Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bluegrass -- EWOB coming up

I've received in the (physical) mail the special magazine put out with details of the upcoming European World of Bluegrass, to be held in Voorthuizen, NL May 21-23.

Except for the advertising of bands, instrument makers, festivals and other whatnot found in the magazine pages (as well as some of the other bits and pieces of detail) most of the information -- and more -- is up online at the EWOB web site.

It's a huge program and the central point of European observance of May as worldwide bluegrass month. Dozens of bands are on the lineup.

Visit EWOB logoEurope's premier bluegrass event, the European World of Bluegrass Festival in the Netherlands. The EWOB Festival is an unforgettable experience for musicians and audience alike! For 3 fun-filled days, you'll see Europe's most exciting bluegrass groups compete for the European Bluegrass Band Awards, performing alongside the finest touring American artists. The #1 European Bluegrass Band wins a chance to perform in Nashville, Tennessee!

We come from many different countries, but we speak one common language: BLUEGRASS! Geographic, political, and cultural borders fall away as we join together to celebrate our love for bluegrass music, and meet new friends from faraway lands. Maybe world peace can start with a banjo intro.

Bring your friends, your family, your guitars, banjos, mandolins, dobros, basses, and fiddles, and join in the fun! See you in May at EWOB 2009!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Charlie McCoy to Be Inducted In Country Music Hall of Fame

Charlie McCoy, the Grammy-winning, virtuoso harmonica player who has played with country and bluegrass bands all over Europe and released albums in France, Denmark, Germany and the Czech Republic, will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame May 17, along with Barbara Mandrell and Roy Clark.

The announcement of the honor was announced a couple months ago, but you can click HERE to see a recent article in The Ft. Myers Weekly, of Ft. Myers, Florida, where McCoy lives part time.

As McCoy's web site puts it:
Charlie is known all over the world. He performs every year in Europe and Asia, most frequently France, Japan, and Denmark. His European backup band is made up of Europe's finest musicians and is second to none.

This summer, he will be playing in the Czech Republic, France, Japan and Sweden.

He has recorded with my friends the French country duo Steve & Heather, and also with Druha Trava, the great "Czechgrass" group, with which he has frequently toured in CZ -- the album was a live recording of a concert in Brno. I met him, in fact, during one of his tours with DT, back in 2005.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Italian Cowboys

I had hoped to be able to report today on the Rodeo held this weekend at the Cowboyland-Cowboys' Guest Ranch, a Wild West theme park in northern Italy, outside the town of Voghera.

Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to the weekend extravaganza due to other commitments (and also the fact that I did not feel like driving for four hours in bad weather).

I am eager to visit the Ranch, though, and am hoping to set up a visit in advance so that I meet with the management and get a feel for the place -- I have already spent time at Wild West theme parks in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. They all are very similar -- but quite different at the same time. And in Italy, I wonder, will there be any mention at all of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand -- the western heroes created by the German writer Karl May that are universally known in Germany and other central European countries?

There are several other Rodeos scheduled for this summer and fall at Cowboyland, plus other events.

For Italian readers, here's what the park's homepage has to say:

Welcome to Cowboyland, l’unico parco a tema western in Italia. Siete pronti per scoprire il vecchio selvaggio west ?
Cowboyland è un luogo ideale per la famiglia dove trascorrere un intero giorno tra le divertenti attività dedicate soprattutto ai più piccoli.

Cowboys e Indiani saranno in vostra compagnia per una serena gita all’aria aperta a contatto con la natura.Una straordinaria occasione per conoscere da vicino anche molti animali che popolano le praterie e i ranch degli Stati Uniti d’America.

Il parco si sviluppa su un’area di 30.000 mq., ma orientarsi non è mai un problema. Strutturato in modo semplice per agevolare i piccoli ospiti, comprende una sola strada principale di collegamento fra tutte le attrazioni e costruzioni realizzate con materiali naturali. Numerose le zone picnic dove poter consumare uno spuntino o più semplicemente riposarsi all’ombra.
“Cowboyland” ha studiato e sviluppato una serie di attrazioni nel più caratteristico “stile western” pensando al divertimento dei bambini senza, ovviamente, trascurare tutta la sicurezza necessaria.

Molti dei bambini che ospitiamo non hanno mai visto una mucca, un asinello o un tacchino ! A “Cowboyland” potranno finalmente vedere da vicino moltissimi animali, comprese diverse specie che vivono oltre oceano e contemporaneamente imparare come e dove vivono. Inoltre, assistiti dallo staff e con l’aiuto di una serie di cartelli descrittivi, scopriranno vita e tradizioni degli indiani ed i cowboys unitamente alle leggende del vecchio, selvaggio west.

Tutti in sella…inizia l’avventura !

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Prague -- More Druha Trava Obama

NPR (National Public Radio) on Sunday ran a really nice piece on Druha Trava performing ahead of President Obama's speech in Prague -- but the correspondent, Don Gonyea, for some reason never identified the band by name. He played a lot from their performance, comparing their version of Bob Dylan songs (from the CD Dylanovky) with Bob Dylan originals.

Most of the comments on the web site (including my own) point out the oversight.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chet Flippo Weighs in on the Country Music Debate

Veteran country music writer/commentator Chet Flippo weighs in with a thoughtful column about the status and direction of country music, and its market, marketing and fans.

He writes about the United States, but much of what he says can be translated to the country music community in Europe -- but here, we must add one more category: homegrown, local language artists. They either find a broader audience (like the veteran German group Truckstop, which turned to singing in German 30 years ago after trying to find a market singing in English) or get dissed by diehard fans who feel the only "real" country is sung in English (preferably by native speakers).....

Time for Hand-Wringing? Or Time to Cowboy Up?
Nashville Skyline
Nashville Skyline
(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

We're inexorably moving toward two separate and perhaps not equal country music societies. And I don't mean traditionalists vs. modernists or Americana vs. mainstream country radio. I mean a total, radical, separatist split.

In this scenario, one segment will be comprised of people who know at least something about country music and listen to it for the qualities that have always appealed to them about the music. That group includes the George Jones and Strait

Those Twitter-ish fans have long been endemic to pop audiences. But they're relatively new in their guise as country fans. It's not a majority, by any means. But it's growing.

Under their aegis, country music becomes totally a popularity contest. And not a lasting popularity contest, at that. One with a butterfly's lifespan.

Guess which audience segment will have the most commercial impact. And that, after all, is the impact that will determine the future of the music.
trad fans as well as NASCAR dudes and chicks and the it's-five-o'clock-somewhere beer-and-margarita crowd. That whole divide itself used to be a serious split between the trads and the others. Now they're all united together against the New Others. The other faction is the adolescent-mentally-if-not-also-physically Twitter-ADHD-short-attention-span fan who flits from one short-lived attractive new act to the next. Whether it's labeled "country" or not labeled at all.

Read Full Article

My bluegrass in Europe article on the NYTimes web site

The Czech bluegrass band Cwrkot at the Banjo Jamboree, Caslav, CZ, 2007. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

My article on Bluegrass in Europe appeared today in the International Herald Tribune and -- thanks to the Trib's new web site merger with the New York Times -- on the NYTimes web site.

The original peg for the story was going to be the European Bluegrass Summit I attended in Buehl, Germany two months ago -- but things cropped up in between, and the story ends up being more a preview of events in Europe for Worldwide Bluegrass Music Month in May. I also delayed long enough to be able to add a line about Druha Trava playing ahead of the Obama speech in Prague April 5...

Bluegrass Thrives, Far from Home

Published: April 9, 2009

PRAGUE — A recent concert in Prague demonstrated the far-flung reach of an infectious musical genre that spells “Americana” from the first ringing twang of a finger-picked string.

It was a concert of bluegrass music — but the event was a far cry from the high lonesome hills of Appalachia.

Lilly of the West, a bluegrass band from Bulgaria, was joined by Czech musicians for a performance hosted by the Bulgarian Culture Institute at its premises in the heart of the capital.

“The music is very sincere, it’s about the lyrics, about the songs; every song tells a story,” said Lilly Drumeva, the singer who founded the band more than a dozen years ago. She had first heard bluegrass in Vienna, she said, when she studied there in the early 1990s.

Famed for its close harmony singing and lightning-fast fingerwork on the banjo, mandolin and fiddle, bluegrass music has an international following among a passionate niche of devotees.

In Europe, dozens of bluegrass concerts, festivals, workshops and jam sessions take place throughout the year. Homegrown bands take center stage, but American musicians also often tour. And local bluegrass associations, Web sites, blogs and publications promote the music and chronicle events. Scotland, the Czech Republic, Norway and other locations have even had bluegrass programs in public schools.

The scene is small but intensely active, said Dennis Schut, a Dutch musician who has been involved in bluegrass since the 1970s.

“I see it as a sort of religion or something,” he said. “You get addicted to bluegrass. The first time you hear it, you’re hooked.”

Read Full Article

Thursday, April 9, 2009

India -- A Cowboy Movie in Tamil!

Here's what an Indian online publication,, calls a first look at a cowboy film being shot in the Tamil language. It's the third film for a young director named Chimbudevan, and his first western. The article gives information on the actors and crew, but not on the story itself. But the picture published along with the article bodes, well, weirdly eclectic....

The last cowboy film in Tamil was made 36 years ago -- Jai shankar's black and white film titled Ganga.

The story of Irumbukkottai Murattu Singam takes place in the 18th century. Filming will start in Kerala [Images] where a gigantic village set has been built by art director Muthuraj. After that, shooting will move to Thenkasi, Thada, and Madhya Pradesh [Images].

Ragavara Lawrence is the hero while Padmapriya [Images] , Lakshmi Rai and Sandya are the female leads. Sai Kumar is the villain while Nazzer has a major role.

Wielding the camera is one of Kerala's famous cameramen, Azhagappan. Music is by G V Prakash.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Prague -- YouTube of Druha Trava playing for Obama

Here's a youtube video of the "Czechgrass" group Robert Krestan and Druha Trava playing in Prague on Sunday to 30,000 people gathered to hear Barack Obama at Prague Castle.

The song in this video is one of Robert's songs that I have translated into English, for a planned English-language CD:


Now that we're saying good-bye
Now that we're saying good-bye
I'll give back your stories, and you'll return me mine
Now that we're saying good-bye

Before, dear, we both go to sleep
Before, dear, we both go to sleep
I'll give back your smile to you, it's yours for you to keep
Before, dear, we both go to sleep

You say you don't want nothing, you've got nothing, you don't know
Is it my head you're after, oh my darling Salome?
Or my soul you're searching, oh my dearest Lady M?
To take away…

Now that we're saying good-bye
Now that we're saying good-bye
I'll give back your stories, and you'll return me mine
Now that we're saying good-bye, dear

The truth she is a dancing girl, from the Moulin Rouge
And I don't want to die again, I just want to help you
There are many things I know, that never have an end,
Don't conclude….

Now that we're saying good-bye
Now that we're saying good-bye
Now that we're saying good-bye
Now that we're saying good-bye

Friday, April 3, 2009

Prague -- Druha Trava to play for Obama

Robert Krestan, Tony Trischka, Lubos Malina, Aug. 2008. Photo (C) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I'm thrilled to learn that my favorite band, Druha Trava are going to play in Prague Sunday ahead of President Obama's big foreign policy speech at the Prague Castle -- and I wish I could be there!

DT is billed as a bluegrass band, but in fact goes far beyond that, mixing bluegrass, blues, rock and other influences into what is sometimes called "Czechgrass." I have worked with the group's singer/songwriter, Robert Krestan, to translate 10 of his songs into English, for a hoped-for English language CD -- except for last year, DT has toured the US every year since about 1994 and has developed a following in the United States.

This is what I wrote about the group in the New York Times in 2005:

Robert Krestan, singer, songwriter and frontman for the Czech bluegrass group Druha Trava, is a brooding stage presence. A solid figure with shadowed eyes and a wild shock of long gray hair, he dwarfs the mandolin he cradles against his chest, singing with a gritty passion that a fan at a recent concert explained was a ''real Czech growl.''

Druha Trava means ''Second Grass.'' It is at the forefront of the flourishing Czech bluegrass scene, but as its name implies, it reaches far beyond the classic bluegrass genre for inspiration.

Formed in 1991 by Mr. Krestan, the banjo player Lubos Malina and other veterans of the acoustic music scene that had long thrived in Czechoslovakia, Druha Trava can delight hard-core fans with scorching versions of bluegrass standards.

For the most part, however, it uses American roots music as a launching pad for its own synthesis of jazz, pop, folk and even classical motifs. In doing so it transforms a quintessential American idiom into a richly textured, highly personal statement that defies genre classification.

Call it Central European bluegrass rock, perhaps, or Czechgrass.

Over the years the distinctive sound and the band's virtuoso musicianship have won Druha Trava multiple Czech music awards, as well as a loyal following at home and in the United States, where the group tours at least once a year. Its next American tour begins Sept. 20.

''We grew up on simple music, bluegrass music, simple old country music, acoustic country music,'' Mr. Krestan said between concerts during the group's current summer tour through the Czech Republic and other countries. ''It was the music of our youth, of our heart.''

But with sensibilities also honed by rock 'n' roll, world music, their own Czech heritage and other influences, he said, ''bluegrass music wasn't enough for us.''

The band couldn't ''squash'' everything they wanted to convey into the tight format of traditional bluegrass, he said. Instead, they chose to use bluegrass instruments to play whatever sort of music fitted their taste.

Mr. Krestan's raw vocals and original songs are an important part of the mix.

Though he often sings cover songs in the original English, he is best known among Czech fans for his own elliptical, at times provocative, lyrics, which are somewhat reminiscent of early Bob Dylan. '
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Last summer, I posted about following DT's Czech tour with the US banjo great Tony Trischka, and I also posted pictures.

I've written extensively about the Czech bluegrass scene, on this blog and elsewhere.