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Fifty Years of Riffs

For MTBritish punk band Gold Blade will play at the open-air Miller Fender Fest on Bolotnaya Ploshchad.
The Fender Stratocaster -- the guitar of choice for all self-respecting rock stars -- celebrates its half-century this year. And to mark the anniversary, over 20 bands from Britain and St. Petersburg will take the stage in the Miller Fender Fest, a large open-air event on Saturday.

The free event on Bolotnaya Ploshchad is one of an international series of concerts held to mark the guitar's 50th birthday, and will showcase four British bands -- King Adora, Mystery Juice, Gold Blade, and Kaiser Chiefs -- as well as top Russian acts on a total of five stages.

The legendary electric guitar was designed by American inventor Leo Fender in 1954. He was later quoted as saying that it was his attempt to "design the best instrument in the world, once and for all." Since then it has been played by musicians including Eric Clapton, Buddy Holly, Hank Marvin and Bob Dylan.

For John Robb, singer and guitarist of Manchester punk band Gold Blade, who will perform on the main stage, the instrument is associated with one star. "I think of Jimi Hendrix and it makes me feel really good," he wrote in an e-mail last week. "He was the genius who made the Fender Strat great." Robb chooses a Telecaster himself, but the band uses Strats on some of their songs.

Meanwhile, another participant, Sergei Voronov of Moscow-based blues-rock band Crossroadz, strums a guitar once owned by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. While on tour in New York in 1988, a session drummer introduced Voronov to Richards, according to Crossroadz's official biography. The rhythm guitarist invited him to join him in the studio, and then gave him the 1959 instrument.

While celebrating the famous instrument, the festival does not lay down a hard-and-fast rule about playing only Fender Stratocasters, and the music will not focus on the classic rock that is primarily associated with the Strat, instead ranging from ska to psychobilly and electronic.

The British participants bring their own highly distinctive sounds. Mystery Juice, from Edinburgh, plays a psychedelic mixture of blues, hip-hop and Gaelic fiddle, while Birmingham's King Adora performs updated glam rock, complete with the dramatic makeup. The indie-rock band Kaiser Chiefs, from Leeds, has drawn comparisons with Britain's recent music sensation Franz Ferdinand.

The Russian bands, most of whom hail from St. Petersburg, are even more diverse in style. Markscheider Kunst performs Afro-Cuban style with Russian lyrics, while Billy's Band took its original inspiration from Tom Waits, but has adapted his cabaret rock for domestic consumption. Deadushki combines electronica and punk, and Moscow-based Deti Picasso blends rock with Armenian folk.

"The main idea was to represent different acts that use a guitar one way or another," the festival's co-promoter Dmitry Sidorov said last week. "That may be music of different styles, including those using electronic and ethnic elements."

The Miller Fender Fest starts on Saturday at 1 p.m. on Bolotnaya Ploshchad. Metro Tretyakovskaya. Info at www.millertime.ru

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