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Bluegrass in Russia: we did it again!

Posted by MrNatch3L on Saturday, July 16, 2011

The second Russia-American Bluegrass Jamboree was another marked success despite the fact that the first show unforeseeably coincided with a national day of mourning in Russia for the victims of the tragic Volga riverboat disaster 3 days before, in which many children lost their lives. American consular officials offered to cancel the event, but with the American headliner group Donna Ulisse and the Poor Mountain Boys already arrived in Russia, the directors of the Vologda State Museum graciously declined the offer and instead opted to open the event with several minutes of standing silence.

Last year's first-ever event, headlined by Pete and Joan Wernick with Justin Hoffenberg was, far as I can determine, probably the first time a major American bluegrass artist performed bluegrass music in Russia. (I could be wrong, but it looks that way. Bela Fleck has been here, but only with the Flecktones.) Pete introduced the sound of bluegrass banjo picked by a master. With Justin, people heard the beauty of the banjo and fiddle together, and  Pete and Joan's 2-part vocals gave folks a flavor of how bluegrass is sung.

This year, Donna Ulisse and the Poor Mountain Boys introduced Russians to pure sweet 3-part bluegrass vocal harmonies and it was truly stunning to hear the "high lonesome sound" in that place. One highly emotional moment was when Donna changed her planned set to sing Ralph Stanley's "Who Will Sing One Song for Me", dedicating it to the victims and families of the riverboat accident... "from my heart to yours" as she beautifully put it... and then truly sang it from the heart. Even though many in the audience could not understand the words, the sentiment was not lost on them. I confess to gettin' more than a little misty-eyed during that one, folks.

Donna Ulisse

Donna Ulisse singing in honor of the victims of the Volga riverboat tragedy

Since last year another Russian bluegrass band has appeared on the Russian scene, the Red Brick Boys from Moscow. They introduced the audiences to bluegrass Dobro. I saw one TV interview that zeroed in on that. The "Boys" are a young band, together barely a year. BHO member Alexey Chudinov plays a mean banjo for the band, considering he hasn't been playing banjo very long.

I wasn't able to take part in the shows at Yekaterinburg this year. Russian bluegrass was ably represented by the delightful kids of Cheerful Diligence, who played the Vologda and Semenkovo shows last year, and whose young female banjo player, a 15 year old orphan, received a new Deering banjo, arranged by Pete Wernick, Janet Deering, and others. I'm sorry I didn't get to hear Lisa pick it.

Another cool thing about this year... I was contacted by Angelika Torrie, president of the European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA) who read about the jamboree event on my "Banjo-centric Blog" and was excited to learn that there is some bluegrass starting to happen in Russia. We got some publicity about the jamboree on their blog, and I've been asked to do a follow-up article with photos for the October issue of the EBMA magazine.

The venue sponsors at Vologda have already said they want the event again next year. The consular staff is changing, as they do every few years, and I hope the successor of public affairs officer Eric Johnson will be as receptive and enthusiastic about the jamboree as he has been. It would never have happened without his support. Thanks Eric, and good luck in the new post in Kiev.

It's just so exciting to watch the continued ripple effect of what started out as just a kooky idea of mine over the dinner table one night. It's so cool to see bluegrass reaching a new audience and to see people of a totally different culture loving it.


UPDATE: Here's a clip from the Yekaterinburg concert"


3 comments on “Bluegrass in Russia: we did it again!”

Lady Bird Says:
Saturday, July 16, 2011 @6:15:47 PM

Hi Robert
Great write up and the videos were good to watch.
I have a bluegrass video with a Russian group playing and also with an interview.
It was outstanding.
Jill (from Australia)

Alex_smith65 Says:
Saturday, July 16, 2011 @11:23:30 PM

Звук - жопа....

MrNatch3L Says:
Sunday, July 17, 2011 @4:19:41 AM

Alex - звук был фактически супер . Мой фотоапарат плоха. Это не имеет никакого контроля для уровня звука, таким образом это искажено. :-(

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