Saturday, August 16, 2008

European Bluegrass Festival

At the end of July, the weekend after the Country Rendez-vous in Craponne, I took in the first couple days of the European Bluegrass Music Festival and contest, held for the third time in the Alps at La Roche sur Foron, France, between Geneva and Mont Blanc.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to stay for the entire event, which ran July 30-August 3. One of the biggest bluegrass festivals in Europe, it featured 30 European bands and drew some 8,000-10,000 people. All concerts were free. The headline act was 3 Fox Drive from the United States, which had also performed in Craponne.

The festival was organized by the chairman of the French Bluegrass Music Association Christopher Howard-Williams, an English businessman who lives in La Roche, and sponsored by the town's mayor and tourist board.

Artists came from the Czech Republic, Britain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Russia and Sweden.

Winners this year -- judged on a long list of criteria including stage presence, repertoire, and use of bluegrass instruments -- were:

1. Monogram (Czech Republic), 2. Toy Hearts (Britain) 3. (Shared) G-Runs & Roses and Wyrton (both Czech)

It is not surprising that the Czechs did so well -- there is a long history of bluegrass in the Czech Republic, going back to the 1960s. From what I saw, the Czech groups that took part were mostly made up of younger musicians. This means that they grew up in the music; they did not discover it or start to learn it or listen to it as adults. They feel at home in the music, and it shows. Lee Bidgood has explored a lot of this in the thoughtful blog he was keeping while in the Czech Republic doing research on Czech bluegrass over the past year.

My good friend and bluegrass chronicler Lilly Pavlak, who is based in Switzerland but was born in CZ, will be posting a long report on the Festival on the European Bluegrass Blog.

Meanwhile here are a couple of links to some (fuzzy) video I have posted on youtube.

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