Well, another Russia-America Bluegrass Jamboree has come and gone – the third one so far. When I suggested the crazy idea to the American Consulate General in St. Petersburg 3-1/2 years ago I never dreamed how amazingly it would pan out. The first one in 2010 kicked off with Pete “Dr. Banjo” Wernick accompanied by Joan Wernick on guitar, Justin Hoffenberg on fiddle, and yours truly on bass. Then last year we brought over Donna Ulisse and the Poor Mountain Boys (Greg Davis, banjo, Rick Stanley, guitar, Jon Martin, mandolin and Bobby King, bass). This year Bill Evans came over with an all-star cast from Nashville: Barbara Lamb, fiddle, Tim May, guitar, and Todd Phillips, on bass. What a treat to meet those folks and hear them play over here!
Jamboree 2012 Hightlights
The 2012 jamboree was a bit different in several ways. For one thing it featured shows in vastly different localities: super-urban Moscow, Russia’s analog of New York City, and Totma, a very small provincial town with a long history – 875 years! And a connection with the USA – the founder of Fort Ross in Sonoma valley California, Ivan Kuskov, was a Totma native. The reason the Consulate chose to have a show there was to showcase American traditional music as part of the town’s bicentennial celebration of the founding of Fort Ross.
One thing about doing a show in Totma: we can credit Bill Evans and company for boldly taking bluegrass where no bluegrass has gone before. The crowd numbered around 1000, and we can be pretty sure it was the first time any of them heard bluegrass music. There’s an old saying in Russia: “In this country we have two problems: fools and roads.” Bill and the gang definitely experienced the latter. The road from the first show at Vologda to Totma was, well, the word brutal comes readily to mind. I’ve ridden over worse but only once. I think if Bill ever performs with the same band again he can name the act “Bill Evans the the Rough Riders”.
Let there be jams!
The high point for me was an impromptu jam session with the 2 Russian bands that were on the Vologda-Totma leg of the jamboree: Grass Pistols, from Nizhny Novgorod, and Fine Street from St. Petersburg. It was in Totma after the ceremonial ringing of the cathedral bells simultaneously with Fort Ross. The directors of the Ivan Kuskov Museum graciously made this beautifully restored old log building available way after hours. I know Bill and the band were pretty exhausted, but they went the extra mile realizing how much it meant to the Russian musicians to get to pick with these masters.
Card of thanks
I hope bluegrass fans everywhere will join with me in thanking the United States Consulate General in St. Petersburg for their financial and organizational support for the past 3 years, and also to the directors of the Vologda State Museum for providing outstanding performance venues, local organizational support, English-speaking guides, and more. And this year, kudos to the Totma city administration and directors of Totma museums for their gracious hosting of this bluegrass event and musicians.
We never know from year to year if this event will continue. It all depends on availability of grant funding and personnel resources on both the U.S. and Russian sides. In just 3 short years has a stellar record of showcasing some of the best of American culture, not to mention top bluegrass musical talent, in places that have never encountered it before, of bringing people together rather than dividing them, and of helping a well-loved form of music to be heard in, and spread to places and people where it hass never been before. Let’s hope we can keep it going!