Sunday, October 19, 2008

Carolina in the Fall - The Kruger Brothers Festival

The Kruger Brothers
Jens Kruger, Joel Landsberg, Uwe Kruger

Carolina in the Fall is an event characterized by small, intimate, personal moments in conjunction with big musical ideas and the best on-stage jamming you can experience anywhere. Always at the center of this day and a half salute to the Kruger Brothers are the two Swiss men, and their long time colleague who hails from Brooklyn, who immigrated to the the United States in 1997 and showed the country that wonderful bluegrass could come from abroad. Then they listened more closely to their own muse and infused their trio with sounds and sensibility that emerged from their European upbringing infused with their experience in rock music, classical repertoire, American folk music, and traditional bluegrass. From this fusion they have offered the world new sounds and continuously creative new compositions. While we missed their Friday evening concert event from fear of a too cold and wet evening for our own well-being, Saturday brought a mix of music, personalities, and sounds so thoroughly satisfying as to make any music lover float away from the Shepherd Farm as the evening drew to a close.

The Shepherd Farm is a lovely, rolling piece of farmland lying on the edge of N. Wilkesboro, NC owned by Robert and Brenda Shepherd, long-time friends of the Krugers, who host the festival. The festival began when Robert Shepherd suggested to the Krugers that they should go ahead and let the world and the local music community hear the full range of the Kruger's musical imagination. What has emerged is a weekend devoted to Jens and Uwe Kruger along with Joel Landsberg, their longtime bass player taking center stage and welcoming a number of their close friends and recent finds to perform alone and to play with the trio. This year's combination of players and music yielded a rich a varied day.

The day began with the first annula North Carolina Banjo Championship. While only eight competitors appeared for this year's contest, they were distinguished by a variety of backgrounds and their high skill level, ranging from seasoned professionals to young up and comers. The contest was won by Steve Lewis whose performance was characterized by particularly clear tone and phrasing making his delivery both interesting and exciting. Interestingly, Lewis has such high respect among his fellow competitors that he was tapped by at least two of them to accompany them on guitar, an instrument on which he has also won contests.

Steve Lewis Accompanying Eric Ellis

Billy Ray Summerlin Competing

Steve Lewis - Banjo Contest Winner

Due to an equipment problem, I missed the Waddington Family from North Dakota's performance as well as most of the Johnson Family, a Gospel choir. Back Porch Bluegrass, an able local bluegrass band performed a set, permitting the Krugers a bit of a rest.

Back Porch Bluegrass

We had last seen Zeb and Samantha Snyder in Conway, SC in May. During the ensuing six months, each has matured as a performer while they remain engaging and interesting youngsters. Samantha is only nine and Zeb is reaching into adolescence at age thirteen. Each was seen on stage on several occaisons during the day. Samantha particularly distinguished herself during the final fiddle madness jam at the end of the evening, holding center stage, listening carefully, contributing appropriately, and looking sprightly and lovely. Zeb, whose flat picking has improved enormously, really shone in the Guitar Frenzy portion of the program where, seated on a stage with Ron Block, Steve & Penny Kilby, and Uwe Kruger playing Blackberry Blossom, Way Downtown, and Alabama Jubilee. In each case, Zeb contributed mature and tasteful guitar solos on each round, holding his own with a pretty distinguished group.

Zeb Snyder

Zeb & Samantha Snyder with Jens Kruger, Adam Steffey, and Uwe Kruger

Bobby Hicks & Samantha Snyder

The Kruger Brothers debuted a new bluegrass band on Saturday. The still unnamed band features Jens Kruger on banjo, Uwe Kruger on vocals and guitar, Adam Steffey on mandolin, Bobby Hicks on fiddle, and Joel Landsberg on bass. The Krugers hope to schedule this new band for a limited tour this spring and summer. This band has the potential to meld traditional bluegrass with the unique Kruger sound and to hit the bluegrass world with a similar impact to that created by Dailey & Vincent or the Dan Tyminski Band in 2008.

Cindy Baucom, Bobby Hicks, Terry Baucom
Jim Brooks (Cindy's Dad) & Uwe Kruger

Cindy Baucom (Knee Deep in Bluegrass) Sings!


One of the true pleasures of this day was watching Bobby Hicks, at age 75 providing a connection to bluegrass music's early days, adding humor, the joy of playing, and flavor to the event. During one somewhat tedious performance during which George Hamilton IV, a veteran Grand Old Opry member, recited a tribute to Hank Williams, Hicks started playing background fill using phrases from Hank's songs, and grew the entire flavor of the moment into something special.
Other delightful moments grew out of his play with Samantha Snyder, and his wonderful bluegrass phrasing.
Bobby Hicks

There were too many great moments to detail them, but here's a collection of shots during the day that I hope will give a flavor of the experience.

Joyful Jens Kruger

Singer Maynard Holbrook

The Kruger Brothers On Stage

Steve Kilby & Uwe Kruger

George Hamilton IV

Wayne Henderson & Jens Kruger

Hillside Crowd

Evening Crowd

Mr. & Mrs. Lehmann with Mr. & Mrs. Steffey