Sunday, May 4, 2014

More evidence of growing Italian country scene

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Here's more evidence that Italy's country western scene is developing.

The Italy blog Italy Chronicles runs a post about an Italian country singer named Fabrizio Pollastrelli who goes by the stage name Paul Aster and plays with a band called "The Fellows." His web site says they play "southern rock 'n' country music."

Aster hails from northern Italy and is currently based on Fano, in Le Marche on the coast.

Here he sings -- like so many other European country artists -- Country Roads....

Italy has a few wellknown, veteran bluegrass groups -- like Red Wine and Bluegrass Stuff -- but until fairly recently it has not had much of a "mainstream" country music scene.

As I've posted in the past , this seems to be changing. There is a slowly growing country-western-music-etc scene that includes country music and other general western festivals as well as a surging line-dance scene.

This is on top of fairly well-established western scene linked to horses and horse-riding, and the Cowboy Action Shooting scene, which has clubs in many parts of the country.

The biggest western event has long been the FieraCavalli -- horse fair -- in Verona.

Here's a video from the FieraCavalli 2009 -- masters of line dancing.

I can't forget that the first European country singer I met when I first started exploring the "imaginary wild west" was an Italian, "George McAnthony," from the South Tyrol/Alto Adige region. I saw him perform a couple of times and did a lengthy interview with him -- he was a nice guy and he and his story helped trigger my interest in the imaginary wild west phenomenon..Sadly, George died three years ago, aged only 45.

Still, just nine or 10 years ago I attended a  well-attended "Western Games" festival near Rome -- and there was no line-dancing, and the country band they had playing drew an audience of zero.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Buffalo Bill in Milano

"Wild West" toys for sale in Italy. I think that's Buffalo Bill on the bottom label. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Buffalo Bill toured his Wild West show all over Europe. These tours comprised one of three phenomena around 1900 that came together and helped solidify and spread the Imaginary Wild West in Europe -- the other two were Karl May's books and the birth of the movies.

You can now find a lot of material related to Bill's European Wild West tours online.

Check out this link -- to the full program of his show in Milan, Italy in 1906 

It's from the Buffalo Bill Online Archive of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The tour opened in Genoa on March 14th, and closed in Udine on May 11th. The show  performed in Milan April 30th to May 5th.

The full tour route in Italy was:  Genoa, La Spezia, Livorno, Roma, Terni, Perugia, Arezzo, Firenze, Pisa, Parma, Modena, Bologna, Forli', Ancona, Rimini, Ravenna, Ferrara, Padova, Verona, Mantova, Cremona, Piacenza,Pavia, Alessandria, Torino, Asti, Novara, Como, Milano, Bergamo, Brescia, Vicenza, Treviso, and Udine.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tony Trischka's new CD -- A Great Big World

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The American banjo great Tony Trischka has come out with a gorgeous new CD, "A Great Big World." You can hear a preview of one track by clicking the link on the photo above.

The CD showcases Tony't thrilling virtuosity -- and includes guests such as Andy Statman,  Russ Barenberg,  Tristan Clarridge, Mike Barnett and others on a variety of songs -- including one of my favorites, Woody Guthrie's "Do-Re-Mi." All the tracks are winners -- but the one that really hit me was the oddly titled "Purple Trees of Colorado."Amazing.

Writes Bela Fleck in the Liner Notes -- which can be accessed online:

"Everyone loves to play with Tony, because of his strong musical gifts and conception, and because he's one of the coolest dudes to hang around with and be yourself. Not everyone who asks you to play on their record actually wants that, but he does."

Though I've seen him in the U.S., I know Tony from here in Europe -- where he plays often, and where he has had considerable influence. This has been particularly so in the Czech Republic, where his progressive bluegrass style was a powerful inspiration to (among others) the musicians who went on to found the group Druha Trava.

In the 1980s, DT's singer-songwriter Robert Krestan and banjoist Lubos Malina were members of the pioneering Czech progressive bluegrass group Poutnici. (They left Poutnici and formed DT in 1991.) Robert at that time also played banjo. Tony was one of their heroes.

As I noted in an earlier post, Tony first toured the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) in 1988, before the fall of communism, and he also returned in 1989, also before the Wall came down. During those stays, he performed as a guest on an LP by Poutnici, called "Wayfaring Stranger." In the liner notes, he describes Poutnici in much the same terms I have used to describe Druha Trava. "They … have a unique sound," he said. "Czechgrass instead of Kentucky bluegrass. In other words, they've made it their own, which is wonderful."

I've now caught Tony on tour with DT on several occasions -- first in 2008, and the latest time this past summer, where Tony tried out his new banjo -- a banjo made by the accomplished Czech banjo-maker Zdenek Roh.  (Zdenek is featured in the new documentary about Czech bluegrass, Banjo Romantika.)

Tony Trischka with his new banjo, made by Zdenek Roh. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

In addition to his Czech tours, Tony also plays elsewhere in Europe -- he teaches at a summer bluegrass workshop near Urbino, Italy, and this fall will be teaching at a "banjo camp" workshop in Germany.

Monday, January 13, 2014

More imaginary wild west in Italy! Video of Colosseum Country festival!

Here's a video report on the Colosseum Country Festival that took place near Rome back in October. Mostly line-dancing, and lots of tropes....

I posted about this festival and other events in the slowly growing Italian wild west & country scene back in August. It's gettin' there, I guess.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Off geographic topic: upcoming Country Music Festival in Borneo (and a mention of Tamworth)

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I know it's not Europe, but I just have to post about the Miri Country Music Festival coming up next month...on Borneo! This certainly testifies to the worldwide appeal of twang!

The festival -- reportedly the first ever country music festival in the region -- takes place Feb. 15 at the Park City Everly Hotel in Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia. (Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states on Borneo.)

According to the lineup includes the Malaysian band D'Renegades, the Johnny Rodgers Band (Nashville), The Corn Cake Kings (Kuala Lumpur), Eia and the Superband (Brunei), and two bands from Singapore – Wandering Mustangs as well as Mel and Joe. The program will also include games and competitions for adults and children, pony rides, line-dances and drum workshops and food stalls.
D’Renegades has been around since 1980 and it was formed by accomplished United Kingdom pianist Asif Pishori and Malaysian singer cum songwriter Ady Wow.
The duo who now resides in Kota Kinabalu had been performing at various shows and concerts.
For this coming festival, Ady and Asif had teamed up with three other equally talented musicians.
They are Ozone, Kichi and Zul and together they will get the festival goers dancing to their country rock pop tunes.

The Borneo Post online reports that another Malaysian band, Hi Breed, will also perform.

Festival-goers will enjoy bluegrass, folk and contemporary country music with an impressive mix of tempos for both the young and old.
Tickets are available at; Utopia in Kuching; Parkcity Everly Hotel and Planet Borneo Travel and Tour Services in Miri; as well as El Centro in Kota Kinabalu.

The festival is organized by UCSI Communications Sdn Bhd, a professional conference organizer, and is endorsed by the Miri City Council and supported by Parkcity Everly Hotel, Planet Borneo Travel and Tours Services, as well as Curtin University Sarawak.

I also have to note that the vast and venerable Tamworth Country Music Festival in Australia starts in a few days.

The 42nd edition of this huge event (held in Tamworth, New South Wales) runs this year from Jan. 17-26. Considered to be the world's biggest country music fest it is a showcase and celebration of a thoroughly local scene that draws 50,000 fans or more, with more than 600 performers and 2,500 events staged during the course of the festival -- a rodeo, line-dancing, the annual Australian country music awards and more.

The line-up this year includes  some international artists including Quinn Keister of Canada, Monte Goode from the USA, Australian/Austrian group John Deer Band and Alessandro Nicoletta from Italy, but it's mainly many many local acts.

Check out the web site or the Facebook page for information about the line-up, events and more

See my previous posts about Tamworth

Versace goes cowboy (sort of....)

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Italy's Versace fashion house has gone cowboy (sort of) for its Men's Fall/Winter 2014-2015 collection that was shown yesterday in Milan.

Click here to see a video of the entire 10-minute show

The collection features narrow suit jackets sprinkled with rhinestone cactus, horseshoe and sheriff's star designs, and with shoulders broadened and enhanced by what looks like leather. Some of the models wore necklaces with big shiny stars -- I guess they were sheriff's stars, but they look like enormous Stars of David.

And then there are skin-tight tank tops -- and underpants -- in classic bandana-style prints. And oh, boy, the butt-baring chaps!

Actually, I likes some of the clothes -- especially the jackets with the leather shoulders, and some of the long, frock-coat length jackets.

But the rhinestone devices are pretty much a cliche -- I imagine they were supposed to be ironic comments, harking back to Nudie et al, but I don't think they were ironic enough, at least not on the bodies of the Ken-doll-like models who rather reminded me of Star Trek the Next Generation's android Data, but without as much personality.

Associated Press correspondent Jennifer Clark, however, called the collection "outrageously fun, even by Versace standards" and mostly "a camp celebration of manhood in many forms."

"Our cowboy is macho, he's a biker ... he doesn't have a horse," designer Donatella Versace said backstage after the show.
Donatella's cowboys wear their boots with sharp, tight suits decorated with rhinestone horseshoes and cactus plants on both front and back. These cowhands head out on the town wearing red leather chaps over their jeans, or sometimes just over their bandanna-print underwear. Cheeky indeed!
Read full article

Hmm. Well. I think I'll stick with Nudie.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Italian country (sort of). Max Pezzali "i cowboy non mollano"

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Released Jan. 10, the latest single -- and video -- of the Italian popstar Max Pezzali is a country-style song, with the video filmed at an Italian wild west theme park, the Cowboys' Guest Ranch in Voghera.

The song is a single off his album Max 20, one of the top 10 selling albums in Italy in 2013.

Pezzali is not a country singer, and as far as I know none of his other songs approach the country music genre or use wild west props in the videos.

According to a quote carried on his web site,  the new song reflects the fact that "in these difficult times, the world seems like a gigantic Far West without certainties or points of reference: charlatans, hucksters, and thugs of all types rage in the boundless prairies of the third millennium. Luckily there still exists a silent majority of people who tend to the facts, concreteness and hard work, getting up every morning without ever giving up. Because cowboys don't let go."