Sunday, December 11, 2011

Italy -- Country Christmas. The imaginary Wild West in Italia

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Looks like the second annual Country Christmas in Pordenone, Italy is in full swing; actually the Dec. 8-11 event is winding up today. And here I am in Budapest, not northern Italy....
Buddy Jewell

Country Christmas is a full-fledged country and western festival, like those in Germany and France -- with rodeo-style competitions, shops, other events and even live country music (Buddy Jewell), an element that has been largely missing from the horse and cowboy-action-shooting dominated Italian imaginary western scene.

The Festival web site calls it "the perfect mix of culture, entertainment, spectacle and nature, the ideal occasion for everyone who loves horseback riding and  approaches 'country' also as a real lifestyle. The 'look' of visitors is de rigueur -- jeans, shirt, vest, cowboy boots and Stetson hat, with an attentive eye to the American style of the 1950s."

Insomma, Pordenone diventa capitale del West, tra dimostrazioni con cowboy e cavalli americani, prove di roping (tiro con lazzo) gare di toro meccanico e naturalmente, tanta musica country con dj e gruppi dal vivo che faranno ballare il pubblico dall’alba fino a notte fonda sulla pista più grande d’Europa, oltre 1.500 mq. Proprio qui si sfideranno le scuole di ballo country di tutta Italia, in arrivo gruppi dalla Sicilia come dalla Valle d’Aosta, che si contenderanno il terzo trofeo italiano di ballo country in programma sabato 10 e domenica 11 dicembre. Ma tutti potranno scendere in pista, e partecipare agli stage e corsi per imparare i passi giusti. E magari entrare nel Guiness dei Primati: Country Christmas infatti cercherà di battere il world record di Barn Dance (sabato ore 16.00)2, ovvero il più alto numero di coppie che si lanceranno nella barn dance, lo scorso anno il conteggio si è fermato a 465 coppie in pista contemporaneamente. Country Christmas 2011 lancia una nuova sfida ai suoi visitatori: la maratona di two step, primo premio una vacanza stile “Scappo dalla città” in un meraviglioso ranch in Wyoming.

Ad accompagnare le danze saranno alcune delle migliori band italiane e americane di country music. Star della manifestazione sarà Buddy Jewell, cantante leader della musica country americana, che sabato 10 alle ore 21.00 salirà sul palco con una miscela di musica e stili che richiama l’anima musicale dell’America Bianca. Da non perdere, domenica 11 dicembre, il 2°raduno italiano delle leggendarie auto americane degli anni ’50 che, dopo una sfilata nel centro di Pordenone, potranno essere ammirate nell’area esterna ai padiglioni della fiera. In un ambiente western non potevano mancare i saloon dove gustare i tipici piatti dei cowboy: t-bones, carne secca e fagioli, specialità tex-mex e ottima birra. E per concludere, niente di meglio di una puntatina al Country Market, con tanti stand per lo shopping, e per i più piccini tante attività a loro dedicate: la visita al villaggio degli indiani d’America, il recinto degli asinelli e il battesimo a cavallo, per coloro che salgono in groppa per la prima volta.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

England et al -- February International Country Music Festival Line-up Expanding

Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The program for the International Festival of Country Music to be held in February in London's Wembley Arena and other venues is expanding -- Charlie Pride and Asleep at the Wheel have been added to the line-up.  Acts now include headliners  Pride, AATW, Reba McEntire, Ricky Skaggs, and Lonestar, as well as supporting acts Narvel Felts, John McNicholl, Jo-El Sonnier, Will Banister, George Ducas, Sandy Kelly & George Hamilton IV, Raymond Froggatt, and Tim McKay.  

The Festival kicks off  Feb. 26, 2012 at Wembley -- scene in the 1970s and '80s of famous country music festivals  -- and then travels to Belfast, Zurich and Germany.

Returning to Wembley after more than two decades thus really marks  a symbolic return of big-time country music to the mainstream arts agenda -- and signals a revival of popularity in the genre. As the web site says:

The International Festival of Country Music introduced country music to the British public almost 45 years ago.  The shows, promoted by the legendary Mervyn Conn, ran for 23 years from 1969 to 1991 at Wembley Arena.  Hugely popular, the shows always featured the biggest stars of Country music fans were treated to outstanding performances by artists including; Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis, Crystal Gayle and many more.

Now after a gap of 20 years the Festival is back, and one thing that has not changed is world class line-up.

International Festival of Country Music founder Mervyn Conn said:
“I’m bringing the International Festival of Country Music back after over twenty years due to popular demand. The regard for Country Music has grown significantly in the UK since the first year I promoted this event and I believe that now is the time to reintroduce this once hugely popular event to converted fans of country music and to a new and emerging group of country music lovers”.

Reba McEntire comments;
“My band, crew and I are really looking forward to going back to Europe to play our music. The last time we performed there was in 1999! We have been very busy for the last 10 years doing the REBA TV show and concerts in North America. Now, we are so excited to be able to travel abroad and do both our new and old songs for our European audience, who has always been so good to us.”

Friday, December 9, 2011

Slovakia -- The annual Peter Dula Tribute Concert

Michael Lonstar and Dorota Krawczyk at the Peter Dula tribute. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

This week I was in Kosice, in far eastern tip of Slovakia, to attend the annual concert and awards event held there to honor the memory of local son Peter Dula, a Slovak country singer who died of cancer in 2009 at the age of only 28. He had been diagnosed ten years earlier while in the U.S. playing hockey for a junior league in Boston, then got into country music while undergoing cancer treatment back in Slovakia.

I never met Dula (though we were friends on Facebook), but he was a friend of several of my friends in the central European country scene. Dula had fronted the band Veslari -- "The Rowers," Slovakia's oldest country music band, since 2004. With Dula singing, the band won a Slovak Grammy and other numerous  awards including the best European country band of 2007. They also played at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 2007.

After his death, Dula's friends in the country music scene over here decided to honor his memory by each year passing on his guitar to a chosen artist, who would be its custodian for the following 12-month period, creating a sort of "Wayfaring Guitar" as a living memorial.

The guitar is handed over at a concert event where awards are also handed out, inducting chosen artists into "Peter Dula's Country Music Hall of Fame."

The first two awardees, in 2009, right after Dula's death, were European -- my friends Michael Lonstar, from Poland, and Allan Mikusek, from Slovakia. Last year there were four Americans: songwriter Mark Trail, Billy Yates, Joe Diffie and Buddy Jewell.

This year the awards went to my Czech friends Robert Krestan and Lubos Malina, and their band Druha Trava -- I worked with the band on their latest CD, Shuttle to Bethlehem, which features Robert's original songs sung in my English translations.

The concert -- which lasted four hours -- was held in a big theater-type hall in some sort of anonymous facility (a driving school?) on the southern edge of Kosice. The theater was packed, and the atmosphere was good: not raucous, like a German or Polish country crowd; not "tramp" like the Czech bluegrass crowd can be. There was no bar in the place -- so no one was drunk, either! And the only person in a real cowboy hat was Lonstar. (Several of us wore cowboy boots, though....)

Lonstar, a young Polish singer named Dorota Krawczyk, and a Slovak band led by local singer Laco Sasak performed during the first half of the show. A mix of U.S. songs, and traditional-style originals (sung in English, Polish and Slovak) -- concluding the set with a Slovak version of the song "Cowboy's Gone," which Lonstar wrote in memory of Peter Dula. All the while, pictures of Dula were projected onto the rear of the stage.

Druha Trava was the headline act and played the second half of the show. I've seen them perform a lot, but I've never seen such an enthusiastic audience -- whooping and stomping and cheering, etc. Pretty wild. DT hadn't performed in Kosice in years, and it was as if the audience was just hungry for the music.

At the end of the show, the awards (framed citations) were present, and Peter Dula's wayfaring guitar was handed over into the care of DT.

Then, as the closer, Robert, joined by the other artists, sang the folksong "Wayfaring Stranger", with Dula's picture as a backdrop, which seemed the right way to end the show.