Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Your correspondents, with a special guest correspondent, stopped by the Bauskas Kantrimuzikas Festivals. If you're not good at recognizing cognates, that means the Bauska Country Music Festival. Bauska is a small town - population probably 15,000 or so - that for some reason hosts an annual country music concert. They have hosted some notable bands in the past - last year featured Asleep at the Wheel, who are at least popular enough that your correspondent (not exactly a devotee of contemporary country) has heard of them. We didn't actually go into the festival grounds, but hanging out by the castle ruins just above, it was possible to get a taste of country music sung in Latvian.
Perhaps it is just a sign of the bias of my particular taste that I have never considered the possibility of country music as a cultural export. We all know that the kids behind the iron curtain were longing for Western rock and roll. (Right? I actually don't know if that's true - but it's what many Scorpions videos led me to believe.) Rock/pop stars like Madonna, R.E.M., Metallica, and Snoop Dogg have played in the Baltics to large crowds in my time here. But should it be surprising that if you go to the rural parts of Latvia, the strain of our music that they're importing is the music that is popular in the rural parts of America ?
One of the main radio stations in Latvia plays a mix of traditional Latvian music; "Kantri" - which sounds like a smoothed-out version of country, as if played by one guy with an expensive keyboard locked on the "honky tonk" pre-set; and "Schlager" - a take on Teutonic drinking songs, like Kantri music set to a 3/4 beat, which we in America just might call "Oom-pah music." The urban sophisticates of Riga don't care for it, but the attendance in Bauska demonstrates that it is not without an audience.
Above, The Lovely Katherine, along with our friend Mandy, gets into the Kantri mood, as cowboy-hatted dudes file into the concert grounds.