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Bluegrass Star Trek?

Posted by MrNatch3L on Tuesday, July 27, 2010

 I posted the following in the Other Banjo Related forum the day after the Jamboree ended, but in retrospect I think it really should have been a blog entry, so with apologies to those who may have read the post already, and some minor edits and additions...

This is a follow up to the thread posted to while accompanying Pete and Joan Wernick and Justin Hoffenberg as they headlined the first-ever Russia-America Bluegrass Jamboree.

This has been one of those experiences after which you will never be quite the same. I'm sure Peter and Joan, and Justin would say the same.  But this thing has been way way more than just the people directly involved... the musicians, the consulate folks who organized it, and the museum staffs and local government officials who were so gracious and supportive and provided the stunning venues. It was fact been a banner week for Bluegrass music... here's why.

Best estimate is that between all the live shows we did for the Jamboree, probably at least a thousand people in Russia heard Bluegrass music for the first time. But that was tip of the iceberg. There was a great deal of TV coverage of the shows, Pete and Co. did local internet and radio interviews where they played Bluegrass. Pete gave away many CDs, DVDs, and books. Many people attended the master classes given by Pete, Joan, and Justin, even if they didn't all participate directly. It's certain that during the Jamboree week, thousands of people in Russia saw and heard American Bluegrass music for the first time. If the live shows were any indication (and I think so) they loved it. Bluegrass is real people music, not to mention a lot of fun. It connected, and I'm sure we haven't seen the end of it.

So there's that - many many Russian folks had some fun listening to some great Bluegrass laid down by both American and Russian musicians. Instructional books and DVDs have been given away, interest has been sparked, and knowledge and skills will proliferate from that. The odds are that down the road there's going to be more Bluegrass music blossoming from the seeds that were sown by Pete, Joan, Justin, the kids in the "Vsyole Diligense" band, and St. Petersburg's "FineStreet" bluegrass band this week. I think we will soon get to the point where Bluegrass is no longer the only American musical genre that nobody in Russia every heard of, and almost nobody plays. The Russian musicians who will embrace the music and play it will draw from their own traditions and the worldwide Bluegrass music community will be richer for it.

But the significance of this event was bigger even than that. So many people were brought together during the Jamboree week through Bluegrass music, breaking through the barriers of language, culture, and geography, and connecting with each other in a hugely positive way that will stay with them. OK, in the grand scheme of things in this tense and touchy world, it's a small drop in the bucket. But some modicum has been done to counteract the doubt, distrust, fear, and rivalry that Those Who Would Lead seem to find in their own best interest to sow among us. The world just a little bit better place today because Pete and Joan Wernick, and Justin Hoffenberg stepped up to the challenge, stepped waaaay out of their personal comfort zone (in more ways than one... it was blasted HOT here in a place where AC is usually not needed!). They reached out with their music and themselves, touched a lot of folks here, and planted positive seeds for the future of Bluegrass music. They energized an already smokin' Russian band, FineStreet, from whom more is sure to be heard in the near future. They encouraged the young kids in the Happy Stagecoach band who represent the longer-term future of Bluegrass in Russia.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for me occurred after the last performance of the Jamboree... Pete, Joan, and Justin improvising a live sound track for the old silent file "Tumbleweeds" at a St. Petersburg cinema. At least 5 people asked me where they can hear Bluegrass played in St. Petersburg. I had to say that it isn't really yet, but that is probably going to change. I took their contact info and will hook them up with places they can download some Bluegrass music... including the BHO Jukebox. 

It's far too soon to tell if this will be the only event of it's kind. There has been talk from several quarters about doing it again next year. That would be great, but consular folks come and go and in a few years there'll be other people who may well choose to sponsor different things. I hope those of us in the embryonic Russian Bluegrass music community can keep up the momentum sparked by this event and reach a point where the music gains its own audience and stands on its own merits. It won't be mainstream mass-consumption music... it never was and likely never will be in the land of its birth (we would hate that, wouldn't we!)

But we may well be headed toward the day when there'll be plenty of "down-doma" pickin' and grinnin' going on in places "where no Bluegrass has gone before!" 


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