This remembrance is a contribution from Mark Stoffel, mandolinist with Chris Jones & The Night Drivers, a native of Germany.
The German bluegrass scene is mourning the loss of one of its most beloved and iconic members. Dieter Rahner, multi-instrumentalist, founder of the Munich Bluegrass Friends, band leader of the popular Munich-based band, Strictly Bluegrass, husband and father, passed away peacefully at his home on June 15, after a long battle with cancer. Anyone who had the honor of knowing Dieter will remember him as a big-hearted, gentle, and noble human being who would do anything to help you.
Dieter was a school teacher by trade, but in his free time and after his retirement, he lived and breathed bluegrass music, traveled around Europe to meet and play with folks who shared his deep enthusiasm for bluegrass. And because he loved people he made it his mission to use this passion for bluegrass to bring people together. Starting in the 1980s, he hosted regular jams at his family home. In addition, he organized Dieter Rahner’s Bluegrass Stammtisch, a weekly jam session at a Munich tavern, which he ran and attended until very recently, despite his deteriorating health, because – in his own words – “the show must go on.”
Dieter was a highly accomplished banjo picker, mandolinist, and dobro player. But he didn’t just master the craft. He was also deeply aware of the cultural context that brought bluegrass music into this world, so very far from his Southern German home. General audiences in Germany were only vaguely familiar with bluegrass music, and tended to associate its distinctive sound with all kinds of stereotypes, ranging from the confederate flag to cowboy movies, from straw bales to “hilli-billies” (German for hillbilly). To grow and educate audiences about the true soul of bluegrass music, Dieter founded The Munich Bluegrass Friends, an organization that promotes live events (Bluegrass in the Park, Munich Bluegrass Night), and actively supports young pickers through the Bluegrass Youth Fund. Dieter was a genuine Munich Bluegrass Legend (a title awarded to him in 2013), a quiet facilitator of beautiful things, and a mentor to many who were eager to become bluegrass musicians.
In 2016, for the liner notes of his band’s last album, Dieter wrote this about himself:
“In 1978 during carnival, we had a theme party in our school: Das war der Wilde Westen (That Was The Wild West). Some colleagues of mine and myself played some Cowboy Songs (Mississippi Sawyer, Soldier’s Joy, Fire On The Mountain) from sheet music, bought at the music store. Some time later, we learned that this music is called Bluegrass. I bought a 5-string banjo and we formed a band called Bavarian Blue. Since then I’ve been a bluegrass musician. I’ve been teaching students playing banjo and dobro. I joined Strictly Bluegrass in 2004, In 2008 we founded the Munich Bluegrass Friends e.V., in order to make bluegrass music more popular.”
Dieter is survived by his wife Friedel, his son Michael, and two grandchildren. He will be dearly missed by all. Rest in Peace, Dieter.