Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lonstar & Ray Scott -- High Road Tour in PL, DE, CZ, DK

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

My old friend, the Polish country singer-songwriter Michael Lonstar is currently teamed up with American Ray Scott on an eight-concert tour with appearances in Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and Denmark. Upcoming gigs can be seen on Ray Scott's web site.

They are playing clubs, festivals, including the Mragowo Country Piknik in Poland;  the Good Old Western festival is Vsetin, CZ, and the big Silkeborg festival in Denmark -- and even, emulating Johnny Cash - a prison, as Polish TV reports here in a piece that also reports on Mragowo :

Lonstar wrote on Facebook before setting out:

Fresh sets of strings for my guitars, equipment check, set lists with the charts and respective keys, last double-check phone calls and e-mails... Start packing for the road. Not just A road...
... a "HIGH ROAD" 2013 TOUR with awesome RAY SCOTT!
Eight shows in four countries: Poland, Germany, Denmark and Czech Republic - festivals, club dates and even two prisons - plus one live radio appearance and nearly 7.000 kilometers to cover.
I anticipate the meetings with my old road-tested friends and die-hard fans. I also hope for making new friends and fans. There's so much music, stories and emotions to share with all of you!
And there's Ray Scott... It's an honor, a pleasure and a challenge to share stage with one of the damn best country singers / songwriters on planet Earth...
The itinerary includes Mragowo Country Piknik, then 2 prison shows, next - Langenau, Germany, next - layover in Prague and on to "Good Ol' Western" festival in Vsetin, next - back to Warsaw via Cracow, and then - Silkeborg, Denmark.

He is posting pictures and videos on FB that fans can follow. So far, sounds like a lot of fun!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gettysburg Battle Reenacted on Site -- photo essay

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

For all you hobbyists and Civil War reenactors out there.... here is a beautiful photo essay on a reenaction of the battle of Gettysburg, held on site in the US, on the 150th anniversary of the battle this month. It's also interesting to see the tens of thousands of spectators.

See the photos (in the New York Times) here

Lilly Drumeva's song to be featured at IBMA World of Bluegrass

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

More news from Lilly Drumeva of Lilly of the West -- she reports that her original song "Turn Away" has been selected for the songwriters showcase at IBMA's World of Bluegrass Conference 2013, in Raleigh, NC, which precedes the Wide Open Bluegrass festival. The song is featured on the album "Lovin' You" that was recorded in Prague with the Czech bluegrass band Monogram.

She will be performing the song on Sept. 26.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bulgarian country music (and Lucky Luke) -- new video by Lilly of the West

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Lilly Drumeva, who, with her band "Lilly of the West"  has carved out a niche as Bulgaria's leading (if not only) country/bluegrass singer has posted a new western swing video recorded live in a Sofia studio in May.

Lilly founded her band back in 1996.... here's a video from a couple years back promo-ing the first 15 years of the band.

A couple of months ago, Lilly performed at the opening of an exhibit on the cartoon cowboy Lucky Luke at the Karikatur Museum in Krems, Austria. Lucky Luke is an immensely popular comic book series created in the 1940s by the Belgian cartoonist Maurice De Bevere, better known as Morris.

Lilly appears for a few seconds in this Austrian TV video from the opening -- which looks at Lucky Luke but also shows the various reenactors and western fans who attended the opening.

The exhibition will run until November 17. It will include original drawings as well as material about the Imaginary Wild West (and -- maybe -- the historic one) and there are various events connected to it.

Enter the world of Lucky Luke on his web site.

For further information about the exhibition, see the web site or contact (or visit) the Museum:

Steiner Landstraße 3a
A-3500 Krems-Stein
T: (+43-2732) 90 80 20
F: (+43-2732) 90 80 21

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Eric Hobsbawm on the Mythic Appeal of the Cowboy

Fans at the Mragowo Country Piknik festival in Poland, 2006. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

When the communist historian Eric Hobsbawn died last autumn at the age of 95, he was putting the final touches on his last book, Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the 20th Century, which was published in March in the UK. (It will be published in the US next year.)

The book is a collection of essays on a wide variety of topics -- one of which is the creation and worldwide appeal of the myth of the cowboy.

This, of course, is one of the things I have been exploring in this blog and in the research I've been carrying out on and off over the past decade. 

When the book came out, the Guardian newspaper ran a lengthy excerpt from the Cowboy chapter.

There is ... no shortage of potential cowboy myths in the western world. And, in fact, practically all the groups I have mentioned have generated macho and heroic semi-barbarian myths of one kind or another in their own countries and sometimes even beyond. But none of them has generated a myth with serious international popularity, let alone one that can compare, even faintly, with the fortunes of the North American cowboy. Why?
Our starting point is the fact that  in and outside Europe, the "western" in its modern sense – that is, the myth of the cowboy – is a late variant of a very early and deep-rooted image: that of the wild west in general. Fenimore Cooper, whose popularity in Europe followed immediately upon his first publication – Victor Hugo thought he was "the American Walter Scott" – is the most familiar version of this. Nor is he dead. Without the memory of Leatherstocking, would English punks have invented Mohican hairstyles?
The original image of the wild west, I suggest, contains two elements: the confrontation of nature and civilisation, and of freedom with social constraint. Civilisation is what threatens nature; and their move from bondage or constraint into independence, which constitutes the essence of America as a radical European ideal in the 18th and early 19th centuries, is actually what brings civilisation into the wild west and so destroys it. The plough that broke the plains is the end of the buffalo and the Indian.

It is well worth accessing the Guardian web site and reading the whole essay (I don't have copyright permission to run it here). Hobsbawm elegantly touches all the expected spots, from Buffalo Bill to western imagery in advertising -- for a detailed discussion of this, see the essays in Western Amerykanski: Polish Poster Art & the Western, the wonderful catalogue of a 1999 exhibit at the Autry museum.  I'm not at all sure I agree with everything Hobsbawm says, but he makes some interesting points.

what carried the west into the hearts and homes of five continents was not movies that aimed at winning Oscars or critical applause. What is more, once the late western movie had itself become infected by Reaganism – or by John Wayne as an ideologist – it became so American that most of the rest of the world didn't get the point, or, if it did, didn't like it. 
In Britain, at least, the word "cowboy" today has a secondary meaning, which is much more familiar than the primary meaning of a fellow in the Marlboro ads: a fellow who comes in from nowhere offering a service, such as to repair your roof, but who doesn't know what he's doing or doesn't care except about ripping you off: a "cowboy plumber" or a "cowboy bricklayer". I leave you to speculate (a) how this secondary meaning derives from the Shane or John Wayne stereotype and (b) how much it reflects the reality of the Reaganite wearers of dude Stetsons in the sunbelt. I don't know when the term first appears in British usage, but certainly it was not before the mid-1960s. In this version, what a man's got to do is to fleece us and disappear into the sunset.

Artist tracks "end of cowboyism"

Not Arizona, but Death Valley... Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

An installation by the artist Ibrahim Quarashi uses the iconic American highway to track what he calls "the end of cowboyism."

Quirashi, described as a Pakistani now based in Europe (Berlin and Amsterdam) was born in Nairobi, according to the web site of a gallery that represents him. The "enigma of the Western cowboy" is said to have long been one of his obsessions.

His "Dreaming of Arizona" installation dates from 2009, when it was first shown in Amsterdam, but it has recently been mounted in Massachusetts.

It is yet another example of the many ways in which people around the world are caught up in the mythology of the American West and the Frontier; with the "highway" often playing a mystical as well and mythical role, redolent of all sorts of symbolism.

In Dreaming Arizona, Quarashi states on his web site

a metaphoric journey through the legendary Highway 64 is created to expose the end of cowboyism through a series of 7 films within 7 different time frames and 7 sets of photo prints.

It seems to me that he may actually mean legendary Route 66, since, coming from the east, Highway 64 stops at the Arizona border. Oddly enough, an article about Quarashi and the installation in the North Adams Transcript refers to -- and quotes Quarashi as referring to -- the highway at Highway 67, which in fact runs north-south and also does not enter Arizona....

The article, by Jess Gamari, quotes Quarashi as saying:
In Dreaming Arizona, I aim to simultaneously expose the structures that influence how we see the codes of an American Cowboy, with references from to Spaghetti Westerns, homo- eroticism, and pop culture like Andy Warhol [...] It gives a sense of how travel is so connected to the desire of an ideal that is perhaps never reached in the world of modern cowboys. I suppose Dreaming Arizona is a metaphoric journey through the legendary Highway 67 to expose the end of cowboy-ism through a series of seven films within seven different time frames, structure and inner sequences.

The exhibit, he added

looks at "the spatial analysis on the structures that influence how we see a world, a particular space wanting to metaphorically indulge in the illusions of a cowboys' hyper-masculinity without any of its real responsibilities," he said. " [Traveling through the American heartland] is a contemporary metaphor for an endless road trip that hold a very religious resonance is definitely subconscious but always present in the psyche.

Gamari writes that in 2007, Quarashi rented a white Bronco and traveled through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas and Colorado, and later took a closer look at Mexican cowboys in Yucatan, Veracruz and Oaxaca.

Here is a video of the installation, from Quarashi's web site -- the text at the beginning and end of the film is also interesting as a description of the project.

Sauerkraut Cowboys has a Facebook Page

Rodeo, Boskovice CZ. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Folks -- as you can see from the sidebar, we have bowed to the inevitable and opened a Facebook page.

So like us!

Here's the link --

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Western Frontiers: Stories of Fact and Fiction -- New Autry Center Exhibition on Guns

Cowboy action shooters in Italy. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Autry National Center in Los Angeles has a new exhibit that -- like other exhibits at this wonderful museum -- explores both the West of fact and the West of the imagination.

Called "Western Frontiers: Stories of Fact and Fiction" it  "illuminates the sweep of American Western history" through what it calls its "definitive artifact -- the firearm," exploring the history, artistry and symbolism of guns, both in the "real" wild west and in movies, TV shows, literature, fantasy and romance. Specific themes include hunting and trapping, the impact of technology on firearms, the conservation movement, and the West in popular culture.

The exhibit is the Autry’s inaugural exhibition in its new Gamble Firearms Gallery.

The examples featured—by iconic manufacturers such as Remington, Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Winchester, among others—are some of the finest specimens of the gun maker’s art, in terms of historic value, provenance, and pure beauty, that have ever been brought together in the United States.  [...] 
From the Colt and Winchester firearms Teddy Roosevelt used in the West, to Annie Oakley’s gold-plated handguns with pearl grips, to a Remington revolver once owned by Gettysburg hero General George Meade, this evolving display reflects the real and imagined stories behind the people who owned those guns. The exhibition also features historical documents, artworks, and artifacts, including Winchester advertisement lithographs, colored-glass target spheres used in sharp-shooter demonstrations, and a gun belt once owned by actor Steve McQueen, all of which place the firearms in a rich cultural and historic context.

The opening of the exhibit coincided with celebrations July 27 marking the Day of the Cowboy and Cowgirl.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Report on the Czech Banjo Jamboree

Caslav massed banjos. Photo © Lilly Pawlak

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The annual Banjo Jamboree in the Czech Republic, held now in the town of Caslav, is the oldest bluegrass festival in Europe. It's one of the first festivals I went to when I started following the country and bluegrass festival circuit in Europe.  This year's festival, June 21-22, was the 41st edition of the event. It included concerts, workshops, jam sessions, etc. The line-up was almost all Czech bands, with acouple of Americans and others. And there was the tradition jam session -- and photo -- of as many banjo players as possible performing Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

I didn't attend this year. But Lee Bidgood -- whom I met at the Banjo Jamboree in 2004 -- was there, presenting a sneak preview of Banjo Romantika, the documentary about Czech bluegrass that I helped on -- and in which I am featured as a "talking head" expert.

He gave a lengthy and thoughtful two-part write-up of the festival on his blog, with links and photos:

The oldest Bluegrass festival in Europe takes place in a suitably historic spot. The part of its history that you can see in this post is a bit more recent – the Republic of Czechoslovakia (founded in 1918 out of the still-warm ashes of the Hapsburg empire and the rubble of the first World War). The First Republic, as it is termed by Czechs (“Prvni Republika”) is a golden age, during which the country was the 10th larges economy in the world (think about who the major players were and weren’t in that period…don’t think folks in Europe were counting Indonesian or Chinese cottage industries in their tallies…). The traces of the first republic in Caslav include the site for the Banjo Republic festival, an outdoor letni kino (summer movie theater) and swimming pool. The building has the modernist flair of the first republic, including the elegantly minimalist metal railings that characterize villas and office buildings from the period. There is something slightly nautical mixed in with this style: an occasional round, porthole-like window, the railings that look like the top deck of the Titanic, etc. ...

Lilly Pawlak, bluegrass fan and expert extraordinaire, also covers this year's festival on the Czech music web site Music Open.

Her report is in Czech -- but google translate does a fair enough job of giving you the gist, and Lilly includes quite a few pictures.


Friday 21.6.2013 

1. Album
2. Taverna
3. Handl
4. Fámy
5. Poutníci
6. Sunny Side
7. East-West (CZ-SK)
8. Jimmy Bozeman & Lazy Pigs (USA/CZ)

Saturday 22.6.2013
1. Malina Brothers
2. Modrotisk
3. Twisted Timber
4. Abalone
5. Benefit
6. Blue Gate
7. Dessert
break + banjo players photo shooting
8. St.Johnny & The Sinners
9. Wyrton
10. BG Cwrkot
11. Goodwill
12. Black Jack
13. Vabank Unit
14. Louvat Brothers (Belgium)
15. G-Runs & Roses
16. COP 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Upcoming Country Festivals in France

At la Roche Bluegrass festival/ Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A number of country music festivals in France are coming up in the next few weeks. Here are some of the main ones:

July 26-28 -- Craponne sur Arzon -- 26th annual Country Rendez-vous

July 31-August 4 -- La Roche sur Foron --  La Roche Bluegrass Festival

More than two dozen bands; street concerts; workshops, jamming and more in a wonderful Alpine setting. And its free!

August 2-3 -- Cagnes-sur-Mer --  14th annual French Riviera Country Music Festival

 A top-notch mix of European and U.S. artists, plus line-dancing and more.

August 14-18 -- St. Agreve -- 18th annual Equiblues

Full-fledged Rodeo and Country Music Festival

August 23-25 -- Chateau del Matot (near Caen) --  Country Normandy Festival,