Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Bertolf & The Bluefingers offer a Dutch treat

Dutch singer and guitarist Bertolf Lentink gained an appreciation for bluegrass early on, leading to a dedication and determination he’s shared most of his life. “I was raised on bluegrass music by my parents,” he says in retrospect. “They both loved it. My father’s an amateur musician. He plays mandolin, banjo, and guitar, and he played his bluegrass records endlessly around the house.”

Those influences endured.

“My first guitar hero was Doc Watson,” Lentink says. “When I was in my teens, I really gravitated to that scene of brilliant musicians in the ’80s and ’90s — Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Mark O’Connor, and Mark Schatz.

The guys that are pictured on Béla Fleck’s Drive album are all my heroes. As a singer and songwriter, Tim O’Brien is my hero. As far as the guys my own age, I really love Punch Brothers.”

His current band, Bertolf & The Bluefingers, is comprised of Lentink on guitar and lead vocal, Nathalie Schaap on bass and vocals, Janos Koolen on mandolin and vocals, fiddler Joost van Es, Jos van Ringen on banjo, and Caspar de Groen on dobro.

The band came together easily and seemingly effortlessly as well. “I’m from The Netherlands and I wanted to do a theatre tour here. I needed a Dutch band to play with, so I just asked the best people I knew here to join,” Bertholf explains. “Natalie Schaap was in my band before, and she and her boyfriend, Jos van Ringen, have their own bluegrass/newgrass band called Nathalie. They’re from the same city as I am — Zwolle. Janos Koolen is a multi-instrumentalist who has a great passion for bluegrass, so he was an obvious choice as well. Joost van Es is a veteran of the Dutch bluegrass world. He has played with many great bluegrass bands here, such as Four Wheel Drive. In fact, I’ve known him since 1994. I was 14 at the time, and competed in a country and western talent show. I won, and Joost was on the jury!”

The other musicians were easy to identify as well. 

“Caspar de Groen is a guy I actually got to know via the internet,” Bertholf says. “He covered some of my songs, and I thought he did a great job, so I started following him on Instagram. Next, I saw him playing dobro, and thought he had a great feel for that. He had good intonation and timing. So I asked him if he would be interested in doing a gig as a dobro player, and indeed he was.”

Bertholf describes the band’s sound as progressive bluegrass. “It’s songs with influences that range from traditional bluegrass, to ’60s and ’70s pop and rock, all played with traditional bluegrass instruments,” he says.

As previously implied, Bertholf began sharing music early on. “Here in the Netherlands, my career started while playing in the band belonging to Ilse DeLange,” he says. “After that, I went off on my own, and I’ve made six solo album. However they were more in the singer/songwriter style. I have done theatre tours here in the Netherlands, but I haven’t played much abroad.” 

Nevertheless, Bertholf did have the opportunity to venture to Nashville to record an album at Sound Emporium Studio. Several prominent musicians played on the sessions, including Jerry Douglas on dobro, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Mark Schatz on bass, Wes Corbett on banjo and David Benedict on mandolin. It was recorded and mixed by David Sinko.

“So far, I’ve only released two tracks of the new bluegrass album I made,” he explains. “One is an instrumental called Team Hoover, and there’s also a duet with Ilse DeLange called Before The Storm. The album is gonna be called Bluefinger and it will be released September 8 2023. The response so far is really great, I must say. In The Netherlands, it’s like that Sierra Hull quote —  ‘Everybody loves bluegrass, but a lot of people don’t realize it yet’.”

Bertholf goes on to express his own satisfaction as well. “Those sessions were really a dream come true for me,” he recalls. “Especially to play with the very guys that inspired me to pick up an instrument in the first place, and people that I’ve been listening to since I was eight years old or something. It was so surreal, but it felt like home at the same time. I’m just so used to hearing those guys in my headphones.”

These days, Bertolf & The Bluefingers focus mainly on originals, although they do occasionally add covers by Tim O’Brien, Tony Rice, and Bill Monroe to their set lists as well.  

Naturally then, Bertholf has his theory as to why bluegrass enjoys such international popularity. “It’s probably got something to do with the honesty and truth of it,” he suggests. “Bluegrass is like a force of nature. There’s no trickery there. It’s real stuff. And it just has this great energy. The level of musicianship is incredible, and it’s so great to witness. And then there’s also the great singing and harmonies, and this sort of ancient spiritual depth. What more could someone look for in music?”

For more information on Bertolf & The Bluefingers visit them online.

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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.