Sunday, May 31, 2009

Who are Country Music Fans?

Here's another article about the recent survey of fans of country music, showing how the poll busted stereotypes.

By Brian Dugger, May 30, 2009

A lot of stereotypes are floating around about country music fans. A lot of them aren't flattering and usually involve pickups and guns.

Well, a recent study by the Country Music Association indicates that yes, some fans like to hunt and fish and drive pickups, but the typical fan is pretty much like every other American.

"The key finding of our study is that 40 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 54 are fans of country music, and there is no significant age or income gap from noncountry music fans. They are more likely to be from a small town and female," said Dan Bowen, the vice president of strategic marketing and communications for the CMA.

Even more specifically, the core country music fan is between the ages of 25 and 39, according to the study, which involved close to 8,000 people who agreed to telephone interviews or online surveys.

Read Full Article
This survey is about American fans, but it translates into Europe, where stereotypes about country music fans and followers are even more widespread -- and harsher.

As my friend Walter Fuchs wrote in his book Das Neue Grosse Buch der Country Music (Koenigswinter: Heel, 2005):

"[T]hat the German language country song, [. . .] with its interpreters dressed up like cowboys and its partly banal to infantile text has brought the altogether serious German Country Music scene into discredit is undisputed. Numerous friends of country music often do not dare to 'out' themselves in front of their friends for fear of being identified as a fan of German language country songs. [. . .] The German language country song and the original country song from the U.S.A. are worlds apart."
I keep returning to this theme -- and I've already posted here about European country singers who tackle these stereotypes in their songs -- the Polish Lonstar, for example, with his song "What's that Country Thing." And even Don Jensen with the iconic "Sauerkraut Cowboys."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Metafilter post on European Country Music

Country music festival, Ustron, Poland. 2007. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

There was a link in a comment to this blog from this metafilter post -- so I am linking back. It's a good introduction to the European country music scene. Followers of this blog will already be familiar with a lot of the material, and more....

Sauerkraut Cowboy -- Don Jensen Sings the Song

I posted this more than a year ago on my youtube channel -- but I've finally got to post it on this blog.

Don Jensen, the American-German country singer, performs his iconic song "Sauerkraut Cowboy" live at the Country Music Messe in Berlin.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bluegrass -- EWOB report

The European World of Bluegrass has come and gone (last weekend) and, as I reported earlier, I was unable to attend because of other commitments...

But -- you can see pictures and a report at the EWOB web site and also at the EBMA blog.

Organizers say there was perfect weather and record attendance this year.

Winners of the band competition and fan vote were:

#1 European Bluegrass Band 2009:
1. Downtown Ramblers, Sweden (
2. G-Runs ‘n Roses, Czech Republic (
3. Kreni, Czech Republic (

Audience Popularity Award 2009
1. Blackjack, CZ (
2. Bluegrass Stuff, Italy (
3. Sunny Side, Czech Republic (

I've heard most of these bands perform at other festivals and have interviewed some of their musicians. As usual, the Czech bands demonstrated -- with their popularity, prowess (and sheer number, I guess) -- how deeply rooted bluegrass is in CZ.

Here's a picture of Sunny Side in action -- at the Caslav Banjo Jamboree a couple years ago:

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

My Article to Appear in The Western Way magazine

Truck Stop plays Pullman City Harz, July 2007. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I've learned that a (short) version of "Sturm, Twang and Sauerkraut Cowboys," the long essay/paper I wrote on the European country music scene, is to appear this summer in The Western Way Magazine, published by the Western Music Association. The magazine is described as the only professional magazine dedicated to the promotion of western music. Yee-Hah! I'm trying to whittle down my pictures to send the editor just four or five.... not easy!

Even as a shorter piece, I'm looking forward to seeing it in print. I presented versions of the paper last year (and the end of 2007) in various venues, including the International Country Music Conference in Nashville, and at the Autry National Center in LA.

Meanwhile, I've posted a pdf of the long version on my web site. Click HERE -- I'll also put a link in this blog's sidebar.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Wild West: Simulating a True Style" Emblematic Slogan

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber, 2009

I found this toy set for sale in the bar in Collelungo, a small village in Umbria, Italy (which has the best chocolate ice cream in the immediate area). The slogan speaks for itself. And it sums up so much.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Karl May Magazine Jubilee

I need a way to clone myself....Because of other commitments, I had to miss three festivals I would have loved to have attended this weekend -- this year's annual Karl May Fest in Radebeul, Germany, the European World of Bluegrass, in Holland, and the Acoustic Music Festival in Sarzana, Italy (this year dedicated to Woody Guthrie.) Oh yes, the International Country Music Festival at Belmont University, where I spoke last year, also takes place this weekend, and I'm not there either.

I had a great time at the Karl May Fest last year, and also in 2005, and I wrote about it on this blog. As part of this year's festivities, the magazine Karl May & Co, which is dedicated to all things Karl May, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Congratulations! Click HERE to see my other blog posts and photos on the Magazine, the Festival and other Karl May related info.

Next weekend I'm going to miss even more festivals -- the annual Trucker and Country Festival in Geiselwind, Germany and the Jamboree folk and bluegrass festival at Strakonice, CZ.

There's just too much!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

More on Charlie McCoy and also Czech Texans

Days of Texas poster, Roznov pod Radnostem, CZ, 2005. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

As I reported earlier, the virtuoso harmonica player Charlie McCoy is being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. An article about him in a Ft. Myers Florida paper describes him as

one of the most recorded, most influential musicians in Nashville. And he’s virtually unknown outside Music City, USA.

Read full article

I write about Charlie on this blog because he is quite wellknown in the country music scene outside the USA. He tours regularly in Europe and elsewhere, and he makes a point to play with European bands (like my friend Steve & Heather in France and Druha Trava in Czech Republic) and also records with them.

I met him back in 2005 when he was touring with Druha Trava -- the concert I saw was at a "Days of Texas" festival in the little town of Roznov pod Radnostem, in eastern CZ.

Texas quilts in Ethnographic museum. Roznov pod Radnostem, CZ. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

As I wrote in the International Herald Tribune (the link has expired), the setting was the Wallachian Open-Air Museum,

a sprawling complex dedicated to the preservation of local folk traditions and architecture. And the festival highlighted the fact that from the mid-19th century until World War I, thousands of people emigrated from Roznov and other towns and villages in the region to the Lone Star State. Today, Texas has the largest ethnic Czech community in the United States.

There were demonstrations of 19th century farming customs used by the emigrants, and performances by American-style Czech country-western groups as well as by local folk groups performing Wallachian songs and dances. An exhibition of quilting featured local designs as well as a big patchwork quilt reading "Texas," hung prominently from the upper floor of the old Roznov Town Hall.

I felt an immediate connection. My own great-grandfather immigrated to Texas from Lithuania in the 1880s, my mother and grandmother were both born there, and I had relatives who lived in some of the heavily Czech Texan communities.

Near Roznov, I made it point to visit the village of Lichnov, where a private little museum documents the Wallachian exodus with an exhibition called "Hope Has a Name -- Texas." It is a genealogist's paradise of archival records, photographs, maps and memorabilia tracing family histories on both sides of the Atlantic.

It was rather poignant to see how the immigrants, building new lives in a new world, named raw new prairie settlements after their ancient Czech hometowns and, in many cases, maintained at least some of their native customs and even a command of the language.

Indeed, the then-Mayor, Vaclav Mikusek, recalled his surprise when he first met descendents of Wallachian immigrants to Texas about 15 years ago. "There was one man whose ancestors had come from a village near Roznov, and when he started to speak Czech, it was like I was hearing my grandfather," he told me. "He was using the same words, same expressions. We were discussing it in the museum," he said. "Anyone who wants to hear a pure Wallachian dialect must go to Texas."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bluegrass -- U.S. Audience Up, Analyzed

Here's a quick link to the IMBA bluegrass consumer's survey for 2008, as reported by Cybergrass.

The survey reports that bluegrass listeners and consumers increased 15% from 17,280,000 in 2007 to 19,870,000 in 2008. This increase surpasses the total U.S. population growth of 1%. Overall, 63% of bluegrass listeners and consumers are over age 45, and there is 14% growth among listeners/consumers between the ages of 18 and 34.
The data deal only with the United States, apparently, but there are some fascinating bits and pieces.

Current Simmons research data also shows that:
  • 56% of bluegrass fans are employed full time and 52% are happy with their standard of living.

  • As compared to the average American consumer over age 18, we are more likely to eat at Cracker Barrel (89% more likely), O’Charley’s (76% more likely), and Shoney’s (116% more likely).

  • 68% of bluegrass fans are happy with their life as it is, 59% consider themselves optimists, and 76% like to “just enjoy life.”

  • Bluegrass listeners/consumers are 76% more likely to shop for antiques and 79% more likely to play a musical instrument than the average American consumer over age 18.

  • 14,624,000 (74%) bluegrass listeners/consumers are willing to volunteer their time for a good cause.

  • 1,056,000 bluegrass listeners/consumers purchased 20 or more CDs (all genres) in the past year, while 1,669,000 purchased 20 or more downloads.

  • 23% of bluegrass fans bought music online last year, while 15% bought music in a record/CD/tape store.

  • 6,350,000 (32%) bluegrass fans own a portable mp3/digital media player, while 2,338,000 (12%) own a satellite radio.

  • 13,774,000 (69%) attended a movie in the last six months, while 15,361,000 (77%) have traveled domestically in the past year.

  • Bluegrass fans are 10% less likely than the average American consumer over age 18 to have a valid passport – only 33% have one.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sauerkraut and Rhinestones/Sparkle and Twang: The Myth at the Autry

The Autry National Center is mounting an exhibit showcasing the rhinestone appeal of sauerkraut desire. It's a show called Sparkle and Twang -- and it consists of items from the country singer Marty Stuart's vast collection of memorabilia, including embroidered and besequinned Nudie suits.

The Autry National Center of the American West takes you on a tour through the life and times of American Music with Sparkle and Twang: Marty Stuart's American Musical Odyssey. The exhibition tells the story of country music icon Marty Stuart's personal experiences with some of the most famous stars of American music, highlighting several of the greatest performers on the country, bluegrass, rockabilly, and Southern gospel scenes. Visitors are invited to join the journey of Stuart's life and witness the road traveled by the beloved musicians encountered along the way. Discover what life on the road really meant, and learn about the struggles and triumphs these performers experienced in order to succeed.

This uniquely American collection underscores the importance of style and sound with performance costumes, handwritten lyrics, personal letters, musical instruments, and unpublished photographs of such legends as Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. The fashion-rich collection includes such items as Elvis Presley's sweater, Jerry Lee Lewis's black boots, Johnny Cash's white tuxedo, a Bob Dylan outfit, and a Patsy Cline dress. The exhibition would not be complete without a life-size dressing room and interactive performance stage. Plus, listening stations, ambient audio, and video documentaries can be found throughout.

"I made it my mission to save the historic relics of country music, not just because they were things I loved, but to preserve them as cultural artifacts," says Marty Stuart.

This exhibition was developed by and originally exhibited at the Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, TN.

I spent a wonderful month as a Visiting Scholar at the Autry a few years ago, researching the creating and marketing of the Western Myth -- and these sparkly costumes and accoutrements are certainly part of it. The lit up the dreams of innumerable fans in Europe, and spurred them on to create their own idiosyncratic looks. Like these fans at the Country Rendez-vous in Craponne:

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber