Bluegrass in Belguim? Who would expect that a tiny country like that would boast a band with a fondness for arcane Grassicana. Nevertheless, eight years after Blue Maxx’s initial formation, the band is still going strong, and gathering a loyal following as well.
The band was founded Marc Holsteyn, a guitar player who had briefly abandoned bluegrass music in favor of landing a professional job. (“You can take the boy out of the bluegrass, but never the bluegrass out of the boy,” Jan Michielsen, the band’s mandolin player notes now.) Holsteyn recruited banjo player Dieter Van Peteghem and bassist Luc Van Peteghem, adding Michielsen to the fold. Michielson proved to be a wise choice. A veteran of several Europeon bluegrass bands, and a member of one of the very first Belgian bluegrass bands, Smoketown Strut, he added an acumen that was used to good advantage.
After bass and fiddle player Stefaan Van Laethem came aboard, the newly christened outfit quickly gained momnetum, going from small gig to large festivals, among them, The European World of Bluegrass festival, the Bluegrass festival in La Roche sur Foron France, and the Low Country Bluegrass Festival, where they’ve appeared for five consecutive years.
“We do the bulk of our gigging in Belgium with occasional gigs in Holland,” Michielsen explains.
In 2014, Blue Maxx released their first album A Wicked Path of Sin to great acclaim.
Holsteyn left the band last year, allowing Van Peteghem to take over the guitar duties. Gerd Van Loock was then brought in to take over the banjo spot.
Michielson cites Flatt and Scrugss, the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, Blue Highway, Dan Tyminski, Jimmy Martin, and the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys as primary influences, noting that the band focuses primarily on covers.
“Unfortunately none of us writes songs, so we depend on clever unknown covers that we arrange in the bluegrass style,” he notes. “Songs like Have You Ever Seen The Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Raining In My Heart by Buddy Holly, I Want You by Bob Dylan, and I’m On Fire by Bruce Springsteen.”
Michielsen says there’s a limited audience for bluegrass in Belguim, but the reaction they’ve received has been very satisfying nevertheless.
“Luckily people who like roots music in general also like bluegrass music,” he notes. “So we keep busy. We do get a lot of positive reactions. Since bluegrass music is not so well known over here, audiences really appreciate it when we do those well known songs.”