Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Bashed Potatoes heats things up in Cologne

Bashed Potatoes may boast a rather amusing handle, but their devotion and intent are decidedly serious. A bluegrass band based in Germany, it originated at the Cologne Bluegrass Bash, a monthly jam session that took place in their home town of Cologne in Germany. Steffen Thede, the group’s banjo player, describes the band’s sound as “powerful, contemporary, playful, driving, dynamic, and distinctive,” not to mention decidedly “outside the box.”

Formed in 2021, the group, which includes Thede, Joon Laukamp (mandolin, fiddle, vocals), Philipp Keck (guitar, vocals), Pierce Black (bass, vocals), and Paul Lindenauer (fiddle, vocals), marry an array of influences that were contrived courtesy of the members’ disparate backgrounds, incorporating classical music and baroque instrumentation, as well as rock and jazz.  

Thede cites Matt Flinner, Mark O’Connor, Stuart Duncan, Brittany Haas, Edgar Meyer, Paul Kowert, the Punch Brothers, the European bluegrass duo, Old Time Hayride, Barry Crabtree, and Jens Krüger as those that have made a decided impression on their sound. 

Not surprisingly then, each member of the band boasts a distinctive background. As bass player of the stoner rock power trio Goldmouth, Thede performed over 120 concerts within the expanse of two years in Europe, China, and the USA. Born in Schleswig-Holstein, he was awarded a scholarship in 2014 by the Deutscher Musikrat (German Music Council) to the program Popcamp, a national master class for popular music. He took up the 5-string banjo at the age of 20, and advanced through folk and jazz to arrive at his bluegrass style. Since then, he has been performing with various bands, among them, Stereo Naked, and has established himself as a major contributor to the European bluegrass scene.

Laukamp was born into a family of musicians and began playing violin at age seven. In high school, he became interested in jazz and bluegrass, and studied jazz violin at the Cologne Music Conservatory and later, as part of the American Roots Program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There he studied under Darol Anger and Casey Driessen. He subsequently toured with a number of bands throughout the world. Together with Keck, he founded the Bluegrass Bude, a website that shares and exposes American roots music. 

Lindenauer considers himself “a born-again European.” He was a founding member of several leading baroque orchestras in Germany, including Concerto Köln and La Stravaganza Köln, and played for many years with such distinguished ensembles as Collegium Vocale Ghent, Les Arts Florissants, and La Chapelle Royale und Concerto con Anima. He teaches violin and viola privately and has conducted budding chamber orchestras in his adopted home in Waldbröl. 

A true multi-instrumentalist, Keck can also claim the titles of music pedagogue and video producer. He has been a freelance teacher since 2011 and is a graduate of the Cologne music conservatory. In 2012 he found his connection to bluegrass when he was gifted a mandolin. These days, he invests all his extra income in string instruments of every variety. A founding member of the Cologne Bluegrass Bash—the Cologne Bluegrass and Oldtime music collective—he produces jam sessions and concerts on a regular basis. Along with Laukamp, he founded the Bluegrass Bude website in 2020. He’s also a well-known Cologne studio musician and tours with various bands and projects throughout Germany. In addition, Keck is the former mandolin player for the band Covered Grass, and he’s performed extensively with the American mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall.

Besides being the band’s bassist, Black boasts credits as a composer, festival director, and teacher. Born in New Zealand, he studied classical bass at the Cologne music conservatory. While there, he made a name for himself as a genre-breaking jazz, bluegrass, and folk musician. In 2015, he was nominated for the Peer Raben Music Award and composed music for the 2019 film Kinder by Nina Wesemann in cooperation with Radio Berlin-Brandenburg and ARTE. Black’s toured the world, playing with various musicians and ensembles, including violinist Daniel Hope, the Cölner Baroque orchestra, the Kammerorchester Köln, and the Collegium Musicum Köln. In addition, he’s recorded numerous album as both a band member and songwriter. A founding member of the Cologne Bluegrass Bash, he directed the first Cologne Bluegrass Bash Festival in 2019.

Part of the band’s diversity resides in the fact that they’re an international outfit. Nevertheless, as their bio explains, it was their common love of the acoustic music traditions of the American South and their desire to create a contemporary interpretation of those sounds that inspired them to join forces. “Familiarity bred contentment, and a band was born.”

Though they’re a relatively new outfit, Bashed Potatoes has made a mark of late.

“We have performed mostly in Germany, but also in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Scotland,” Thede explains. “We are playing bluegrass festivals and concerts before attentive audiences. There are often people in the crowd that have never heard bluegrass music before. We like spreading the bluegrass gospel in Europe, and introducing it to new audiences.”

Those festivals he refers to include the Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival and the Moniaive Michaelmas Bluegrass Festival in Scotland. In addition, Thede mentioned that they are also scheduled to perform at Germany’s Bluegrass Festival Bühl in 2024.

Along the way, they’ve had opportunity to collaborate with Mike Marshall who, Thede says, they’ve not only performed with in Cologne, but became a coach of sorts. Thede credits Marshall with giving them the confidence to go into the studio and record their first album, which was released last month and appropriately titled All You Can Eat

“For the most part, it contains original songs, as well as our  arrangements of songs from bands and songwriters who inspire us,” Thede noted. He lists Darrell Scott and the Kruger Brothers as chief among them. 

Their efforts have clearly served them well, as evidenced by the following they’ve accrued in their local environs. “People are excited about our band,” Thede insists. “Many of them point out our new and distinctive style, and our wide dynamic range and our lively performances.”

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.