Sturm, Twang and the Imaginary Wild West in Europe
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Poland -- Silesia Folk and Country Festival under way
Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
I got in to Ustron, in the way south of Poland, last night, driving from Oswiecim (Auschwitz) of all places....and into the Silesia Folk and Country Festival. It still gives me a thrill? chill? quick hit of the odd? when I hear a Czech band (in this case "Drops" this afternoon), in the market square of a Polish village (Ustron is a spa town at the foot of the Beskidy Mountains near the Czech border) singing "All Across America." Aside from the great banjo player Tony Trischka, who plays with Druha Trava tonight, I'm probably the only American here.
Drops. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
This is called an International Folk and Country Festival -- last night highlighted singer-songwriters: a group called Czerwony Tulipan (Red Tulip), the Warsaw-based singer Tomek Szwed, whom I have heard at other festivals and also interviewed a couple of years ago, and an English troubador called Pete Morton, who "sang out" with an energetic set that I have to admit was a little too spiritually uplifting for my taste! A bit hit with the crowd, though, even though he sang in English.
Tomasz Szwed. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
This afternoon, I was interviewed by Polish TV-Silesia for the feature they are doing on the Festival for the evening news tonight -- will post the link when it is up online!
Last night's concert was free, as was the afternoon performance today on the market square. Tonight's costs 10 zloty, I think -- about $3. It will be a mix of acoustic and more rocky stuff, with DT and the Slovak band Peter and the Rowers, one of the top European country acts.
I MUST photograph the food stalls -- last night I kept eating little pieces of local smoked goat cheese, grilled til almost melting and served with jam. Yum. Most of what else is on offer is what I have come to recognize as festival fare -- grilled sausages and chops, and other meats of various varieties. Oh yes, and beer. And honey vodka...
For several years I've been exploring the imaginary wild west in contemporary Europe -- observing and experiencing the many ways that Europeans embrace the mythology of the American Frontier to enhance, imbue or create their own identities. (Or, indeed, just have fun.) On this blog I will post pictures, stories and links relating to this multi-faceted subculture, from European country music to rodeos, theme parks, round-ups and saloons....
I'm an American writer, photographer, and public speaker long based in Europe. I've chronicled Jewish cultural developments and other contemporary European Jewish issues for more than 20 years and currently coordinate the web site www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu. My latest books are "National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe," published in 2007, and "Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere)," published in 2008.
I also am working on "Sturm, Twang and Sauerkraut Cowboys: Imaginary Wild Wests in Contemporary Europe," an exploration of the American West in the European imagination for which I won a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEH summer stipend grant. In 2015 I was the Distinguished Visiting Chair in Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston, SC.