The Dutch are adept at bluegrass. One need only reference The Shiny Moonlit Boys Bluegrass Band to come to that conclusion. The band — Sebastiaan Lit (guitar, lead vocals), Mark Schilder (banjo, tenor vocals), Jean Paul Joosten (mandolin, baritone vocals), Gijsbert Ditweg (dobro), Laurens Joensen (upright bass) — originally coalesced when Lit and Ditwig met at a jam session at the La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France. They subsequently decided to form a new group back home in Holland and began actively looking for steady pickers within the local Dutch bluegrass scene. That’s when they recruited the others. On a few occasions, they had a guest fiddler join them onstage as well.
Describing their sound as “straight forward bluegrass!,” Lit says their influences were fairly obvious. “The founders of this music of course,” he insists when asked. “Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, and many more artists that stayed true to the style — such as Del McCoury, Jim & Jesse, J.D. Crowe & The New South, The Bluegrass Album Band, and the Johnson Mountain Boys.”
The band gigs regularly within the local Dutch music scene, primarily in bars and small venues. However, they’ve expanded their reach at the same time. “In the summer, we do festivals abroad,” Lit explained. “This last summer we did a little Scandinavian mini tour of Denmark and Sweden. We have also played at Nääsville Bluegrass Festival, one of the leading bluegrass events in Sweden. In addition, we played at European World Of Bluegrass in The Netherlands, an event which draws bluegrass enthusiasts from all over Europe and beyond. We did Foxbarn Bluegrass Festival in Belgium too. We’ve also played a number of festivals that are not necessarily bluegrass oriented, but have a broader musical line-up instead.”
Those experiences have allowed them to broaden their parameters and interact with any number of musicians of considerable renown.
“We did get to meet a bunch of excellent and well-known pickers from the US while they were here to play the festivals in Europe,” Lit suggests. “We had some nice jam sessions with them.” He names the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Seth Mulder & Midnight Run, and Mile Twelve with Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and David Benedict as among those with whom they’ve had opportunity to trade their licks with.”
Happily too, Lit says local audiences have responded well to their music. “People always seem to enjoy the unique bluegrass vibe, especially when we play live,” he notes. “I think that the three-part-harmony singing around a single microphone, and then having us taking turns at solo breaks, makes it attractive to watch and listen to.”
Although the band has yet to enter the studio for the sake of recording, Lit says that they are planning to do so this winter. In the meantime, they’ve posted several live videos on Soundcloud and Instagram.
“We have written some originals which we will start performing live after the recordings,” Lit explains. “Up until now, we have mainly played covers on stage. Some of our favorite songs include You Can Have Her, One Tear, Julie Ann Come On Home, and Rock Salt and Nails.”
Not surprisingly then, Lit has his own theory as to why bluegrass garners such worldwide popularity and appeal.
“I think it’s the authenticity of the style,” he muses. “It is simple, acoustic and down-to-earth. It has this very accessible, basic format, with a lot of room left for personal expression. That’s why so many bluegrass fans also like to play the style themselves and be part of the community. It has this binding family feel to it. The social aspect of it is just as important as the music itself.”