The Dobro is a curious-looking beast: an acoustic guitar with a large, mechanically resonated speaker cone in its belly, which gives the instrument a loud, metallic resonance. For Doug Cox, it was love at first sight-and sound-when he heard Dobro master Jerry Douglas play it, lap-style, at a concert back in the late '80s.
"I was lucky enough to find a Dobro the next day, and bought it," says Cox, on the line from his home in Cumberland, on Vancouver Island. "After that, I went crazy on lap-style playing and went to numerous guitar camps to learn from great players like Bob Brozman and Orville Johnson. I carried on from there. At one point I was practising five hours a day."
The Dobro was created in the era before amplified music, as part of the search for a guitar that would not be drowned out by the trumpets, saxophones, and banjos that dominated the band scene in the 1920s. "It was invented in 1927 by John and Rudy Dopyera, Slovakian immigrants who had already patented several improvements for banjos," Cox explains. "The Dobro went on to develop in several styles of music-blues, bluegrass, Hawaiian, and swing."
Cox, who is the artistic director of the well-regarded Vancouver Island Music Fest, has become one of the instrument's leading players. He was the first Canadian to perform at Dobrofest, a weeklong celebration in the Dopyeras's homeland and one of that country's largest musical events. And Cox was recently at the Sore Fingers guitar camp in England, where he taught lap-style techniques for the Dobro and his other main instrument, the Weissenborn guitar, which is used in Hawaiian music.
When Cox comes to Jericho Park this weekend, he won't be doing any solo performances. Instead, he'll participate in three of the folk fest's Collaboratory sessions-hourlong daytime presentations by artists who, in most cases, have previously never met. He'll be involved in Afternoon Delight on Saturday (July 16) at Stage 5, Will the Circle Be Unbroken on Saturday at Stage 6, and The Notes Between the Notes on Sunday (July 17) at Stage 6.
"We're all coming to town on the Monday to rehearse all week in various collaborations," Cox explains. "I'm really looking forward to it-it's like the chance to go to music school and play at a great festival at the same time. I'm going to be really busy, but that's what I like to do at festivals."