Melissa Merli: More from Cindy Cashdollar

Melissa Merli: More from Cindy Cashdollar

When major steel-guitar talent Cindy Cashdollar led a workshop on Wednesday at Corson Music's Guitar Store in Urbana, she asked how many steel players were in attendance.

Just four or five people raised their hands. But most of the 30 or so people at the free event — Cashdollar jokingly called it a happy hour though there was no booze around — are guitar players.

One, a friend of mine, commented that it was a good group, asking smart questions of Cashdollar, who was the artist-in-residence at Ellnora The Guitar Festival, which ended Saturday night at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Cashdollar, who performed for nearly a decade with the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel as it racked up several Grammy awards, was gracious in answering each and every query.

Including mine, which caused people to laugh:

"I know Cashdollar is your real name and you get tired of being asked that, but were your ancestors money lenders or bankers or something?" (In old England, people's last names reflected their occupations; that's where I was coming from.)

She laughed and said her immediate family members were dairy farmers — she called her father a milkman — in Woodstock, N.Y. She didn't think there were bankers or others of that ilk among her ancestors.

In Woodstock, the venue of perhaps the most famous concert on Earth, Cashdollar grew up among neighbors like Bob Dylan, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Van Morrison. She began jamming with some of them at a young age.

Cashdollar also heard many mighty blues musicians at the Joyous Lake Club in Woodstock,

"It was the best education I could have," she said.

She took up guitar when she was 11, the same age she saw her first live show, featuring Van Morrison. Later she toured with him. Remarkably, he remembered that show she had taken in as a kid.

Cashdollar has toured with many other major artists, among them Rod Stewart and Leon Redbone. The bigger the name, the more structured is her playing in concert, she told the folks at Corson.

She calls herself a freelancer who prefers variety and playing with many different musicians, among them Redd Volkaert, who once backed Merle Haggard and won a 2009 Grammy for best country instrumental performance.

And she said she's been happy to be a "sideman" these many years rather than lead her own band.

It's less stress.

The guitarist, known for her tone and textures on a variety of steel guitars — she does not play pedal steel guitar — has lived the past 21 years in Austin, Texas.

There she plays every week at The Saxon Pub. She said she hears many amazing musicians there, among them people who backed legends like Haggard and Johnny Cash.

"It's usually happy-hour stuff," she told me a few weeks ago, during a telephone interview. "For a while you could go see Junior Brown every Sunday night."

In the Urbana music shop, Cashdollar talked a lot of music theory, saying there is no one perfect tuning. She uses a variety depending on the setting and her instrument.

She and Dyke Corson, a guitarist who owns the shop, also played a few songs together, among them "Miss Molly" and "Foggy Mountain Rock." Cashdollar displayed fine dynamics in her playing.

Pro forma, the artist did mention her first solo album, "Slide Show," released in 2004. She said she didn't bring copies because there was no room in her luggage.

"Slide Show" features guest artists, among them Volkaert, Johnny Nicholas and Sonny Landreth.

She told me a few weeks ago she started writing and arranging a new batch of songs for her second CD, which also will feature guest guitarists.

"I'm in the process of just going through songs, figuring out what I want," she said. "I already have a list of people in my head that I think will work quite well.

"I think it's really fun to have guests on the CD. It makes it much more fun, like a potluck dinner. I'm just trying to figure out which songs will work with which guest artists."

I asked her whether she's appeared in any movies, as Austin has a big movie as well as music scene. She said no. But she said she appeared as herself in a scene with musician Ryan Adams in Judd Apatow's "This is 40," released last year.

"We played music for it, in a bar scene in the last scene of the movie," she said. "Nobody's come up to me and said, 'You have the face we want in this movie,' or 'We want a steel guitar in this movie.'"

She does have a face for movies, though. And I can see why David Spelman, guest curator for Ellnora, and the Krannert staff want to bring Cashdollar back for the biennial festivals.

She's not on a star trip. She's a musician's musician. Krannert director Mike Ross told me on Thursday, during sound checks for Ellnora, that Cashdollar is a beautiful musician and human being, with generosity of spirit.

The 2013 Ellnora marked her fourth appearance at the festival, which she called "the best music buffet you'll ever attend."

I wrote this column on deadline, before the festival's opening night, so I'll be back to report on it, as well as other matters, again next week.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

Topics (2):Music, People