I'm not sure what I was expecting of the Kruger Brothers performance who wrapped up the Joe Val Festival in 2006 but their set turned out to be something different and it blew me away. I had a vague memory of these guys performing two or three pieces on the Heritage stage at my first Merlefest outing. These wonderful musicians from Switzerland who have now made their home in Wilkesboro, NC where Merlefest is held, put on a unparalleled show that left me with a euphoric feeling of wonderment at the end of this festival.
Jens Kruger is probably one of the most versatile banjoists in the business. He sure made that banjo range from a soft melodic sound reminiscent of Alison Brown's style to classical orchestration to hard core old time banjo. Uwe Kruger's vocals were clear with perfect pitch and tone and very powerful. Their set began with a collage or suite of songs melding seamlessly into one another. The suite included a mix of folk ballads and instrumentals with celtic, classical and jazz influences poured all over the top like icing to whet your appetite. The audience was mesmerized as they moved from one piece to another. The suite of songs came from a project on which they are currently working.
Next they launched into some traditional pieces with "Carolina in the Fall", Doc Watson's "Train Song.", "Waterfall" and "Grandfather's Clock", their father's favorite song. This is where they began to tell their story of their beginnings and their travel and exploration of music around the world. They explained their exposure to Bluegrass as young children listening to the AFN (American Forces Network) which broadcast was heavily influenced by the mountain boys serving their country in Europe. As the brothers began to play, Bluegrass became better known in Europe because of "THE MOVIE" Deliverance and its theme song "Dueling Banjo's". Not having seen the movie, The Kruger boys speculated about its content possibly showing sexy scenes because of its R rating. The audience broke out in laughter when they explained their disappointment when they later came to find out it was just "a movie about a picnic gone wrong." Since they were receiving constant requests to play the song from "THE MOVIE", they got a 45 vinyl copy of the song and played it until it was grey.
To bring home the idea that Bluegrass is an international genre, they illustrated bluegrass around the world interspersing it with Dueling Banjos to bring the theme back to their roots. They performed clips from the Vienna Waltz, a Polish poker, A Spanish melody, Kansas – Over the Rainbow, Jamaica reggae, the theme from the Beverly Hillbillies, Sunnyside of the Street – Ragtime, and Pink Panther for Paris. They had the audience in hysterics with a clip of John Denver's Country Home done reggae style. This portion of the set was ended with a soft sentimental background of "What a Wonderful World", followed by "So Long Friends" and Doc Watson's "Will the Circle be Unbroken" as a sing-a-long and transitioning once again into Dueling Banjos to wrap up the show.