The people in the Czech Republic have long had a fondness for bluegrass music, even before they escaped from the Soviet Union, when the music was forbidden. I have spoken with long-time Czech grassers who told me that part of the charm in the old days was the fact that recordings and magazines had to be smuggled in, and passed surreptitiously from one fan to another like other US or western materials.
Today there is a lively bluegrass scene in the country, including amateur and professional pickers, renowned instrument crafters, and a growing tradition of original music.
Now a pair of faculty members at East Tennessee State University, Lee Bidgood and Shara Lange, are collaborating on a film project to tell the story of the Czech bluegrass scene, then and now. Called Banjo Romantika: American Bluegrass Music and the Czech Imagination, much of the film was shot in country during the summer of 2011, and at a concert in Johnson City, where ETSU is located, last year.
Lange shared a bit of background on the project, which is currently in post-production.
“It is based on Lee’s research in the Czech Republic, and tells the story of how bluegrass developed there. The film also introduces musicians still playing and reinventing the music today. We meet the ‘father’ of the Czech banjo, Marko Cermak, along with musicians from Druha Trava who have played bluegrass internationally and been featured on NPR and the New York Times.
Although the documentary explains the context for the music, it is really a film about music today and features lots of convivial scenes of bluegrass jams and captivating interviews with the musicians, who talk about what the music means to them.”
ETSU is supporting the film through a grant from their Research Development Committee, and you can do the same by pre-ordering a copy through their web site.
A Spring 2013 release is anticipated.