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival at The York Emporium in York City, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. The festival would feature 14 bands, each using a home-made cigar box guitar. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“By the time Sunday comes, I’m exhausted — but it’s a good exhausted,” Lewin said. “It does get loud, but it’s a fun time.”

The night before the festival, on Friday, Aug. 27, a pizza and beer jam session will happen at Lewin’s shop. Admission is $10 but free for anybody who brings an instrument and can play on stage.

The event will start at 6 p.m. and music starts at 7 p.m.

Those unable to attend the Cigar Box Guitar Festival in person can tune in to a live broadcast available on the event’s Facebook page.

“This is bigger for us than Christmas,” Lewin said. “So we’re really looking forward to it.”

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.

266 participants attempt to break the Guiness World Record for the worlds largest cigar box guitar ensemble as they play, "Bad to the Bone," by George Thorogood, during Cigar Box Guitar Festival in York City, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo