URBANA — Steel guitar master Cindy Cashdollar looks forward to returning to Ellnora The Guitar Festival — for the fourth time.
The Austin, Texas-based star likes the festival and Urbana-Champaign, calling it a "beautiful area."
"It has a nice feel, to me," she said. "It's a very nice campus. And I just love this festival — it's the biggest music buffet you can attend."
For sure. The three-day event featuring guitarists of all genres and genre-busting genres starts Thursday evening at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts with the Opening Night Party, featuring five guitar-based acts.
As artist-in-residence, Cashdollar will play with Fiona Boyes, Kaki King, Dan Zanes, Luther Dickinson & the Wandering, and Kevin Breit's Sisters Euclid. She'll possibly play with others as well, so look for her in the house: She hopes to hear all of the guitarists and has no favorites beforehand.
"I think it's such a wonderful festival, with such an incredible variety of artists," she said. "It's very user-friendly, too, to get around Krannert and campus."
Fretboard Journal also called Ellnora "one of the world's most forward-thinking guitar festivals."
It's organized by Krannert Director Mike Ross and staff in collaboration with curator/artistic adviser David Spelman, a classically trained guitarist and the founder/artistic director of the New York Guitar Festival.
This year, they've gone a little local, having planned a Pre-Festival Local Heroes Night for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Krannert, featuring Timmy D and Blind Justice and other local acts. And at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Art Theater Co-op in downtown Champaign will screen Bob Zimmerman's "Out of Nowhere: The Champaign Music Scene," a documentary that looks back at the rock music scene here.
Ellnora will feature 22 concerts; admission is free to half of them. For the first night, Spelman, Ross and staff have lined up the following acts — all for the Opening Night Party admission of $5:
— The Fiona Boyes Trio, featuring Fiona Boyes, an Australian and so far the only non-American to win the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
"Boyes has wailing vocals that have earned her the seal of approval from blues giants like Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin and even the playful moniker 'Bonnie Raitt's evil twin,'" according to a Krannert news release.
— The French-born gypsy jazz guitarist Stephane Wremble, whose song "Big Brother" is on the soundtrack for Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." He also composed the theme for Allen's "Midnight In Paris."
— The Lee Boys, who are at the forefront of the "sacred steel" movement. They learned pedal-steel music at a Pentecostal Church in Perrine, Fla., where their pedal steel-playing grandfather, the Rev. Robert E. Lee, pastored.
— The Sam Bush/Del McCoury Duo, featuring Bush, a bluegrass legend, and McCoury, a new-grass mandolin phenom.
— Jonny Lang, who by age 17 received his first Grammy nomination and who subsequently toured with B.B. King, the Rolling Stones and Buddy Guy.
"Now a 30-something seasoned musician, Lang has howling vocals and rock-infused runs that are certain to bring Ellnora to a fever pitch when he takes Stage 6 at 9:45 p.m.," reads a Krannert release.
The festival will reboot Friday with Andrea Aase/Derek Gripper; Luther Dickinson & The Wandering; Del Castillo; J. Spaceman; The John Scofield Uberjam Band; Buddy Guy; Buke and Gase; and El Ten Eleven.
Ellnora will close Saturday, starting with Dan Zanes and Friends and a morning raga concert with Debashish Bhattacharya, moving on to Ana Vidovic/Jason Vieaux; Paco Pena; Dan Zanes performing live music for Buster Keaton's silent "Steamboat Bill Jr."; Don Ross/Kaki King; The Hendrix Electric Ladyland Project, featuring Sheryl Bailey and Vic Juris; Gyan Riley; Zappa Plays Zappa; and Lucinda Williams.
The last acts for the festival, late Saturday night, will be an evening raga with Bhattacharya; and Kevin Breit's Sisters Euclid.