Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Owen Schinkel applies the lessons he learned

There’s likely no better example of the international reach of bluegrass and grassicana than the inspiration it gives to those that live abroad, and initially developed any interest from afar. Once such individual is Owen Schinkel, a student and bluegrass enthusiast from The Netherlands who also happens to be a Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music Studies major at East Tennessee State University. 

At the end of last year, Schinkel was assigned to write a research paper for one of his classes, Survey of Contemporary Bluegrass, taught by Tim Stafford, an excellent musician in his own right. 

“I did research about all the different kinds of bluegrass festivals that are out there nowadays, from your traditional festivals to the more modern and contemporary festivals,” Schinkel relates. “I interviewed a few festival directors to pick their brains, and gather their thoughts about where bluegrass music is heading in the near future. I think festivals are always involved in watching the latest trends and determining what bluegrass music fans are interested in. And, I believe, they are also setting new trends.”

 Schinkel says he wanted to include the international aspect of the festival scene in his research paper, so he reached out to the Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival which takes place approximately two hours from the town were he was born and raised. “I got in contact with the festival director and he answered some questions I had, and proved to be really helpful,” he recalls. “At the end of our conversation, he mentioned his interest in perhaps getting a bluegrass band that was affiliated with my university to come and perform at the festival in 2019. I started to think about this immediately and how I might make that happen. However, I thought it was going to be impossible, so I gave up. That is, until the spring semester of 2019.”

That was when Schinkel became interested in learning how to lead a band. “I decided to take a class called Band Leadership Skills,” he explains. “It’s one of the three capstone classes students can choose from in the Bluegrass, Old Time & Country music studies department. In the Band Leadership class, students create. I gathered a group of excited, hardworking, talented students to help me build a band for that semester.”

Schinkel admits that at the same time, he had other ideas in mind. “I was still thinking about trying to come up with an idea to make it to the Netherlands somehow,” he recalls. “And at this point I had a group of people who I was stoked about to work with. I reached out to the Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival to see if they still wanted a band from the U.S, one that had an international flavor, to play the festival. I told him that I was really excited about this new band that we created through the class. We gave the band a name, Broke & Dusty.”

Happily, the festival responded by saying that they would love to have a band come and perform, and even give some workshops at some local schools in Rotterdam, all in the hope of sharing some insights into bluegrass.

“I was honored to be presented with this opportunity,” Schinkel says. It was little wonder. As it turns out, it helped him circle back to the beginning of an early musical encounter. 

”I stumbled over bluegrass music by accident when I was growing up in the Netherlands. One of the first bluegrass albums I ever heard was by Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys. It was called Live in Holland. Naturally, I was super excited about the idea of getting more people in the Netherlands interested in bluegrass music and so I immediately started thinking about how I could make this trip possible.”

While Schnikel admits that the challenge of bringing a six piece bluegrass band to another continent did seem formidable at first, he now says it’s been one of the best learning experiences he’s had since he first arrived in the U.S. for his studies. He credits the assistance of East Tennessee State University, the IBMA Foundation, the Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival, the Folk Veur Volk Festival, and his parents for helping with the arrangements. 

“There are many other people who are helping us out with logistical stuff and instrument loans while we are in The Netherlands,” he suggests. “Without any of them, we couldn’t have done this. For me, this is going home and giving back a few things I’ve learned in East Tennessee over the past two years. I’m super excited to be a bridge between two cultures/countries with the same love for bluegrass music. It’s always been my dream to make people in my home country familiar with the music I devoted my life to.”

Schinkel shared a video that he made as part of  his application for the Bluegrass, Old Time & Country music studies at ETSU.


We think it’s admirable to find someone born abroad who is so dedicated to bringing the music from here to home.

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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.