Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bluegrassing in Germany and Czech Republic

Banjo Camp Merch. Photo © RuthEllen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The remarkable attraction of bluegrass music in parts of Europe/segments of Europeans was brought home to me this month when I attended -- albeit briefly -- two bluegrass workshops, one in Germany, near Munich, and the other in the Czech Republic.

The two events, which were held on successive weekends, had similarities and differences.

The annual Banjo Camp Munich, a workshop founded in 2007,  took place Oct. 5-7 at Aschau, near Chiemsee in Bavaria, in a sprawling country hotel complex. Dozens of people attended -- I don't know the full number, but there were a lot! Far from just being banjo, there were classes and workshops on mandolin, guitar, dobro, fiddle, singing and harmony, and more. Teachers came from Germany and other countries and included American banjo player Bill Evans, British banjo player John Dowling, American dobro player Jimmy Heffernan and a list of others.

Information for next year's Banjo Camp -- Oct. 4-6, 2013 -- is already online.

I got in too late (on a rainy afternoon) to observe any of the classes, but you can see photos from this year and from previous editions by clicking HERE.

I did get to see the concert Saturday night. The various workshop teachers performed the first half and then the second half was given over to a German "nouveau bluegrass" group called 54 Idaho -- one of whose leaders is one of the organizers of the Banjo Camp. I thought they gave a great show -- very iconoclastic, giving a slightly ironic bluegrass take on pop/rock tunes, with a charismatic singer fronting the band.

54 Idaho. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

My friend Willie Jones, an American based in Germany who is one of the first people I met in the country music/western scene in Europe, taught singing and harmony. Willie now plays with groups in Germany (the Huckleberry Five) and Slovakia (Neznami).

He got me jamming, of sorts -- for the first time ever -- on my uke....

The very next weekend found in me the village of Male Svatonovice, in the north of the Czech Republic near the Polish border, for the 17th annual autumn Bluegrass Dilna (workshop). There were a lot of top Czech bluegrass musicians taking part as teachers -- from banjoist Petr Brandejs and members of the band Bluegrass CWRKOT, to fiddler Jiri Kralik, to my friend the banjoist Lubos Malina, of Druha Trava and other groups, who got me to go there.

Petr told me that there were about 120 students and 11 instructors, at classes featuring banjo, bass, guitar, mandolin.....It all took place in a big school building (we all had to take off shoes and put on sandals to enter). I sat in on Lubos's banjo class, which had 10 students and ran simultaneously with about three other banjo classes.

Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

You can see a lot of pictures of the workshop by clicking HERE

I also got there in time Saturday night to attend the big concert given by Bluegrass CWRKOT and all the instructors -- all men, BTW.

Petr Bandejs on Banjo. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

The concert was streamed live on internet and now can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.

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