Saturday, July 26, 2008

Country Rendez-vous Festival, Craponne, France

I'm at the annual Country Rendez-vous country music festival in Craponne, France this weekend. Got here Thursday, driving up from Italy, arriving just in time to attend the opening reception at a government building in Le Puy, the nearest big town to Craponne. Le Puy is a spectacular medieval (and older) town, a historical place of pilgrimage and mysticism, built in an area of extinct volcanoes. An ancient cathedral tops a steel hill at the center of town, with a spectacular church on another nearly vertical neck of rock, and a huge statue of the Madonna and Child on another.

I was at the festival for the first time last year, and ended up writing a piece on it -- and country music in France in General -- in the International Herald Tribune.

I'm staying with the artists in Le Puy -- a tad inconvenient, as it is a 45-minute drive to the festival venue in Craponne, which means if you go out there, you can't just run back.

The headline act of the first night of the festival (last night) was Austin-based Asleep at the Wheel, the legendary western sweing band led by Ray Benson, who (like me) hails from suburban Philadelphia and whom I've know since we were teenagers.

I chose to go up to the festival on the bus with the band, so I missed the first couple of acts, but I did see the extraordinary progressive bluegrass/roots band Cadillac Sky, which I loved.

They played just ahead of ASTW - who went on well after midnight, playing a mix of their old hits (Take Me Back to Tulsa, Miles and Miles of Texas, etc) songs from their musical play about Bob Wills, A Ride with Bob, and other pieces - Ray did a terrific version of Townes Van Zandt's classic Pancho and Lefty. (I think my favorite song I've heard Ray perform is another Van Zandt song, If I Needed You.)

The crowd was not as huge as it could have been, as it had rained heavily during the evening. But the band got at least part of them up and rocking.

I got to bed at 4 a.m....

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My New Column -- Rootless Cosmopolitanism

Here's a link to the first of a regular column for JTA -- it deals with the virtually Jewish world and the imaginary wild west.


By Ruth Ellen Gruber

NASHVILLE (JTA)—An international conference on country music may seem an unlikely place to find someone like me. For nearly two decades, I’ve been known for my writing on Jewish issues. But here I was recently in Music City USA taking part in a gathering of academics and other experts, presenting a paper called “Sturm, Twang and Sauerkraut Cowboys: Country Music and Wild Western Spaces in Europe.”