American bluegrass inspired sound for Kruger Brothers
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:50 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:50 a.m.
Who: The Kruger Brothers
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19
Where: Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St., downtown Wilmington
Details: 632-2285, www.ThalianHall.org or www.KrugerBrothers.com
Originally from Switzerland, The Kruger Brothers, Jens and Uwe, began a love affair with bluegrass and folk music at an early age, listening to American bluegrass albums their father brought home. With Jens on the banjo and Uwe on guitar, the pair began playing professionally 40 years ago. In that time they have become a celebrated fixture of the American roots and acoustic music scene.
The Kruger Brothers, along with bass guitarist Joel Landsberg, perform at Thalian Hall on Saturday as part of the hall's Main Attractions series. The band members were on vacation recently and not available for interviews.
Jens received his first banjo at age 10. By 16, he was travelling around Europe performing with Uwe, a guitarist. They played on the streets, busking and learning a utilitarian attitude toward the public.
Those experiences still resonate today. During an interview for a performance at massive North Carolina roots music concert/gathering MerleFest, they spoke of being public servants as musicians because it means depending on the good will of people to survive.
The Kruger Brothers play their own style of American folk, having been exposed to a wide diversity of styles of country and bluegrass from the likes of Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs and Doc Watson. With a combination of tender harmonies and banjo playing, the trio is known as an innovative ensemble, highly respected in the arena of acoustic music. It was something they couldn't have necessarily achieved in Europe.
In what the Krugers have described as a business decision, the brothers left Switzerland for America to be successful playing music. During their 20s, they found themselves with a record contract at the end of the disco era. It was 1981, and they were playing in a variety of venues, even discotheques.
The duo would come to encapsulate a mix of urban and rural. Jens spent a summer living on bluegrass legend Bill Monroe's farm and performed with him. Uwe spent time in cities playing music.
Even as the 1980s saw a big change in musical tastes, the impact of bluegrass and folk maintained a presence in the backdrop of American music, emerging more so in the '90s. Twenty years ago the Krugers went from duo to trio, asking Brooklyn-born bass player Joel Lansberg to join them. Their output remains wrapped in tender harmonies and traditional music. "Appalachian Concerto" is an ode to the romantic idea of immigration and a wonderful epic of exquisite playing and emotion.
The song surely emanates from a genuine place. Citing that they, too, come from the mountains in their native Switzerland, the brothers came to call North Carolina home. It is there that their music has been welcomed heartily.
Jens Kruger, who some place among the best banjo players in the world, was inducted to the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame in 2011, sharing the camaraderie of fellow players and inductees like the late Doc Watson, who once described the Kruger Brothers as one of the finest bands he'd ever played with.
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