Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bluegrass -- Joe Val festival; my American experience

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I did indeed manage to spend part of last weekend at the Joe Val bluegrass festival in Framingham, near Boston. It was, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my first American bluegrass festival experience -- after attending quite a few festivals in Czech Republic, Germany, France and elsewhere. Lot of fun, great music, nice people. I've been trying to gauge what the differences are between this American festival and those in Europe. It's hard to say. There are many similarities, but -- if this means anything -- in Framington I knew I was in the U.S., and in La Roche, or Caslav or Bratislava, I knew I was most definitely not. It wasn't just the language and the "look." I'll have to think on it...

Meanwhile, here are a few pix and notes.

The festival, organized by the Boston Bluegrass Union, took place in the gigantic Sheraton hotel. The main stage, for the big acts, was a huge ballroom hung with crystal chandeliers.

The Grascals play on the main stage, last show of the festival. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

There was also a smaller stage, downstairs -- where there were rooms for workshops. I attended some of these -- a banjo workshop given by Tony Trischka and then a workshop on the history of the banjo, which featured unfinished footage from the Banjo Project documentary currently under production -- you can see some clips on the web site.

I also went to the Yodeling workshop, which was a little weird. I like yodeling but have never been able to do it. One thing I learned at the workshop is that women yodel more easily in different keys than men do -- but I still haven't yet managed to find the "break" in my voice to do it.

Another big room housed exhibitors and vendors (mainly of musical instruments).

Fiddles on display. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

In the corridors, lobbies and even phone booths, attendees joined up with others to jam.

Pickin. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The demographic seemed skewed toward middle-aged - though there were young people and even families, with some extremely accomplished kids. This could have been because of the venue and season (hotel not outdoors; Boston not Appalachia; winter not summer) or the price -- a day-ticket on Saturday was $55 for non-BBU members.

Tony Trischka plays with a young banjoist. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Friday, February 18, 2011

Johnny Cash in German

Someone sent me this link, and I can't resist posting it: Johnny Cash in German....

And here's the German band Texas Heat, with a homage to Johnny Cash. Lead singer is Marty Wolfe, a very nice guy I've met several times over the years.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bluegrass -- I may actually see Bluegrass in America!

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Over the past few years, I've been to bluegrass concerts, jams and festivals (and festivals with bluegrass performers) in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland and Italy -- maybe elsewhere. But I've never been to a bluegrass festival in the United States. If things go well, this should be remedied this weekend -- I'm currently on a fellowship near Boston (at Brandeis University) and I hope to go the Joe Val Festival at nearby Framingham this weekend.

If I get there, I'll report on the intercontinental similarities and differences -- some of the performers on the bill, in fact, have toured in Europe: I've posted on this blog, for example, on some of banjo player Tony Trischka's gigs in CZ and Poland, as well as on various other European events, including the first European Bluegrass Summit, which I attended a few years ago. The third such summit is taking place this weekend. It includes a concert marking the 10th anniversary of the European Bluegrass Music Association. (The EBMA blog is a great resource.)

So watch this spot.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Movies -- True Grit, a Western, leads off Berlin Film Festival

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

What is it with people who keep getting surprised that westerns can -- and often are/have been -- good? And not just good, but worthy of viewing by those who do not live where the antelopes roam (or roamed). I liked and enjoyed (but didn't love) True Grit -- which is apparently heading now to be the highest grossing western in history.

The movie, nominated for multiple Oscars, opened the Berlin Film Festival this week -- just days after the  annual Country Music Messe (and rival Country Music Meeting) took place in Berlin -- festivals where, in at atmosphere scorned or ridiculed by many of those people who enjoy True Grit, thousands of fans dress up in cowboy gear to hear performances by dozens of (loud) bands.

BBC runs a nice interview with Jeff Bridges, the star of True Grit, who makes no apology for liking adopting a cowboy guise. His part in the movie -- one-eyed Rooster Cogburn -- was made famous by John Wayne in the original True Grit movie in 1969.

Bridges was more concerned about filling some bigger boots - those of his father, Lloyd Bridges, who acted in many Hollywood Westerns.

"I love dressing up as a cowboy," he says. "It reminds me of my childhood - my father was in so many of those films and I'd remember him coming through the door, in his boots and hat.

"He'd let me wear his things, and I'd call up my friends to come and play."

Bridges dismisses the idea he has helped make the genre fasionable again.

"I think these things are cyclical and the Western is just part of American history and could never really go away," he says.

"I think this is more to do with the Coen brothers and what they will do with a script.

"Also it's unusual, because there's not many hard-hitting films with a 14-year-old girl who is the central character. None of us can quite believe how well it's done though," he adds.

As it stands, True Grit could become the highest grossing Western ever. That should remove Jeff Bridges from the shadow of even the Duke himself.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Berlin -- Rivalry in the German Country Music scene this weekend!

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I always try to get to Berlin for the annual Country Music Messe (trade/fan fair). It's being held this weekend -- but I won't be able to make it, as I am in the United States on a fellowship at Brandeis University. Too bad -- as this year, there's a bit of drama! TWO such fairs will be taking place, thanks to the split a few years back between the two original organizers of the event, Frank Lange and Kai Ulatowski. The "Messe" (Kai) will be taking place at the Postbahnhof hall next to Ostbahnhof where it relocated four years ago. But the first -- and rival --  "Country Music Meeting" (Frank) will be taking place at the original venue -- the Fontane Haus in the far north of Berlin, where the American Western Saloon is located.

Here's the announcement of the Country Music Meeting:
It finally took 4 long years, but now we are able to say: Welcome back für 3 days "Weekend Jamboree" with good friends at the best of Country Music at the Fontane Haus - a big meeting in the district Reinickendorf, the old Country-Music-Home of Berlin.
Because of his long time cooperation with the departement of Berlin-Reinickendorf and after extensive construction works to follow the necessary fire protection regulations, the owner of the American Western Saloon Frank M. Lange, who was one of the organizers of the Country Music Messe until 2006, decided to arrange a revival event for Country Music at the Fontane Haus.
The swinging doors of the Fontane Haus will be opened from February 4th til February 6th 2011 to give the many friends and fans the chance to celebrate their annual highlight in familiar atmosphere which will be titled "Country Music Meeting". The attractions of this venue are the well known ambience, its large exhibition areas and the big music halls - many reasons to bring back the fans of America's most famous music back to the north of Berlin.
Every visitor of the past Country Music Events at this venue might remember that getting through the crowds sometimes seemed impossible. That's why the organizer decided to allow only a limited amount of visitors per day. This will be guaranteed during the Pre-Ticket-Sale for the Country Music Meeting 2011 with a priority of weekend tickets. Day tickets are only available in limited quantities.

It all seems pretty ridiculous, and I would love to see how the fans and exhibitors break down. (For one this, it is much easier transportwise to get to the Messe venue). Looking at the line-ups, it appears that some artists have sided with the  Messe, while others are only playing at the Meeting. A couple of groups look like they will be performing at both. And I think one or two former regulars decided to give both a miss....

I posted pictures, video and description on previous editions of the Messe, both at the Fontane Haus and the new Ostbahnhof venue: click HERE to see these posts.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Country Music -- International broadcaster award

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Country Music Association's annual International Broadcaster Award goes to British radio personality Allan Watkiss. He was was surprised with the Award  while interviewing CMA Chief Executive Officer Steve Moore for his "Your Country" show on BBC Radio Sheffield. The award recognizes "outstanding achievement by radio broadcasters outside the United States who have made important contributions toward the development of Country Music in their country."
 Watkiss began his broadcasting career in 1993 at Radio Aire in Leeds, where he mixed news journalism with radio presentation. He soon began similar duties at Stray FM in Harrogate, where he presented the afternoon show from 1997-1999. A passionate Country Music fan since the late 1980s after he discovered the genre while volunteering at a hospital radio station, Watkiss was excited to host his first regular Country Music program in 2000 for Ridings FM in Wakefield.

When he moved to BBC 2001, he began "Your Country" on BBC Radio Sheffield, a weekly three-hour broadcast on Sunday afternoons which continues to this day. "Your Country" regularly introduces American Country Music to British audiences while also providing a showcase for the British Country Music artists of South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire.  Watkiss has interviewed superstar artists including Dierks Bentley, Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and many more, while also giving in-depth coverage to big events including the CMA Awards and the British Country Music Awards.

In Sept. 2007, Watkiss launched, an online radio station playing both British and American Country Music. In addition to continuing to host "Your Country" for BBC Radio Sheffield, he also serves as a senior journalist for the BBC and is currently based at BBC Radio York.

Previous winners of the award were:

1997 Nick Erby, Australia
1997 Walter Fuchs, Germany
1997 John Laws, Australia
1998 Lloyd Coles, Wales
1998 Ruud Hermans and Jan de Jong, The Netherlands
1998 Kirsten Helm Petersen, Denmark
1999 Country FM, the Netherlands
1999 Trevor Smith, Australia
1999 Dieter Vulpus and Bernd Schroeder, Germany
2000 Dick Barrie, Scotland
2000 Thomas Jeier, Germany
2000 Korneliusz Pacuda, Poland
2001 Nick Barraclough, UK
2001 Gary Beattie, Australia,
2001 Bill Black, Scotland
2002 David Allan, UK
2002 Stuart Cameron, Scotland
2003 Pat Geary, Scotland
2003 John Laws, Australia
2003 Johnnie Walker, UK
2004 Bob Harris, UK
2004 Trevor Campbell, Northern Ireland
2004 Nikos Gravelas, Greece
2005 The Odd Squad
2005 Ray Hadley
2005 Bryan Burnett
2006 Ian Holland, Australia
2006 Helen MacPherson, Scotland
2006, Tim Rogers
2007 Nick Erby, Australia
2007 Jackie-Rae Greening, Candada
2007 George Lang, France
2008 John Bond, Australia
2008 Joe Fish, UK
2008 Pio McCann, Ireland
2009 Casey Clarke, Canada
2009 Grant Goldman, Australia
2009  Brian Clough, UK
2010 Allan Watkiss, Great Britain 

Other CMA international awards can be seen HERE