Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tony Trischka School of Banjo

 Tony Trischka hanging out in Czech Republic, 2008. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Last summer, when I traveled a for a day in Poland with the banjo great Tony Trischka after he performed at the Silesia Country Music Festival in Ustron, he told me about his plans to start teaching the banjo online, with an interactive video tutorial program that enabled personal feedback.

Tony's banjo school is now fully online -- see THIS SITE.

Tony's banjo school is part of a broader online music school called Artist Works, with instruments taught by leading musicians. It looks like the instruments and teaching programs are going live one at a time. I am hoping that the harmonica school goes online soon....

Friday, November 27, 2009

Germany -- Willy Jones back at Pullman City for Christmas Season

 Willie Jones performing at Pullman City, 2003. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The American banjo player and country singer Willie Jones will be at Pullman City in Bavaria, Germany's biggest wild west theme park, for the coming month, performing each weekend at the German-American Chrsitmas Market (Deutsch-Amerikanischer Weihnachtsmarkt).

A large man with a full beard, Willie was one of the first people I met in the European country and western music scene, and he has provided me with a lot of anecdote and insight. I actually met him at Pullman City, on my first visit there - I think it was in 2003. Willie had remained in Germany after getting out of the service and took up a career as a country singer, in various bands, most notably one called Shady Mix, which started out in America, moved to Germany and then moved back to the U.S.

When I met him, Willie had a job as the "singing cowboy" of Pullman City -- he gave set performances in the theme park's saloon, but he also roamed around the area, playing and singing.

We hit it off from the start. That weekend, Willie had some Slovak musician friends -- a bluegrass band -- playing at Pullman. I was working on a story for the New York Times about wild west theme parks in Europe, and I had intended to go directly from Pullman City to the Silkluv Mlyn theme park in the Czech Republic.

Willie convinced me, though, to go with him and the Slovak band (some of whose members now form the group Grasscountry)  to a country road house somewhere in southern Bohemia  for a country western party. Of course I said yes, and we drove there in a sort of convoy -- Willie in one car, the Slovak guys in their car, and me trailing in mine.

As I posted in this blog earlier:
The road house was in a village too small to appear on my map. From the outside it looked like an anonymous village restaurant, but inside it was decorated with Wild West paraphernalia including horseshoes, sepia photographs of Native Americans and Billy the Kid, and a framed arrangement of pistols and playing cards.

The occasion for the party was the 50th birthday of Franz Zetihammel, a figure well known on the Czech and German western show circuit for his portrayals “Fuzzy,” an “old coot” persona harking back to characters played by comic western actors such as Gabby Hayes or Walter Brennan. Fuzzy has long straggly grey hair and beard and never appears in public without his cowboy hat, cowboy boots and turquoise bolo tie and other jewelry.

A Czech country duo got the guests up and dancing with locally written Czech country songs and Czech covers of American hits such as John Denver’s “Country Roads” and even “I’m and Okie from Muskokee.”

One of the party guests, a man in his forties, was dressed head to toe in full cowboy attire, including sheriff’s star and a six-shooter – which Fuzzy at one point pulled from its holster, brandished at the dancers and then fired at the ceiling – fortunately, it was loaded with blanks....

(I haven't been back to that place -- I'm sure I could never find it again. But I ran into Fuzzy last year [that is, 2007]; he was working as the blacksmith at the Halter Valley private wild west town near Pilsen in CZ.)

"Fuzzy" at Halter Valley, 2007. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I'm hoping to be able to get to Pullman City while Willie is there, as I haven't seen him  for several years.

He moved to Texas in 2005, and the last time I saw him was in May of that year -- I visited him where he was living near Templin, north of Berlin, and he took me to explore an abandoned former Soviet army base nearby. Willie and his wife had moved there to work for a new Wild West theme park, Silver Lake City, which -- at that point -- had gone bust.  So they picked up and moved to the real west. The park has since reopened as Eldorado. I have yet to see it in action... Willie took me on a tour of Silver Lake City out of season in the winter of 2005, but almost everything was shut.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lithuania-- Peter Rowan headlines Vilnius Bluegrass Festival

Here's a heads up for the fifth Vilnius Bluegrass Festival, which takes place this weekend, Nov. 20-21.

Peter Rowan at Dobrofest in Trnava, Slovakia, 2005. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The American folk legend Peter Rowan, currently on a short tour mainly in the UK, headlines the festival. Also featured are the veteran  Polish country music singer Lonstar (about whom I have written on this blog), the British New Essex Bluegrass Band (one of the winners of last summer's European Bluegrass Festival in La Roche sur Foron, France) and the Russian group Country Saloon.

Lonstar reports that in September he  concluded a tour pegged to his latest CD, "What's This Country Thing."
Twenty four concerts all over Poland and abroad: Cologne and Wittenberge in Germany, Piestany in Slovakia and Visaginas in Lithuania, among many others. In their number – big international festivals, songwriter recitals, club dates and acoustic “unplugged” performances at the meetings with his fans.  
The last summer’s season’s highlight was Lonstar’s (and his band’s) spectacular multiple victory in the IX Country Music Awards “Stagecoach 2006-2008", concluded in April. 
When the smoke cleared and the results were revealed at the award-granting ceremony, the famous formula “...and the winner is... “ was followed by the name “Lonstar!” four times, as the recipient of awards for the Artist of the Year, Best Male Vocalist, Song of the Year and Best Album.  
The very title, “What’s This Country Thing”, due to its reflective and provocative lyrics of the respective song has gained the status of the cult definition of country music in Poland’s country music fan circles. Thank you fans for your continuous support!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Sauerkraut Cowboy Essay in Western Way Magazine

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Western Way Magazine has published a shortened version of the long paper on European country music I  presented last year at the International Conference on Country Music and elsewhere. It can be downloaded at the web site of the Western Music Association, but I am also posting it here in jpg form. (Note that the caption on the picture of pg 40 is wrong -- these guys were at the Country Piknik Festival in Poland, not at Pullman City.) The full version of this essay can be accessed via the link in the side bar of this blog.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Texas -- Renaissance Faire (Touché!)

I just want to point out that the Texas Renaissance Festival is on in Plantersville, TX, until the end of this month. If you look at the video on the web site and think cowboy gear and country music instead of medieval get-ups, you will have Pullman City, Cowboyland Italy, Sikluv Mlyn Czech Republic and all the rest.....but maybe bigger? The Renfest's Facebook page has more than 20,000 fans....

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bluegrass - Traveling Bluegrass Festival in Germany in December

The Toy Hearts, European Bluegrass Festival, France, July 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Germany (with a detour into Switzerland)  will see a 16-date travelling Bluegrass Festival in December. Called Bluegrass Jamboree! -- Festival of Bluegrass and Americana Music, it will feature the groups the Toy Hearts from England, and the U.S. groups the Steep Canyon Rangers and Beverly Smith and Carl Jones.

The full program can be seen at the festival web site.