Monday, 31 May 2010

Czech Bluegrass Spring V: Lucerna Hall benefit concert

Text and photos by Lilly Pavlak

On Sunday a huge benefit concert was held in Lucerna Hall [above] in Prague, near the Wenceslas Square, organised by the instrument maker Rosta Capek. He celebrated the 25th anniversary of his trademark Capek Instruments.

We drove from Sloupnice with Petr Brandejs, who plays banjo with Bluegrass Cwrkot, since their original banjo player Milan Leppelt – a Czech banjo legend - passed away last summer. But he has his own Petr Brandejs Band and this band opened the mammoth concert in Prague. On the way we picked up another band member, the guitar player Ondra Kozak. He also has his own band named Kreni, one of the best in the land.

We arrived to Prague just in time for the sound check. Concert started at six o’clock. The Lucerna Hall is one of the most beautiful historical concert halls in the country. The seats were sold out months ago, so many people had to stand. Proceeds of the event were dedicated to the Jan Deyl Conservatory for blind music students, which is just celebrating its 100 years.

Petr Brandejs Band opened the night. They brought as guests two other great banjo pickers, Vojta Zicha and Ondra Ruml (who was placed second as a singer in a TV show X-factor last year). They performed 'Dixie breakdown' with triple banjos [above].

That night we could see 'who is who' in the Czech music business. Many artists came from different genres - jazz, bluegrass, country, Celtic, and even classical music. All linked by playing Capek Instruments. (Among his customers are also many US artists - Peter Rowan, David Grisman, Andy Statman, Ricky Skaggs, and others.)

Also the mandolin wizard Radim Zenkl performed that night with several formations. The most success belonged to his original music, such as instrumentals 'Greenpeace' and 'Happy grass', which he played [above] with Jakub Racek, the guitar player from one of the best bluegrass bands, Monogram, and some other musicians. Next to mandolin he loves the Irish pipes, and people had even the opportunity to see him playing the cow horn.

After a break, the first lady of bluegrass Pavlina Jisova & Friends [above] came on stage. The band consisted of her daughter Adelka, Jakub Racek from Monogram, and Pavel Peroutka of the best Czech vocal band Relief on bass. Petr Malasek, the famous piano player, joined them.

The next not-only-bluegrass act were Eliska Ptackova & Friends, with her father Vlada Ptacek on banjo (maybe some of you are familiar with Ptacek handmade tone rings, capos, tuners and so on) and Radek Vankat, a young, great Dobro player. She also sang a duet with Ondra Ruml.

Marek Eben, famous entertainer and TV star called on stage Marko Cermak, who was celebrating his 70th birthday. Marko Cermak is the father of the Czech 5-string banjo. He received the IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award in 2007. It was he who started the first Czech bluegrass bands, the Greenhorns and White Stars, in the late sixties. His first banjo was made after a picture of the one with a long neck from Pete Seeger, who was the first American artist to visit Czechoslovakia in 1964.

Marko is not only a musician, he is a man of many talents: painter, illustrator, and writer. He wrote and published the first Czech tutor for 5-string banjo - Marko Cermak, Petistrunne Banjo in 1975; Banjo z mlznych lesu (Banjo from the Foggy Forrest) in 1998; and his last book, Marko Cermak: posledni romantik (Marko Cermak: the last romantic) came out recently. He received as a birthday present a little travel banjo that Rosta Capek made especially for him [above and below].

The high point of the night was when the Deyl Conservatory received the money check from Rosta, rounded up by some sponsors. I am sure the money goes to the right place!

Petr Brandejs, Ondra Ruml, Pavel Peroutka, Radim Zenkl, Jakub Racek

The show continued with many other artists. At the end, all musicians came on stage. On the side screens showed up the pictures of the beloved Czech singer and banjo player Waldemar Matuska, who passed away in his home in Florida last year.

To pay tribute to him, everybody was singing his big hit – 'To vsechno vodnes cas' (Originally 'I am in the jail house now'). And the five-hour-long mammoth concert was over. I will remember this very special event for a long time…