Sunday, August 19, 2012

More on Equiblues 2012

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I've been mulling over Equiblues, its changes, the way the "real imaginary" space is become more conventionalized, more real? more imaginary? How the festival seems both "bigger" and "smaller".... I had a late night conversation about this with Dale Mitschke, the producer of the rodeo, last night -- I kept apologizing for thinking out loud and running through my ideas instead of holding a conversation.

I'll try to figure out what I want to say get it written down.  I had a brief moment of almost bursting into tears at the rodeo.... It was over for the day, thousands of people in their cowboy hats and boots and American flag tee-shirts and scarves and even sun-glasses were streaming out, and they were blasting out Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" on the loud-speakers. I know, I know this song is used as an anthem! Hard-driving, powerful triumphant-sounding background music. OK it IS anthemic.... but the words? Rage. Frustration. Anger. Dismay. Is it triumphant? Bruce is a cool rocking daddy despite everything. The power of the music fit the real imaginary French scene. But the lyrics? The song?

Meanwhile -- here are a few pix of the rodeo....

Capsized bull-rider. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The classic shot... Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

A lot of bull... Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Friday, August 17, 2012


A linedancer in Equiblues T-shirt shows some Americana... Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Equiblues was one of the first European -- and the first French -- country western festivals I went to in 2004, when I first started following the scene. That first experience was tremendously eye-opening, a lot of fun, and introduced me to a lot of people and ideas -- and I'm sorry that it has taken me so long to get back here again.

Equiblues -- now in its 17th edition -- takes place outside the little town of St. Agreve, in the Ardeche area of south-central France. It is one of the rare examples of a country western festival that also includes a full-scale rodeo, as well as concerts (under a big, red-white-and-blue tent) and the so-called "western market" of booths and activities.

The rodeo was just about over for the day when I got there, but the long, late afternoon shadows made for some nice images:

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I've noted before that it was at Equiblues in 2004 that I saw and photographed -- but alas didn't buy -- the iconic "Heritage Authentic" T-shirt whose imagery (truck, Monument Valley, shaman, Native American chief, made in France label) encapsulates a lot of what the imaginary wild west is about.

I haven't run across this T-shirt design since, though it has long been my goal -- almost an obsession -- to find it and actually buy it. I looked through all the booths at Equiblues last night, but came up again empty.

Examining all the booths like that demonstrated how merchandise has change -- in fact, the changes in the Equiblues scene are what I have been noting.

It seems both "bigger" and "smaller". The Western market seems more crowded -- but less "western." More booths, but far fewer "western" booths -- and far far fewer western T-shirts, and much more generic kitsch and other "stuff." People didn't seem as "dressed up" western as before, either -- aside from ubiquitous hats and boots (including on my own feet).

Remarkably, there did not seem to be one booth where you could buy country music CDs or DVDs. There also seemed to be a lot less "Stars and Bars" confederate imagery -- and what was there seemed more decorative than, shall I say, ideological.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I reconnected at Equiblues with Georges Carrier -- who recently announced he was stepping down as the director of the great Country Rendez-vous festival at Craponne. (See my blog post on this.)  George will be started a sort of agency as a middle man for bands and festivals -- he told me it will be a non-profit organization, just to help his friends and acquaintances make contact with each other and spread the music.

I also reconnected at Equiblues last night with Didier Cere, a French rocker and biker with heavily tattooed arms, whom I met at Equiblues the first time round and haven't seen since (though we're friends on Facebook). His southern rock band, the Bootleggers (pronounced here Boot-laigg-AIRS) opened the more than 3-hour concert under the tent with a with a rousing set.

Didier Cere onstage, framed by the cowboy hats of the crowd.

Georges Carrier and Didier Cere at the DC sales table during the concert. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The other acts were the American singer-songwriter Brennan Leigh and Canadian Dean Brody.

Philppe Lafont looks on as Brennan Leigh signs CDs

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Appalachia meets the Himalayas

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Barry Mazor writes in the Wall Street Journal about an interesting collaborative project that intersects bluegrass and Appalachian mountain music with the traditional music of the Himalayas....

Itinerant musicians who play simple, almost instantly recognizable tunes on four-string fiddles, chickens running in the yard, and some strong homemade drink nearby to match the homemade music. These images, surprisingly, come from both Virginia and . . . Nepal. The people of the Appalachian and Himalayan ranges have rarely been depicted as comparable, but their lives and music are compared and intersect in "The Mountain Music Project," a film released in July on DVD, with a set of related intercontinental musical collaborations released on CD under the same title. 
The film and album were the result of encounters in Katmandu between two traditional musicians from Virginia—Tara Linhardt and Danny Knicely—and such rural Nepali musicians relocated to that capital city as Buddhiman Gandharba, a maker and player of the eye- and ear-catching homemade Nepali fiddle called the sarangi. (His surname, Gandharba, is that of his caste; the Gandharba are a longstanding class of performers traditionally avoided by others in Nepal except when they need adept musicians for a wedding or other event.)
Read full article

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Zealand Country Music Awards

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

This report on New Zealand's Country Music awards says that the awards this year had a "southern twang" -- but they were talking about the southern part of South Island, not Dixie. Makes me wonder what a southern New Zealand twang sounds like.

The National Country Music Awards had a southern twang when gongs were handed out at New Zealand country music’s most prestigious event in Hamilton last night. 
Gore golden girls The Heartleys won the Music Group/Duo of the Year award while Wanaka-raised musician Jody Direen won the NZ Horizon Award. 
Kayla Martin and Taylor Cairns grew up together in Southland and launched their career as the The Heartleys by winning the 2008 New Zealand Gold Guitars Award. 
The duo, who released their second album Talk To Me in June, beat Kylie Austin and Trevor Stevens and the Coalrangers. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Getting ready for Equiblues (and thinking about Roy Rogers)

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I'm gearing up for Equiblues, the annual rodeo and country music festival in St. Agreve, in the Ardeche region of south-central France... Equiblues starts Wednesday and lasts through next weekend. Concerts, line dancing, rodeo, competitions, "western market" etc, all in a charming little French town. The last time I was there -- a local winery even produced "Equiblues" wine....a merlot....

Meanwhile, doodling on the internet here in France, I came across this article about Roy Rogers, the American Singing Cowboy .... I was a huge Roy Rogers fan when I was a kid; I used to watch lots of westerns on TV -- Gene Autry, of course. And Hopalong Cassidy. Then the Range Rider, Cheyenne, Sugar Foot, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Bonanza, Maverick.... etc etc. Roy Rogers was one of my favorites, especially in my, ahem, earliest youth. And Davy Crockett, which was sort of a western. My brother had a coonskin cap that he took off only with the greatest of reluctance. And I wore a fringed leather jacket and led a pack of kids racing about as if we were on horseback....(in the suburbs of Philadelphia)....

Sunday, August 5, 2012

France: Georges Carrier steps down as director of Country Rendez-vous

Georges Carrier at Craponne. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Big news in the French country music scene -- Georges Carrier has announced that he is stepping down as the director of the Country Rendez-vous festival at Craponne, the premier country music festival on the French calendar.

Carrier posted this open letter on his Facebook page, just a few days after the 25th edition of the festival took place at the end of July:

Chers amis,

J’ai décidé ce jour avec effet immédiat de quitter mes fonctions au sein du Conseil d’administration de l’association régissant le Festival.

J’ai été très honoré par la confiance que vous m’avez manifestée durant ces treize années de présidence et ces quatorze années en tant que responsable de la programmation artistique et de la communication. C’est par mon engagement, mon travail, mon intégrité et mes résultats auxquels j’associe Jocelyne, que j’ai réussi, grâce à votre bénévolat et votre soutien à faire du Country Rendez-Vous le premier festival de musique country de France et l’un des tout meilleurs d’Europe, reconnu par toutes les instances, dont la ‘Country Music Association’ de Nashville et Le ‘Texas Music Department’ du Gouverneur Rick Perry.

Je souhaite bon courage à la nouvelle équipe car ce n'est qu'à l’aune de ces mêmes valeurs qu’elle parviendra à maintenir le festival au rang qu’il mérite, en espèrant que ma lettre ne soit pas la chronique d'une mort annoncée.

Georges Carrier

Here is Georges's English version, with more info:

Dear friends
I have decided today to stop working for the Committee of the Country Rendezvous Festival in Craponne sur Arzon, France. 
It was an honor for me to work with the Craponne festival for 22 years as a volunteer, 13 years as president of the festival and 14 years as their talent spotter and buyer and having a great team to work with in the USA.. For all these years I have been committed in making the festival the number 1 outdoor country music event in Europe acknowledged by ‘The Country Music Association’ in Nashville, the Mayor of Nashville, the Governor of Tennessee and the ‘Texas Music Department’ by governor Rick Perry. Together with my USA team, I definitely put this festival on the map as being the premiere event to play in France and one of the biggest events to play in Europe.

I owe this result to my wife Jocelyne, my dearest friend Trisha Walker-Cunningham in Nashville, who bought all the Nashville artists on my behalf (usually the big headliners) for 25 years and, more recently, Dr Gary Hartman in Austin for some of the Texas artists.

To all the artists who performed at the event, the managers and agents who have helped to produce the best line-ups in France, I thank you so very much.

Unfortunately I regret that I cannot predict how reliable the new Board will be, nor am I able to recommend any of those in charge. Therefore you will have to use your own discretion as to whether you wish to do business with these new people or not.

Trisha and Gary have now told me that without my being the over-all head of the event and as closely as we worked together all these years, that they do not feel comfortable being involved with the event in the future because they only worked with me and not with any members of the Committee. Additionally, Trisha is now managing the fantastic Southern Rock Band, FLYNNVILLE TRAIN. She, Gary and I will continue to work together on different projects.
I want you all to know that I have not retired from the Music business and will soon inform you about my future plans. Again, I want to thank you all for your support these many years and I know our paths will cross again in the future.
Best regards
Georges Carrier
Music Consultant

Carrier oversaw the programming of the festival for 14 years. One of his goals was to bring American artists to Europe -- and, unlike most country music festivals in Europe, the great majority of the acts at Craponne have been American, including big names such as Dierks Bentley, Asleep at the Wheel, Joe Ely, Bill Monroe, Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss and many many more.

This is what he told me at the festival the first time I went, in 2007, when I wrote an article about it for the International Herald Tribune:
"We are the only festival that does this - that keeps the music and only the music as the primary goal of the festival," said Georges Carrier, a professor of English in Lyon who has directed the Rendez-Vous for more than a decade and established close links with the music scenes in Nashville, Tennessee, and in Austin, Texas. "Who better than Americans can play their own music?" 
France has developed a number of promising country bands in recent years, he said, but most French artists had trouble singing in English. 
"I think having a festival like this - with the majority American musicians - is a good opportunity to make them learn how to do country music," he said.

Dierks Bentley at Country Rendez-vous. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Georges traveled to the States every years to meet with artists and check out the scene. He had representatives/collaborators in Austin and Nashville.

I don't know the ins and outs behind Georges's decision to step down -- but he has already started up a new direction, as a representative of bands and "music consultant" helping festivals and events program country music artists.

See his new web site GC-Music Consultant for more information.

Interestingly -- the Country Rendez-vous web site, which used to have an English language section and also had archives on the past editions of the festival now only has promotional information relating to next year's festival........the English site has disappeared, as have the archived articles....

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Czech Bluegrass Documentary Project News

Last summer, when I went into the studio in Prague to help with the recording of Druha Trava's CD Shuttle to Bethlehem, I ended up hanging out and traveling a bit with Lee Bidgood, an American fiddler and mandolinist who teaches at East Tennessee State University, which has a Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Studies program -- and his colleague from ETSU, the documentary filmmaker Shara Lange.

Lee did his PhD on Czech Bluegrass (we met in 2004 at the Caslav Bluegrass Festival in CZ) and he and Shara are making a documentary film on Czech Bluegrass music and musicians -- I am thrilled to be onboard as a sort of consultant or production assistant....

The film now has a web site -- you can click HERE to find out information, see some video, hear some music and find out more about the project, screenings, events, etc.

One upcoming event is a concert August 8, in Johnson City, TN, at which Lee and fellow musicians will perform Czech translations of bluegrass classics as well as original material by Czech bluegrass musicians, in both Czech and English.

Here's a clip I took of Lee jamming late a night with Lubos Malina, of Druha Trava.

During out brief travels last summer, we also visited Marko Cermak, the godfather of five-string banjo playing in  CZ, at his cabin in the woods. 

Interviewing Marko Cermak. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

According to his own and other accounts, Cermak, who was active in the Czech tramp music scene, built his own long-necked, five-string banjo by studying photographs taken of Pete Seeger at Seeger's seminal 1964 concert in Prague concert. Cermak went on to become one of Czechoslovakia's first banjo virtuosi.

Marko Cermak. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Among other things, Cermak founded one of Czechoslovakia's first American-style country and bluegrass groups, the Greenhorns. The Greenhorns became extremely influential by playing Czech language versions of American folk songs, copying arrangements they heard on American Forces Radio.  In doing so, they, and similar groups, brought these songs firmly into the local musical tradition, fostering a total assimilation of many songs into the Czech repertoire. 

After visiting Marko, we went on to spend the night at the home of banjoist and banjo-maker Zdenek Roh, near Jihlava, where I had visited the previous year with Lubos Malina and Robert Krestan of Druha Trava.

Zdenek Roh. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber