|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.