EWOB: The New Essex Bluegrass Band

May 2007

By Dixon Smith and The New Essex Bluegrass Band

The tenth annual European World of Bluegrass Festival was held on 17-19 May in Voorthuizen, Holland, attracting the cream of Europe’s bluegrass bands. Forty-two bands were selected to appear out of over eighty who applied, from almost every conceivable nation, with the Czech Republic especially heavily represented; performing with the great precision that comes from classical training. Let it be said loud and clear, “Europe’s finest bluegrass bands are as tight and driving – with soaring, high-lonesome harmonies – as the finest acts from America.” Amongst the most outstanding bands to appear were: 4 Wheel Drive (Netherlands), Meantime (Slovakia), Lonesome Mountaineers (Sweden) and the Petr Brandejs Band (Czech Republic), but there were many other bands who showed how popular this beautiful music is throughout the whole of Europe.

New Essex Bluegrass Band
The New Essex Bluegrass Band in Voorthuizen

The United Kingdom was represented by the New Essex Bluegrass Band and the Carrivick Sisters. This was the fourth EWOB appearance for NEBB, and we felt in top form, having picked almost all day long every day. Our performance on the opening day was voted third best of the bands that appeared that day. A colour photo from that performance appeared in the next day’s local newspaper which gave the festival some prominent publicity. We gave interviews to two Dutch radio stations and recorded a live performance for each station to play at a later date, and we also performed at two additional venues in Voorthuizen, a restaurant and a bar.

The entire town of Voorthuizen is behind this event. Local businesses and shops lend generous sponsorship, the cafes, bars and restaurants invite bands to play inside and outside their premises, and the townsfolk give the warmest welcome to the EWOB visitors.

What made the festival especially rewarding for the members of our band was the opportunity it gave us to meet, or renew friendships with, musicians from many different countries. I met Norris, for instance, an elderly bluegrass statesman from New York, who runs The Ebony Hillbillies, the world’s only black bluegrass band. We spent two consecutive afternoons picking with James Field, the fine guitar player and lead singer who played with the great Joe Val in the Charles River Valley Boys and recorded the classic Beatle Country album with them in the 1960s. His taste for traditional, first-generation bluegrass overlaps ours perfectly. James lives in Paris, and he’d brought a certain banjo-picker friend with him to the festival, a living legend who was eager to spend the week picking. His name? – Bill Keith, with whom Greg and I spent two exciting evenings picking tunes. I hadn’t seen him since we’d met at a picking party at the University of Connecticut in 1965.

New Essex Bluegrass Band
The New Essex Bluegrass Band in concert

The other band members had the opportunity to renew acquaintances with two groups they have known for several years and who are both appearing at UK festivals this year. The Dutch band 4 Wheel Drive, winners of this year’s audience popularity award, will be appearing at the Cornish Bluegrass Festival. The Looping Brothers from Germany who took the same award in 2005 will be at Didmarton.

Voted Number One European Bluegrass Band was Sweden’s G2, an exciting, tight, energetic and contemporary young band. Their prize for taking this prestigious award, voted for exclusively by all the festival musicians, was a trip to the 2008 International Bluegrass Music Association convention in Nashville.

What else? Oh yes – our young friends The Carrivick Sisters. The New Essex Bluegrass Band had an opportunity to pick and sing with Charlotte and Laura on several occasions during the week and saw their formal Saturday afternoon performance. Simply stated, they were amongst the two or three standouts of the festival. This is said not because the twins have only just turned eighteen years old, but rather that their musicianship on guitar, Dobro, fiddle, and mandolin is impressive yet tasteful, and their harmonies impeccable.

Picking with the Carrivick Sisters
The New Essex Bluegrass Band and The Carrivick Sisters picking

Numerous listeners to these picking sessions remarked to us upon their abilities, and these comments were confirmed by the reception the enthusiastic audience gave to their stage performance. They’re already seasoned professionals and write most of their own material. Have no doubts, these young ladies are already stars, and we think it is only a matter of time before a solid label signs them up. They are the future of acoustic music.