Ben Prestage was nominated for the 2012 Blues Music Awards’ Instrumentalist of the Year honor in the “Other” category … and as festivalgoers will see and hear between main stage acts Saturday and Sunday, that “Other” could mean a number of things (it actually was for his way with the diddley bow, a single-stringed zither derived from a West African instrument).

Prestage’s one-man-band inclinations might be credited to his great-grandmother, a vaudeville musician who toured with Al Jolson and played medicine shows. Her daughter, Prestage’s mother, was a boogie-woogie pianist and painter. On the other side of the family tree, his grandfather, a Mississippi sharecropper, turned Prestage onto the sounds and culture of Mississippi and the blues in general.

Prestage grew up in rural Florida, on a 14-mile-long dirt road near the headwaters of the Everglades. It was panther, gator and cottonmouth country where there was only one kind of music in the house — whether it was being played on an instrument or on a recording, it was blues.

In my early teens, he was introduced to bluegrass music via the banjo, thanks to a neighbor who showed Prestage how to pick with his fingers instead of a plectrum. Later, while living in Memphis, Prestage became a busker on historic Beale Street, where he perfected his distinctive drum-kit.

"I played out there a few times with nothing but a guitar and my voice … I learned a lot from the guys I shared the street with, including John Lowe [inventor of the Lowebow, a type of diddley bow], Robert Belfour and Richard Johnston," he said.

Over the next few years, Prestage competed and placed in the International Blues Challenge. He is the only two-time recipient of the Lyon/Pitchford Award for Best Diddley-Bow Player. His interesting approach to instrumentation — finger-style guitar, harmonica, banjo, lap-steel, fiddle, resonator guitar, foot-drums, vocals — and his award-winning original songwriting have earned him invitations to perform across North America, Europe and as far as North Africa.