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Dobrofest promises good for the bad

TRNAVA - What do master guitarists John Fogerty and Mark Knopffler have in common with this western Slovak city? Their love for the dobro, a resophonic guitar that will command center stage at the fifth annual Dobrofest, running from August 26 to September 1 in and around Trnava. Although the tradition of the late-summer festival is relatively new, the passion the original Slovak-made instrument inspires is real. Knopffler's old band, Dire Straits, put a dobro on the cover of their mid-1980s hit album, "Brothers In Arms." And Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival fame once called the instrument, "mysterious" and "soulful." "Sometimes it sounds like a barefoot boy going down the dirt road to the fishin' hole," he went on to say. "Other times it's that impossibly beautiful woman that you can never have. In the right hands, as you will hear, it just doesn't get any better."


Dobro maestro. August Bleščák brandishes his beloved guitar.
Eva Torn

TRNAVA - What do master guitarists John Fogerty and Mark Knopffler have in common with this western Slovak city? Their love for the dobro, a resophonic guitar that will command center stage at the fifth annual Dobrofest, running from August 26 to September 1 in and around Trnava.

Although the tradition of the late-summer festival is relatively new, the passion the original Slovak-made instrument inspires is real. Knopffler's old band, Dire Straits, put a dobro on the cover of their mid-1980s hit album, "Brothers In Arms." And Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival fame once called the instrument, "mysterious" and "soulful." "Sometimes it sounds like a barefoot boy going down the dirt road to the fishin' hole," he went on to say. "Other times it's that impossibly beautiful woman that you can never have. In the right hands, as you will hear, it just doesn't get any better."

Many of the hands that know best how to handle the dobro will assemble for the festival, which is a musical tribute to the instrument's inventor. John Dopyera was born in the town of Šaštín-Stráže, 45 kilometers northwest of Trnava, in 1893 and emigrated with his family in 1908 to California, where they established a furniture and musical instruments repair shop.

In 1925, some years before electric guitars were invented, Dopyera was asked to find a way to amplify a Hawaiian guitar. Dopyera conceived a design for a metal guitar with three resonators. When he and his brothers founded the DOpyera BROthers company, the dobro was born. Dopyera later developed a single resonator wooden guitar and in the 1930's use of the dobro spread to jazz, blues, country and bluegrass music.

The first dobro musician in Slovakia was August Bleščák, who began playing the instrument around 1970. It wasn't until later that he learned the dobro's inventor was a compatriot. In 1990, two years after Dopyera's death, Bleščák contacted John Dopyera Jr., who brought some pictures and instruments to Slovakia. This gave birth to Trnava's first Dobrofest in 1992.

Dobrofest '96 will feature the opening of the Dobro Hall of Fame, which according to the festival's executive director, Peter Radványi, will be the world's first museum of resophonic instruments. Among the first exhibits will be a three resonator guitar donated by Amistar Prague, the only resophonic guitar manufacturer in Europe, and a collection of correspondence between Rudy Dopyera and Grammy Award winning dobro player Tut Taylor.

Taylor will be on hand to accept the John Dopyera Award for his life's dobro work at the concert on August 30. He and other American dobro stars such as Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Sally Van Meter, and last year's John Dopyera Award winner, Bob Brozman, will treat audiences to some of their tunes.

The week's festivities will include blues, jazz, and rock dobro performances, and country bands from Slovakia and the Czech Republic will play in Trojičné Square each afternoon.

Energetic dobro fans can enjoy "tramping" sessions, where participants hike and play guitar by the campfire, or the 70 kilometer Dobro Bike Tour, which starts at 10:00 in Šaštín-Stráže, travels through Dolná Krupá, where the Dopyera family owned a mill, and ends in Trnava around 14:30.

Festival organizers have playfully capitalized on the instrument's name, which they say "means good in any language." Most creatively dubbed of the events is "Dobro pre zlo" or "Good for the bad" - a concert in Leopoldov prison. And not only does Dobrofest promise to sound good, but it will do some good. The profits from Brozman's August 29 benefit concert will go to a local orphanage.

Tickets to Dobrofest can be bought through Beata Tours at Trojičné námestie 10 in Trnava, tel./fax: 0805-24606.

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