I’m quoted in the Wall Street Journal

A French country music fan wears Hank Williams on his arm…Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

I’m quoted in the Wall Street Journal in an August 11 article about European country music by Ginanne Brownell. She writes about a new, more mainstream trend in locally produced country music. But her statement that “many events are moving away from exclusively featuring big-name American acts, opening their stages to local talent” isn’t really right. Yes there are now (or I should say again) more big events by big-name American stars. But most of the scores of country music and bluegrass festivals and other events across Europe have already long  mainly featured local groups. The article doesn’t mention veteran European artists like Truck Stop, Tom Astor, Gunther Gabriel, Michal Tucny, Lonstar, etc….

Europe Tunes In to Its Own Country Music Scene

After years of importing country artists from the U.S., Europe is finally listening to home-grown music

By

Ginanne Brownell
Updated Aug. 11, 2014 1:22 p.m. ET
[…]

Country music has been a niche genre in Europe since the 1950s, when American GIs stationed in Europe brought it with them. (It didn’t hurt that Elvis Presley was stationed in Germany from 1958-1960). During the Cold War, in countries such as Czechoslovakia, a bluegrass scene developed as a form of rebellion against communism. The subculture is still thriving today, thanks to bands such as Druhá Travá, who have released over 20 albums internationally and have been touring the U.S. nearly every year since 1993.

“Bluegrass festivals in the Czech Republic are among the best in the world,” says Ruth Ellen Gruber, an American journalist and writer based in Italy who runs the European blog “Sauerkraut Cowboys.” The Czech town of Kopidlno has been hosting an annual bluegrass festival since 1973.

A plethora of country music festivals have been held across Europe for many years. They range from small local festivals to large annual events. For example, France’s La Roche Bluegrass Festival draws 12,000 people, and London’s Country to Country Festival drew 18,000 fans last year and 30,000 this, its second, year. Lately, however, many events are moving away from exclusively featuring big-name American acts, opening their stages to local talent.

[…]

Read the full article

 

 

 

 

Filming on Cowboys & Europeans…in Pullman City

 

During the American History Show. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

As most people who know me (and anyone who has looked at my sauerkraut cowboys blog) are aware, I’ve been exploring and researching the American wild west/American frontier in the European imagination for some years now. Good lord, 10 years in fact — I researched my first article on the topic (a travel piece on European wild west theme parks for the New York Times) back in the summer of 2003, and already in 2004 I had a visiting scholar fellowship at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles to look into the marketing of the Frontier Myth abroad.

My New York Times story was largely centered on Pullman City, a wild west theme park in Bavaria, near Passau.

And it was back to Pullman I went a few weeks ago for some filming on a documentary on “Cowboys, Indians and Europeans” that is being made by the New York filmmaker Riva Freifeld, whose past work includes a documentary on Annie Oakley.

With Riva at Pullman’s Mexican restaurant, after the shoot. Photo: Stefan Grandinetti

What can I say. It was fun — and a bit of old home week, as I caught up with some folks I had met years ago. Riva and her cameraman, Stefan Grandinetti, filmed me interviewing a variety of people who work (or hang out) at Pullman — from an “18th century minuteman” who has built a cabin in the “authentic section” of the park, where hobbyists and reenactors can construct their own dwellings, to Hunting Wolf, the “half blood Cheyenne” who conducts programs based (in part) on Native American lore; to Detleff Jeschke, a former prize-winner rodeo rider who has long been the park’s program director.

The scene was much as I found it in 2003 and on my subsequent visits (the last time I had been there was at Xmas in 2009, when my country singer friend Willie Jones played Santa.) This is what I wrote in the New York Times:

It’s nowhere near high noon, but a tough-looking hombre in a black leather vest, black stovepipe pants and a black cowboy hat is sauntering down the dusty length of a frontier Main Street, a gun belt slung low on his hips. He strolls past the sheriff’s office, the Palace Hotel and a saddled horse hitched loosely to a wooden railing, then pauses for a moment at the broad covered porch of the Black Bison Saloon. Entering, he strides up to the bar and places his order.

”Ein bier, bitte.”

This is Pullman City, a theme park in southern Germany where more than a million visitors a year step out of 21st-century Europe into an American Wild West fantasyland of stagecoaches, gunfighters, mountain men and Indians. Set on 50 rolling acres a two-hour drive northeast of Munich, near the Bavarian town of Eging am See, Pullman City is a compendium of mythic iconography engrained in the global psyche by well over a century of hugely popular adventure stories, movies, television shows and traveling Wild West extravaganzas.

Here are some pictures from the shoot:

Hunting Wolf and his buffalos. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Riva and Stefan filming the American History Show. That’s Detty Jeschke on the horse. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

 

The minuteman hobbyist “Richard Baker” reads the Declaration of Independence during the American History Show. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

In the saloon…. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

 

I always enjoy going to Pullman City Passau…and also to Pullman City Harz, a sister wild west theme park in north-central Germany. These places become a world of their own.

At Pullman City Passau, the organizers are keen to emphasize that it is a “living” western town, because of the “Authentic Area” where hobbyists actually live — on weekends and vacation time. Some come even in the winter, modeling their “real imaginary” lifestyles on the 19th century past, even in the bitter cold.

A number of songs have been written about both Pullmans.  They tend to play on the country music trope of “home” that make “Country Roads” and “Sweet Home Alabama” so popular….

Here’s the official Pullman City song, declaring that Pullman City is “my home town.”

And this seems to have been written by a fan

 

 

Banjo Romantika is about to premiere!

Banjo Romanitka, the documentary about Czech bluegrass that I helped out on is about to launch!

Produced and directed by Lee Bidgood and Shara K. Lange, it will have screenings in the Czech Republic in June.

Here’s the schedule:

1) Screening and lecture, American Center at the American Embassy, Prague  – 20.06.2013 – 17:30 – 19:00

Americké centrum, Tržiště 13, Praha 1 – Malá Strana  http://www.americkecentrum.cz/

2) Screening, Banjo Jamboree Festival, Cáslav – 21-22.6.2013 (time tbd)

www.banjojamboree.cz/

x) Closed screening and lecture, Jerome College of Prague – Monday 24.6.2013

3) Screening and lecture, Moravian Library, Brno – Thursday 27.6.2013 18:30-20:00

Conference hall of the Moravian Library, Kounicova 65a Brno

http://www.mzk.cz/sluzby/akce/prednaska-mississipske-blues-promitani-dokumentarniho-filmu-banjo-romantika

4) Screening, White Stork Festival, Luka nad Jihlavou – Friday – Saturday 28-29.6.2013