Thursday, December 31, 2009

What's that country thing?

 A band at the country music festival in Ustron, Poland, 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Just a year ago, I posted about the Polish country singer Michael Lonstar and his song "What's this country thing?" in which he tries to explain the country western phenomenon to a skeptic. The gist of the song is Lonstar's answers to a "lady" who asks the question, "What's this country thing" -- i.e. what is the appeal of country music. In Europe, where hardcore fans often dress up in wild west attire (and drink a lot... and line-dance a lot...), country music is often scorned by the mainstream. Lovers of pure American country music are sometimes embarrassed by the raucous "scene" -- such as that associated with the trucker festivals and other big events, where a carnival atmosphere can prevail.

Here's a link now to a post on the 9513 blog -- an anthology of artists' responses to the question "what is country music?"

The responses are fascinating -- and reflect what European musicians and fans have told me over and over: i.e. that "country" is more than music,  a "way of life;" that the love the songs for the stories they tell, etc etc.

Here, for example, is Dolly Parton's response:
“Country music, I believe, are ordinary stories told in an extraordinary way, certainly by extraordinary people in most cases. I think it’s just real life, and it’s almost like life’s soap opera, with all the pain, all the joy, all the heartache, all the emotions that a human being has. Country music has a way of doing that in the best way possible.”
Read the full story HERE

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cowboy social networking site

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Austin Statesman runs a very interesting story about a new Cowboy/Wild West oriented social networking site called
This year, husband-and-wife team Chris and Kelly Cooper [...] have been working on a new social network as an offshoot of their marketing company, Cowboy Syndicate. includes message boards, photo areas and other staples of social networking sites, but it has a distinct country/Western feel. [...] The diversity of our members is intriguing. Our members range in age from 16 to 75 and hail from all over the world — the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Japan, Sweden, Australia, France and more. All of our members, no matter where they come from, have a love for both Western and mainstream lifestyles.
         Read Full Story

I haven't signed up yet, but I probably will!

One of the site's sponsors in Stetson, and the home page currently features a big ad for a Stetson contest that members can enter.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Germany -- Xmas at Pullman City

 Looking toward the music hall. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I spent the weekend before Christmas at Pullman City, the German wild west theme park near Passau, in southern Bavaria. I wanted to reconnect with the park -- which I hadn't visited for awhile -- and also hang out with Willie Jones, who introduced me to large sectors of the imaginary wild west, and who was back at Pullman for the first time in five years, playing the singing Santa Claus at the annual Christmas market.

Willie Jones and his wife, Inge. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber

Every year, in the Advent month leading up to Christmas, Pullman City becomes a holiday bazaar, with stands set up selling hot wine, ornaments and other trinkets, the shops open, and the saloon and music hall featuring live music and various other programs.  Willie performed as Santa Claus for kids, families and at the music hall -- ho-ho-ho-ing and singing songs like Frosty the Snowman.

I was glad to be there, and happy to renew contacts with P.C. personnel. (And also to eat one of the best hamburgers I ever had, in the Saloon. It was very cold -- minus 13 centigrade -- and most of the visitors were bundled up, like me, in heavy winter coats, but there was a fair sprinkling of folks in wild west attire, too.

The table next to mine in the Saloon. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber

Since I had been to Pullman, the so-called "authentic area", where hobbyists can build their cabins, has expanded, with more -- and more solid-looking -- housing. The area also is now classed as a historic display area.

In the authentic area. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber

Monday, December 14, 2009

Poland - Lonstar wraps up a busy November

Me and Lonstar at the Berlin country music fair, Feb. 2008

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Polish country artist Michael Lonstar has posted an interesting account on his website wrapping up a busy November/December -- and demonstrating the wealth of country and western events that take place, even in the autumn, in countries including Germany, Poland,  and Lithuania.

Lonstar posts videos of these events, as well as photos.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Norway -- Toby Keith at Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo

The AP reports on Toby Keith saying there's no need to apologize for his support of the Iraq War, while he was performing in Oslo at the annual Nobel Peace Prize concert.
Keith’s appearance at the downtown Oslo Spektrum arena was questioned by Norwegians dismayed that a performer known for a fervent pro-war anthem was playing at a show focused on peace. The musician dismissed the criticism. "If President Obama has to send (more) troops into Afghanistan to fight evil, I’ll pull for our guys to win, and I won’t apologize for it,” Keith said. "I’m an American, and I do pull for our team to fight evil.”

 Read full AP story

Norway has a strong country music scene that has been detailed by the scholar Kristin Solli in her University of Iowa PhD dissertation "North of Nashville : country music, national identity, and class in Norway."

I've had the pleasure of appearing at conferences with Kristin on two occasions -- last year at the International Country Music Conference in Nashville, and in 2005 on a panel she put together for the American Studies Association annual meeting in Washington DC.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bluegrass and Peter Rowan in Vilnius....

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I was in Vilnius, Lithuania for a few days this week -- too late to attend the recent bluegrass festival, headlined by Peter Rowan, but still in time to get a picture of the poster....(love the way they spelled his name!)

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber