Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Interview with me on Czech Radio

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Czech Radio’s English language service recently interview me, along with banjoist-multi-instrumentalist Lubos Malina, about the great “Czechgrass” band Druha Trava’s new double live CD.

You can access the interview by CLICKING HERE.

We talk about the new CD set — one CD was recorded during the annual summer festival in the beautiful town of Telc, and the other is a compilation of performances last year with guests Peter Rowan, Charlie McCoy and Katia Garcia.

We also spoke about my role in DT’s previous CD, Shuttle to Bethlehem, which mainly features my English language translations of DT singer-songwriter-frontman Robert Krestan’s songs. (I've written about that experience on this blog).

After the interview, Lubos and I stopped to visit the new museum devoted to pioneering Czech animator Karel Zeman, and then went on to a concert by Kris Kristofferson.

Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Equiblues Festival in France to Close!

Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Bombshell news from the French country music/western front! After 17 years, it looks as if the great Equiblues rodeo and country music festival in St. Agreve, France, will close.

According to local media, Philippe Lafont, the president of the Equiblues Association, announced last week that he was throwing in the towel.

The reason seems to be financial, specifically a retroactive tax bill, writes the web site

It is an open secret that in early August, Philippe Lafont received a reassessment of tax services. The amount claimed for the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012: a little more than € 61 000. Too much for the association and for its president, for whom volunteering and passion have limits: "The tax audit is the trigger of my decision to take a break in 2013, because we simply do not have the means to continue with the amount payable."

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 was happy to be able to get back there this past August.

Didier Cere and the Bootleggers play Equiblues. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

This year it seemed to me 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).

Lafont's announcement came just a few months after Georges Carrier  announced that he was stepping down as the director of the great Country Rendez-vous festival at Craponne, not far from St. Agreve. (See my blog post on this.)  The two festivals were among the top country summer venues in France.

Georges has now started up a consulting agency that will serve as a middle man for bands and festivals.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In Munich... as "alert as an Indian...."

An ad from the Munich public transport system... The caption reads, "Be alert like an American Indian and simply act .... Helping in an emergency case? Yes you can!"

Thanks to Renate Barti for passing this on!


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.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Great Resource for the Imaginary Wild West in the UK

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Just want to call attention to this web site -- I haven't explored it fully yet, but it seems to be a pretty cool and comprehensive resource for the Imaginary Wild West and all its varied manifestations in the UK.

And it's not just for "fans." From the Home Page:

We can be of use to you if any of the five categories outlined below spark an interest:
  • BUSINESS: If you manage an American West oriented business such as Artistry; Dance Tutoring;      Horse Riding; Insurance; Promotions Management; Radio presentation; Retailing or Writing, we can help you promote your business on our  site links page.
  • ​MUSICIAN: are you a solo artist or duo, maybe a trio or band? Do you play Blues, Country, Jazz, Popular, Rock, and/or Soul?  We can help you. You can publish your events (even charge for them), create a Group for your fans, link to your website from ours, tell our members what you do on your very own customizable profile!
  • PASSION: ​perhaps you are someone with an interest in the subjects we cover, maybe a re-enactor or researcher, looking for information or wanting to start an interest group, or just have an interest in a particular time in American history, we can help you find people in your area, make new friends, perhaps establish contact with old friends and provide a base for that passion.
  • RE-ENACTMENT: what era interests you; Independence, Civil war, Old west, Prohibition, World war II, Vietnam? you can tell others about your interest on your profile, promote your club on our Site links page, or even host you group through our site.
  • VENUE: Do you run your own music venue, period setting? You can promote your venue with us. Charge entrance fees online, announce dates, link to your own website. You could create a member group and promote your interests.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Recalling Lucius Reichling, of Germany's historic country band Truck Stop

Lucius Reichling & Truck Stop at Geiselwind Trucker and Country Festival, 2007 Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I've just learned of the death six weeks ago of Lucius Reichling, one of the founding members of Germany's oldest and most enduring country music band, Truck Stop. Lucius, who was 65, passed away August 15, from complications of pneumonia and cancer.

I met Lucius, who sang and played fiddle and guitar, in 2007, when I attended Truck Stop concerts at the Geiselwind Trucker and Country  Festival and at Pullman City Harz, the wild west theme park in central Germany.

Lucius Reichling (c) and Truck Stop at Pullman City Harz, 2007. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Truck Stop is Germany's most durable country western band and set the tone for a lot of the home-grown, German-langauge country scene that developed in Germany from the 1970s.

It was was formed in Hamburg in 1972, and though its musicians came from rock and jazz backgrounds, Truck Stop adopted a cowboy image from the start. Band members, then in their 20s, wore long hair, beards and moustaches like any rock musicians of the era, but they dressed in cowboy boots and hats and over the years have adopted ever more elaborate cowboy costumes. 

The Truck Stop logo includes a pair of western pistols forming one of the "T"'s. At first, the group sang American country western standards in English. Hoping for a bigger market, however, they switched radically in 1977, and began to sing in German.

They have recorded numerous of CDs, LPs, DVDs and tapes, more than two dozen of which are available on their online store.

Their 1977 LP "Zu Hause" (At Home) included a song that became a hit, defined their style and helped them achieve cult status. It also opened the door to a broader genre of German-language country. "Ich Moechte so Gern Dave Dudley Hoer'n" (I'd Love to Hear Dave Dudley) tells of the frustration felt by a German truck driver, on the road late at night, unable to pick up the American Armed Forces Radio (AFN) signal and hear his favorite American country singers: Dave Dudley, Charley Pride and Hank Snow.

Here's a clip of it from a few years back -- with Lucius Reichling on fiddle.

For more information, clips, photos, etc, see this report

Friday, September 28, 2012

Death of Herbert Lom - Karl May movie villain

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I read a lot of obituaries yesterday of the Czech-born actor Herbert Lom, who has died at the age of 95. Almost none of the obits I saw in the English and American media mentioned the fact that Lom -- famed as the hapless  Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films and known for many other roles -- had a starring role as the villain in the first Karl May film, Der Schatz im Silbersee, or The Treasure of Silver Lake.

In that movie, released in 1962, Lom played the evil Cornel Brinkley -- who murdered for a treasure map and led a band of outlaws against Winnetou and Old Shatterhand....the role enshrined Lom in the canon of Karl May movie villains.

Here's the trailer for the film:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Country Music Awards in France coming up

Didier Cere and the Bootleggers at Equiblues festival, St. Agreve. August 2012

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Fourth French Highways country music awards will be announced on Nov. 7 in Paris, and I have friends in the running.

Voting takes place until Oct. 7 -- there are awards for best foreign artists and best French artists.

My friends Steve & Heather -- the France-based French-American duo -- and the Bootleggers, fronted by my friend Didier Cere -- are both up for best French group.

Hmm... you can only vote once.....

In the French solo artist category, the rockabilly-country singer Eddy Ray Cooper, whom I interviewed a few years ago, is up for best male singer.

Good luck, guys!

British Country Music Festival -- heads up

Here's a heads up for next year's British Country Music Festival.....It's not til March, and there are a lot of other festivals in the meantime.... I think I'll be posting more and more notices of upcoming events.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Germany -- Country Music Messe in Bayreuth this weekend

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

OK. I lost track of things. The annual Country Music Messe in southern Germany, this year in Bayreuth, snuck up on me -- it's this weekend. That is, today and tomorrow.

My friend Willie Jones, who's based near Munich, and his German band are playing both days. And  Michael Lonstar, from Poland is also on the program, along with several other folks I've met, photographed, interviewed and video'd over the years, like Daniel T. Coates, who has long been based in Germany but hails from my own home state, Pennsylvania.

Dan's band won the German Country Prize this year.

I've never been to the Country Music Messe in southern Germany -- it's a spin-off of the event that is held every winter in Berlin, which I've attended several times.

Lots of artists go and perform on three (simultaneous) stages, both for the public and for booking agents, festival organizers, et. al. who come to size up acts for the coming year.

Meanwhile, dozens -- scores? hundreds? -- of stands sell country music and wild west stuff, ranging from CDs and DVDs to clothing, housewares, hobbyist supplies, and lots of kitschy tschachkas. Many people who attend are hobbyists of various stripes who dress up to fit the mood and theme. Lots of line-dancing.

Here's some video I shot at the Country Music Messe in Berlin, in 2010

And of course in 2008 -- Don Jensen sang his iconic "Sauerkraut Cowboy" onstage at the Berlin Messe...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Three Inducted into British Country Music Hall of Fame

The British Country Music Hall of Fame has announced three new inductees:  the BBC broadcaster Bob Harris, the late band leader Jon Derek, and British music journalist and promoter Tony Byworth.

Here is the information from the BCMHF web site:

2012 Inductees to the British Country Music Hall Of Fame.

Jon Derek  (1941- 2011) 
Jon Derek
Jon Derek won a talent show on Radio Luxemburg at the age of 17 and formed his first band, Black Stetson, this metamorphed into Johnny & The Hayriders.
He attracted the attention of the BBC with appearances on shows like Easy Beat, Country Time and eventually playing on Brian Mathews Saturday Club. This made him an obvious choice to open for Jim Reeves when he toured the UK.
In 1964 he turned professional and changed the name again to The Flintlocks. Jon joined Jamie Gunn and Jerry Hogan picking up another identity change to Jamie, Jon & Jerry, touring with Clodagh Rodgers, Carl Perkins and Hank Locklin.
At this time a young Albert Lee, who is also a Hall of Fame member, joined the band. This evolved into the Jon Derek Band backing Clodagh Rodgers on her television shows. By 1958 this had become the renowned Jon Derek & Country Fever, still with Albert Lee on lead guitar. They toured with nearly every American star who toured the UK and Europe from Bobby Bare and Charley Pride to a massive 32 date tour with Slim Whitman.
With almost Hollywood good looks and a brilliant voice, during the 70s Jon Derek dominated the British Country scene. A regular at the now increasingly popular Wembley festivals including the European shows, in 1977 he had a double single released on Decca. One side was a cover of the then rising star, Don Williams, ‘Til All The Rivers Run Dry which had Don’s approval when they toured together.
Bob Harris 
Bob Harris
The history of Country music on BBC national broadcasting goes back to the 1940s when all the bandleaders had their photographs up the main staircase at Bush House when it was referred to as hillbilly music.
The BBC turned to their top specialist presenter, Bob Harris after his days on Radio One presenting very listenable late night music. He carried the iconic music through onto television with the Old Grey Whistle Test where he was introducing the nation to the Country rock sounds of Poco, The Eagles, The Byrd’s and Pure Prairie League, highlighting their lead singer, Vince Gill, New Riders Of The Purple Sage, the legendary Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris to name a few. Whispering Bob Harris was still carrying the nickname from the early days and he became the voice of Country music in the UK where stars and newcomers alike all accepted invitations to guest on his Thursday night show.
Voted International Broadcaster for 2004 by the CMA, he also appeared on the panel of the Americana Music Awards in 2008 and he gained a Fellowship at the University of Northampton.
Bob Harris describes Nashville as his spiritual home and, with visits to Austin and the clubs of North Carolina, a close run second.
Tony Byworth
Tony Byworth
In 1969 Tony bought a ticket to go on the first BCMA trip to Nashville as a founding member. Wanting to help, he suggested he would try and get some media attention. It resolved in him getting a spot with Wally Whyton on Country Meets Folk which led to him becoming the UK correspondent for Billboard Magazine.
By 1970 he had quit his sales job and became a fully fledged journalist. As well as Billboard he wrote for Record Mirror, CMP, Sounds and various other publications. In 1977 he became the editor of Country Music People, a job he held until 1983 when he teamed with Richard Wootton and launched the most successful PR company in the UK dealing with Country music.
Tony Byworth’s journalistic skills were put to full use in his contributions to many books on Country music including writing five in his own right.
As PR manager for Ritz Records he was responsible for Hall of Fame member, Sarah Jory’s first recording visit to Nashville, as well as promoting Daniel O’ Donnell in the USA.
Tony has also been honoured by the CMA for services to Country music. It was on one such trip last year he discovered Will Banister and started his career in the UK.
In honour of his 70th birthday, the Texas Flag was flown over the State Capitol building in Austin for his work in promoting Texas music.
With many American awards to his credit, it’s been many years since the journalistic awards of the 70s to being inducted into the British Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012 and he is still working in the industry.

Read more at:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Allan Mikusek and Michal Tucny

Gotta post this video....Slovak country singer Allan Mikusek sings a duet with Michal Tucny, the late, great Czech country singer who was a real star of the genre in Czechoslovakia.

Mikusek, who is still very active, looks very young in this clip -- and he was. Tucny died in 1995 at the age of 48.

One of Tucny's best known songs was "The Last Cowboy," recorded in, I think, 1980.

I love the video: it says so much about the way the Imaginary Wild West was lived out in people's minds -- here, in the dreary dark days of Communism:

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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

French Festivals!!

It was at Equiblues that I photographed (but alas did not buy) this iconic Heritage Authentic T-shirt. Photo (c) with Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Wow, a whole month has gone by since I said I had a lot of catching up to do .... which means I have even more catching up to do!

But -- it's a good moment to do so, as three of Europe's best Country/Western/Etc festivals are beginning -- all three of them in France, one weekend after the next: the Country Rendez-vous in Craponne; the La Roche Bluegrass Festival in La Roche sur Foron; and Equiblues in St. Agreve.

I've been to all three in the past -- I posted from Craponne and La Roche.   Each festival is quite different, and it would be fantastic to be able to spend three weeks in France going from one to the next and taking them all in. This year, though, it looks as if I will only be able to make it to Equiblues -- which combines concerts, line-dancing and a "scene" with a rodeo.


Country Rendez-vous  Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
The annual Country Rendez-vous in Craponne got under way last night, with a five-band set including  ERIK SITBON & THE GHOST BAND (France), CROOKS & STRAIGHTS (Croatia!!), THE STEELDRIVERS (USA), THE TURNPIKE TROUBADOURS (USA) and TWO TONS OF STEEL (USA).

Country Rendez-vous is probably the most prestigious of the dozens of country music and western scene festivals that take place in France each year. Most of the bands are from the U.S., and the Festival's savvy director and guiding spirit, Georges Carrier,  travels to the U.S. each year to make contacts and see bands. The Festival also has representatives on the ground in Nashville and Austin.

A couple of festival-goers at the Country Rendez-vous, 2007 Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber


The La Roche Bluegrass Festival is one of the biggest and friendliest of the scores of bluegrass festivals that take place each year around Europe. This year there are 30 bands from 14 countries. All the concerts are free, and there are lots of street events in the lovely town of La Roche. The festival also entails a band contest.


If all goes well, I will make it to Equiblues for the first time in some years.

Different from the other two festivals, it combines country music with a full-fledged rodeo -- there is lots of line-dancing and a colorful "western market" scene. Equiblues was one of the first European western festivals I attended, and I am eager to see it again. I still have a special bottle of Equiblues wine that I purchased the first time!

Line dancers at Equiblues. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A lot of catching up to do...and maybe an Italian western fest?


By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Extraordinary. I realize I haven't posted here for more than a month! It's not for lack of wanting to... just for lack of time. Or maybe a surfeit of ... laziness perhaps? Mental laziness at any rate, as I feel as if I've been running around, very busy, doing many other things...

Right now I'm in the middle of a working trip that has taken me so far to Spain, Slovakia, Austria and now Hungary (Budapest) -- but for other matters, not the imaginary wild west... I still have a few stops to make -- but, I'm trying to figure out if I can manage to hit the Valsassina country festival in northern Italy: it's the first edition of it, apparently, and it's one of the few such festivals in Italy at all.  But it's rather out of the way for me -- up near Lecco, in the mountains above Lake Como north of Milan...

I've been to just one other western festival in Italy -- the Western Games that used to be held near Rome -- and I'm eager to see the northern Italian take. There's another country festival in Italy June 29 -- at Voghera, where there is also a wild west theme park. (But I'll be in Czech Republic so will miss it.)

According to the information on the web site the festival was "strongly desired and promoted" by the Volonteers of the local parish of St. Alessandro di Barzio and suported by the "friends of the horse" association in the Valsassina.
The object is "the diffusion of  American Country culture in a festival of colors, emotions and traditions to relive the scenes and breathe the hottest atmospheres of the villages of the Far West."

There is a charitable aspect to the festival, which is also somewhat rare in the scene -- all proceeds are to go to a new parish elementary school.

As I have observed, most -- or at least much -- of the imaginary wild west scene in Italy centers on horses (and cowboy action shooting) though I understand there is also a line-dancing scene in the north. There are scattered bluegrass bands and musicians, too. (The info on the Valsassina Festival says that every night of the event there will be live music and "the legendary LINE DANCE" with instruction.)

It looks like country music may be catching on, though, to judge from the schedule of the Silverado country band, which is playing at both Voghera and Valsassina -- as well as a lot of other gigs and little country fests, across northern Italy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

American Journeys -- First big festival of the season in France

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

There must be 40 country western festivals in France each year.... the season is about to kick off with American Journeys -- the first big festival of the summer season, June 1-2 in Cambrai, near the Belgian border.

The line-up includes a variety of types, from rockabilly to country to bluegrass rock, and there are stands and other atractions. Oh, and line-dancing of course; this is France after all.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Oh, Those Czechs...

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Oh, those Czechs.... I love this! "Kovboj z Teplic" by Kamil Střihavka and No Guitars. 1995

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cowboy hat smuggler caught in Norway.....

By Ruth Ellen Gruber


The English-language Swedish news site The Local reports that a smuggler was caught trying to take 500 cowboy hats over the border into Norway....(oh, along with tobacco and booze):

“This is our largest seizure of cowboy hats,” said Morten Nystuen of the Kongsvinger customs to the Glåm Dalen newspaper.

“We’ve had to confiscate clothes before, but never cowboy hats,” he told the paper.

The driver was reportedly a
Polish man who was travelling across Sweden’s (wild) western border from Arviken towards Norway’s capital Oslo on Tuesday night.
When officials searched his car, they uncovered some 12,400 cigarettes, 20 kilogrammes of tobacco, 144 litres of beer and 32 litres of wine.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ray Benson talks in Germany to Czech Interviewer...

Ray Benson in France. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have been touring in Europe for 35 years.... They first played in then-Czechoslovakia in 1988, when the country was still under communism and before it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Ray reflects on this experience in an interview with my Czech friend Petr Mecir, who is a passional country music fan and runs a country music web site. They spoke in Mannheim, Germany, where Ray was playing as part of a big touring International Country Music Festival that had big concerts in England, Germany and Switzerland.

"Oh, the western everything, you know, the cowboy image is very big and we know about Karl May, the author in Germany. And we've been playing, of course, for 35 years and coming to Europe whether it's the UK, Czechoslovakia and Switzerland especially. They know and they seem to like it. The western swing, I think, came as one of the last kinds of country music there, it was like bluegrass and the songs, folks like Jim Reeves and now they're getting into western swing. First time we came 35 years ago a Dutch interviewer said we were a jazz band cashing on country music (laughs). They had no idea what the hell we were, so we put on cowboy hats to make it in the country."

Well, at shows in Europe you can see those European cowboys wearing denim shirts and leather suits with fringes. They appreciate the traditional music, so western swing should be exactly what matches the musical taste here.

"We played in Denmark a couple of years ago. They had a big cowboy festival and they were all dressed up and they said 'play more of your cowboy country, not so much 'Chu Chu Boogie' and your jazz and swing stuff.' They didn't like that so much, but I think they progress."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earl Scruggs RIP....

The death of a towering figure....many obituaries, but I am posting the link to the obit by Peter Cooper in the Nashville Tennessean

A quietly affable presence, Mr. Scruggs popularized a complex, three-fingered style of playing banjo that transformed the instrument, inspired nearly every banjo player who followed him and became a central element in what is now known as bluegrass music.

But Mr. Scruggs’ legacy is in no way limited to or defined by bluegrass, a genre that he and partner Lester Flatt dominated as Flatt & Scruggs in the 1950s and ’60s: His adaptability and open-minded approach to musicality and to collaboration made him a bridge between genres and generations.

Rather than speak out about the connections between folk and country in the war-torn, politically contentious ’60s, he simply showed up at folk festivals and played, at least when he and Flatt weren’t at the Grand Ole Opry. During the long-hair/short-hair skirmishes of the ’60s and ’70s, he simply showed up and played, with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and The Byrds. And when staunch fans of bluegrass — a genre that would not exist in a recognizable form without Mr. Scruggs’ banjo — railed against stylistic experimentation, Mr. Scruggs happily jammed away with sax player King Curtis, sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, piano man Elton John and anyone else whose music he fancied.

“He was the man who melted walls, andhe did it without saying three words,” said his friend and acolyte Marty Stuart in 2000.

Read full article

Friday, March 16, 2012

France -- OK Corral Wild West Theme Park season opens Sunday

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The French Wild West Theme Park OK Corral opens its season on Sunday. Lots of activities, family-friendly entertainment, etc. Opening day will feature two "Zorro" shows and other events -- here's the schedule:
11h30 : Spectacle au Théâtre du Tombstone saloon.
12h30 : 1ère aventure de Zorro à Silver Dollar City
14h00 : Billy le Kid à Silver Dollar City
15h15: 2ème aventure de Zorro au Théâtre du Tombstone Saloon
16h45 : Attaque du Train par les Indiens à Silver Dollar City.
Tous les spectacle de la journée sont différents

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Duds -- Cowboy Boot Sneaker

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I'm not sure about this......(by Jeremy Scott and Adidas)

UK -- Cowboys and Cowgirls to Perform for Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A group of cowboys and cowgirls from California will take part in celebrations in May to mark Britain's Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, performing a 6-minute wild west show at Windsor Castle.

Reports the Visalia Times-Delta:

Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee — 60 years of reign — with a 90-minute show focusing on equestrianism throughout the world. And representing North America is a group of cowboys and cowgirls who will look to impress the queen with an entertaining, yet authentic look at the American West. "The queen was specific, she wants real cowboys at her party," said Clay Maier, who is organizing the North America portion of the show. "We've been working on this for two years to get it right. We want to be authentic."

The article says that to "ensure authenticity" the group performing May 13 will include 12 Native Americans, five cowboys, four Texas longhorn cattle, four trick ropers, an Abbot-Downing Concord stagecoach and four pinto horses.

The performance will hark back to Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show's command performance before Queen Victoria  on May 11,  1887, during celebrations that year marking Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West, including his full crew of 97 American Indians, 180 horses, 18 buffalo, and, of course, Chief Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and the sharpshooter Annie Oakley, was the central attraction in London's American Exhibition in Earl's Court. Two days after its opening, Queen Victoria visited the exhibition for a private showing of the Wild West.

That the event did not take place in Windsor Castle, requiring Her Majesty to travel to see it, was remarkable. Cody thusly explained in a press release: This show "was altogether too big a thing to take to Windsor Castle, and as in the case of Mahomet and the mountains, as the Wild West Show could not go to the Queen it became absolutely necessary for the Queen to go to the Wild West Show if she desired to see it, and it was evident that she did."

As Robert Rydell and Rob Kroes put it in their 2005 book Buffalo Bill in Bologna: the Americanization of the World, 1869-1922, it was the first time since her husband Prince Albert had died 25 years earlier that Victoria had appeared at a public event.

Her attendance at the Wild West show was news everywhere in the English-speaking world, and the fact that she made her apperance in the context of the celebrations that marked the Jubilee Year of her reign only added more weight to the occasion. And what an occasion it was. When the show began and a rider entered the arena carrying the American flag, Queen Victoria stood and bowed. The rest of the audience followed suit, while British soldiers and officers saluted. As Cody described the moment:
"All present were constratined to feel that here was an outward and visible sign of the extinction of that mutual prejudice, amounting sometimes almost to race hatred, that had severed two nations from the times of Wahsington and George the Third to the present day. We felt that the hatchet was buried at last and the Wild West had been at the funeral."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Imaginary Wild West: Creator of the Bonanza Ponderosa Map has Died

Robert Temple Ayres, the artist who painted the original Ponderosa map featured on the TV show Bonanza, has died. The Autry Center blog reports that he passed away on February 25 in Los Angeles at the age of 98.

As for his painting of the Ponderosa map that opens the credits to Bonanza, the NBC series that ran from September 1959 to February 1973, for years it was one of the most recognized maps in the world. Audiences saw it briefly appear every week before it burst into flames and dissolved into a shot of the members of the Cartwright family on horseback, as the twangy theme played. It was donated by the family of David Dortort, the show’s producer, and has been hanging in the Autry’s Imagination Gallery since May 201Even though Ayers worked with some of the biggest names in the business, including Elvis Presley at the peak of his fame, the artist never took the Hollywood hoopla seriously. He didn’t know the map had survived the series until shortly before he came to see it with his family in July. As a family member led him to it in his wheelchair, he exclaimed his surprise. “Oh, for goodness’ sake!” Ayres said.”I had no idea where that had gone.”