25 February 2018

Wow! - bluegrass outside the USA?

The BIB editor writes:

Lee Zimmerman began on 9 January this year the twice-monthly series 'Bluegrass beyond borders' for Bluegrass Today, designed to explore music made by artists from outside the USA, since 'what many have considered an inherently American form [bluegrass] has spread across the world, a sound that’s now considered practically universal and enjoyed from the Far East to the Middle East, in Europe and all points in between'.

The first instalment featured Ireland's We Banjo 3 (as noted by the BIB), and the series so far has covered the Russian band Bering Strait (24 Jan.), the Kruger Brothers (8 Feb.), and most recently (22 Feb.) the Slocan Ramblers from Canada, who toured Ireland last October. The opening words of the Bering Strait feature caught my attention:

Even 20 years ago, the notion of a band from another country specializing in bluegrass was somewhat startling.

It wasn't always like that. Go back to 1969-70, and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine was featuring on its cover the Bluegrass Specials from Vienna, Austria; the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band from New Zealand; and the UK's Down County Boys. It's hard to imagine a band from outside the USA being given such prominence nowadays. Could this be because the scene in the USA is now so lively? The end of the 1960s was an anxious time for bluegrass in the States, and its supporters at home may have been glad to hear that the music was alive in other countries. In 2018 such reassurance may no longer be wanted. All the more reason to thank Lee Zimmerman and 'Bluegrass beyond borders' for drawing attention to the world outside, and thanks, moreover, to John Lawless of Bluegrass Today, who has always been ready to publish news from the bluegrass diaspora.

US fans can now simply enjoy bluegrass from outside: a good example is Tara Linhardt's recent article on the Joe Val Festival, where our Italian friends Red Wine were playing. The feature includes a video of their version of 'Somewhere between' (with some neat modulations in the last chorus), which can also be seen on YouTube. Tara Linhardt writes:

Red Wine [...] were a blast both on the stage and off. It is so great to see how bluegrass has become a globally-played and appreciated music. Looks like there are bluegrass buddies to be found all over the world these days.

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At 12:12 pm, Anonymous Roger Green said...

As someone who was knee deep in bluegrass during the 1960s, I can confirm that bluegrassers from outside the US were rare, at least in the Wash DC / Baltimore area. Two notable from that time were Japan's Bluegrass 45 & Andrew Townen (sp) from England who showed up at Watermelon Park for the Berryville Bluegrass festival and also walked into the Shamrock bar to see the Country Gentleman. Andrew got to pick a couple of tunes with the 'Gents'and even impressed the icon John Duffy.

At 2:39 pm, Blogger Richard Hawkins said...

Thanks, Roger; yes, bluegrassers from outside the US were - and still are - rare in the US (slightly less rare in their own countries). Nonetheless, BU in '69-'70 published features on overseas artists even if (like those I mentioned) they didn't come to the USA.

Those who did, like the Bluegrass 45 and Andrew Townend, naturally got even more attention. Andrew, who was 15 when he attended the 3rd Berryville festival in 1967, had his comprehensive report on the festival published in BU, with an introduction by Alice Foster (Gerrard). The letters pages in the next issue included an overview of bluegrass in various countries by Norman Carlson, who concluded: 'Those of us in bluegrass can afford to overlook neither the potential foreign market for our product nor the benefits bluegrass can provide for American-foreign friendship and for the overseas fans themselves.' That was how things looked - to one observer, at any rate - in 1967.


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