Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First Russian-American bluegrass jamboree

Pete and Joan Wernick and Justin Hoffenberg have returned from headlining the first-ever Russia-America Bluegrass Jamboree. The event took place July 20 and 21, 2010 in the cities of Vologda and Semenkovo in "deep Russia", an overnight train east from St. Petersburg. See their report, with links to video, on  the web site.
Our trip was arranged expressly for the purpose of bridging the gap between Americans and Russians. Thanks to all the positive attention we got, from concertgoers, from the media, and from the various officials in the Consulate world, both American and Russian, it seems it was a successful effort. I felt a serious responsibility, representing America to such a large number of Russians, and representing bluegrass music as well. The main Jamboree event we played was in the town center of a sizable city amid ancient buildings. Vologda is in a farming area, famous for butter, ice cream, linen, and lace (not bad!). The people there are used to long winters, hard work, and quite a lot of loss. They can be high spirited, and really believe in festivities, and in their kids. So we got some good tastes of those aspects, and enjoyed three very elaborate "official" type meals with Russian and Consul hosts. A second performance took place at a historical museum comparable to Williamsburg.

There has been some interest in bluegrass and country music in Russia for some years. Best known was the group Bering Strait, which I think disbanded a few years ago -- and tried to break in to Nashville. The band was the subject of a documentary film that can be viewed online.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Australian Country Music

There's a long and insightful article about the state of Australian Country Music at

The article, by Lars Brandle, argues that Australian country music need to find a younger audience to survive and grow.

The quality of Australian artists isn’t an issue. Australia’s current crop of country talent is arguably as strong and relevant as the market has ever produced. Caboolture’s golden boy Keith Urban opened at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 with his 2009 Capitol Nashville album, Defying Gravity. While two rising stars Adam Brand and The McClymonts are carving out their own paths to the U.S., striking deals with Arista and Executive Music Group respectively.


However, to the ordinary Facebook fixated Australian teen, Urban is best known as the other half of Hollywood star Nicole Kidman. And without such famous partners, the likes of Brand and the McClymonts are largely ignored outside country circles.

Smashing the time-worn perception of Australian country music will take some time, and some doing. It’ll require a retooling of the business. Australia’s country scene must tackle the online space and network TV, say executives, but save its biggest shakedown for the traditional Tamworth Festival and the annual Country Music Awards of Australia Awards.  
Tamworth has come to epitomise the issues facing Australia’s country scene.

“If the Tamworth festival had any mind to grow the festival, it would make it appealing to young people and restock the fanbase,” argues CMC Program Director Tim Daley. Currently, more than 44% of the core audience of the festival is 55 year of age and over. According to Daley, only 14% of the CMC audience is over 55, whereas 42% is 24 and under. “It’s pretty simple,” says Daley, “you make it appeal to young people, and you restock the fanbase.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

European Bluegrass -- Survey to help organize new EBMA magazine

The European Bluegrass Music Association has launched a survey to help it revamp its magazine Bluegrass Europe.

The new magazine is set to launch in April.

Meanwile, the EBMA web site is constantly being expanded, and the European Bluegrass blog provides a continuing flow of information, including gig dates, festivals, band profiles and other material.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Imaginary Wild West: Michael Jackson's Western Style

The Autry National Center in Los Angeles has just opened a special exhibit on How the West Was Worn... by Michael Jackson.  

It's a sartorial Imaginary Wild West that traces its way back to the glamour clothes of Buffalo Bill, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and a host of rhinestone cowboys and glittery country and western singers.

In the world of style, pop icon Michael Jackson’s willingness to try different patterns and designs made him truly unique. Millions of people around the world saw his elaborate costumes, but very few realized the Western influence in the design. The Autry National Center’s installation shows how Jackson’s use of Western wear evolved over the years, reflecting his ability to use classic Western styles in distinctive ways.
 The Autry is a wonderful museum that pays particular attention to the West of the Imagination as well as the reality of the American frontier experience. I had a fellowship there a few years ago to study the creation and marketing of the western myth, and I have a date to speak to museum docents there next month.