Bluegrass Beyond Borders: France’s Boom Ditty Band play their own kind of grass

France’s Boom Ditty Band have invested an inordinate amount of time and expertise into their endeavors, and in the ten years since the group was founded, the results of that investment have clearly paid off.

Banjo player Romain Luzet sums things up succinctly. 

“Boom Ditty is a kind of crossroads,” he says. “A meeting of singular artists at crucial times in their careers.”

That’s evident in its origins. Guitarist and singer-songwriter Fabien Duclerc, and bassist, guitarist and vocals Remi Lonca, met when they were in their teens, and initially began their collaboration by playing blues and funk. Eventually Fabien decided to focus solely on his songwriting, and at that point, he met Luzet who had recently completed two years of study in jazz guitar with Basque guitar legend Jean-Marie Ecay. Duclerc and Luzet enjoyed an eight year partnership, one which became Lute’s major focus. During that time, they produced and recorded an album, one which thrust the two musicians headfirst into the whirlwind of the music industry, and its accompanying array of managers, agents, booking agencies, and press secretaries, all of whom contributed their insights and expertise when it came time to produce the duo’s sophomore set. 

According to Luzet, it became too much for Duclerc, causing him to sever his bonds with the biz, and free himself from the financial pressures it entailed. For his part, Luzet decided that he would be best served by a band that would tap into more of a folk music tapestry, and in so doing, explore a more authentic sound that eschewed the airplay opportunities offered by the typical commercial radio stations. He enlisted Lonca, who, in turn, recruited Yann Ravet, a gifted guitarist, sideman, and studio musician who lived and worked in Paris. 

By 2012, Boom Ditty was in its formative stages. Multi-instrumentalist Janine Terhoff, just back from a world tour with French singer and songwriter Tom Frager, joined the group as its vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and mandolin player. Dobro player Manu Bertrand also began contributing to the group’s efforts and today remains an unofficial member of their collective who’s called upon as needed.

Ultimately, the combination all began to gel. “Boom Ditty is always striving for that consistency and balance between the quality of the voices and the instrumental parts,” Luzet insists. “What sets us apart and, in fact, really glues us together is that we have three lead singers. Each one has a very different vocal technique and assorted influences, and all three compose songs for the band.”

Luzet adds that the banjo and solo guitar veer between bluegrass and traditional folk music, depending on the arrangements. “The lyrics on our album are very personal and sometimes humorous,” he explains. “They tell stories about family, nature and certain social issues.”

Not surprisingly then, the group’s influences are quite eclectic. 

“Being professional musicians means that each of us also plays with other groups in different styles, whether it’s rock, traditional Basque music, folk, New Orleans jazz, surf music or blues,” Luzet continues. “All these styles have had an effect on us, but we’re especially influenced by bluegrass artists like Blue Highway, Lonesome River Band, Béla Fleck, Tony Rice, Sierra Hull, Chris Thile, Billy Strings, and Leftover Salmon. In truth, the list is too long. We started playing bluegrass music ten years ago, and yet we are still lucky enough to be discovering any number of major artists for the first time.”

In their decade together, Boom Ditty has performed over 300 concerts, including those involving spring and summer town fairs, theaters and various European festivals — among them, Holland’s European World Of Bluegrass gathering in 2013 and the main stage at the La Roche Bluegrass festival in 2019. They had been scheduled to appear at Germany’s  Bühler Bluegrass Festival Germany in 2021, but it was cancelled due to COVID. 

“We had an amazing time jamming with Lover’s Leap, Billy Cardine, and members of the Mile Twelve band,” Luzet recalls of their festival experience. “There was one jam session in 2014 that especially stands out. We played alongside Rob Ickes and several other really talented French musicians like Manu Bertrand, Glenn Arzel, Fred Glas, Raphael Maillet, and Bruno Bluteau.”

The band’s trajectory started at first by tackling outside material, including songs by the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Lonesome River Band, Johnny Cash, Balsam Range, Lou Reed, and Otis Redding. “We made an EP in 2013 with a few covers and one original song, and another EP came out in 2017 with just original songs,” Luzet explains. “At long last, we recorded our first album in 2020 with nine original songs and one cover by Bruce Springsteen. We recorded all the music using two ribbon microphones, and using this technique meant that there couldn’t be any mistakes during takes, and that nothing could be corrected afterwards. It was risky, but I think what came out of that was an incredible energy and group dynamic that multi-track mixing can render. The album came out in 2020 and is available in as a digipack CD, and for download on all the major streaming platforms, all of which can be found our Facebook and Instagram pages. We’re currently working on our second album and already have some great songs in the can.”

Luzet adds that the attention given that initial album has been most encouraging. 

“When we brought out an album of original compositions, we were pleasantly surprised at the really positive reactions to our songs by our fans, who were for the most part used to us playing covers.”

In fact, the group has amassed a loyal following.

“People love our music and we are still getting lots of compliments on our album,” he says. “The French love bluegrass, but unfortunately there isn’t enough of it programmed here and the radio doesn’t play it either. It’s a shame because people really enjoy every concert we do, and I can’t tell you the number of times that someone has come up to me and said, ‘I didn’t know that this kind of music was called bluegrass, but I’ve always loved it!'”

Nevertheless, Luzet isn’t surprised by its popularity. “I think bluegrass music conveys so much joy and energy, and also a real musical authenticity,” he says. “Playing bluegrass music demands great technical and musical ability. It’s impossible to hide behind technology, programming and all the other effects that are often found in today’s music. Bluegrass music is all about keeping it real, and as a result, it brings a human dimension to live music. It embodies the essence of American folk music, and when viewed from a European perspective, it also evokes a kind of nostalgia for older folk traditions.”

For more information on the Boom Ditty Band, visit their web site or Facebook page, or contact the band by email.

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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.