Sunday, December 28, 2008

Slovakia -- RIP Dobrofest (at least for now) and RIP Cowboy Beckham

So, football star David Beckham is no longer going to be the advertising face of Pepsi Cola....Over the past 10 years in the job, he reminisced:
"I’ve played a gladiator, a cowboy, a surfer, and worked alongside Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez as well as some of the biggest names in world football. "
The tears are flowing....but why mention it on this blog? Well, I thought I'd mark the solemn occasion by recalling how a Pepsi poster with Beckham in his cowboy persona formed part of the atmospheric decor of a Wild West saloon in the little Slovak town of Trnava...

The photo was taken during the annual Dobrofest festival there -- I guess I have to call it the late, lamented Dobrofest, because municipal authorities, who sponsored the festival, have decided there will be no Dobrofest this year, and who knows if it will be revived.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Real tears are flowing over the demise of Dobrofest.

It was a wonderful festival that honored the resonator (or resophonic) guitar, one of my favorite instruments (especially when it's played by Lubos Novotny, of the Czech band Druha Trava. He's a genius on it).

Lubos Novotny (and Peter Rowan) at Dobrofest in 2005. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The festival was founded in 1992, just when Slovakia was gaining independence through its "velvet divorce" from the Czech Republic. The country was, subconsciously perhaps, looking for national heroes, and John Dopyera, who invented the dobro, became one -- the archetypical local boy who made good, even though he left the country to do so.... Dopyera was born in the village of Dolna Krupa, near Trnava, in 1893 and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1908. They ended up in California.

States the Dobrofest web site:

The sound of the resophonic or resonator guitar dobro has already hadseven decades of contribution to popular music. Its first appearance on the music scene began in the mid-twenties of 20th century in the USA, where today it is regarded as an American folk instrument, and since those times its use expanded into the whole world. It was created during the times when the musicians who played guitars felt the need for a louder sound for their instruments yet the possibility of electrification was still in the cradle. Clever application of acoustic sound technology, by which the metal resonators work like natural mechanical amplifiers, expressively changed the sound of popular music and went into the history forever.

Although it is undoubtedly one of the most significant artistic-craftmanship-technical inventions by which Slovakia through its natives enriched the world´s musical culture, the fact that the inventor of resophonic dobro was Slovak native Ján/John Dopyera (1893-1988), was until lately practically unknown. In June 1989, however, one year after John Dopyera´s death, a newspaper article came out with the information that the inventor of the dobro was from Slovakia. It is very symbolic, that the first article appeared directly in Trnava (in the monthly Culture and Life of Trnava), the same town where a couple years later there arose the international music festival Dobrofest-Trnava dedicated to the inventor´s memory.

In this way Trnava succeeded in discovering this famous native for the whole of Slovakia and later, through the Dobrofest, gave that information to the world. We can say without exaggerating, that the end of the 20th century belonged to the dobro in the worldwide music scene as well as in Slovakia. The resophonic guitar came back again to the foreground, after decades of eclipse due to electrical amplification, on the fashion wave of return to acoustic music and became literally the symbol of so called unplugged music.

Year after year, Dobrofest brought top international musicians to Trnava, including the Americans Peter Rowan, Bob Brozman and Jerry Douglas.

The extraordinary Bob Brozman at Dobrofest 2005. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

And a Dobro Museum - the "Dobro Hall of Fame" -- was established as part of the local Museum of Western Slovakia.


Dobro Hall of Fame museum, Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

So, read this and weep....

1 comment:

Charlie Wallace said...

Will there be a DobroFest 2013?