Druha Trava Learned Americana By Way of The Czech Republic
A few years back I went to the Polish Oktoberfest Festival at Our Lady of Częstochowa church in north Phoenix. Many Polish and Polish-American bands performed at the event. Most played some classic folk tunes from the various regions of Poland, but at least one played some rock and roll that usually sounded like either American stuff like Chuck Berry or early British invasion material, but with completely Polish lyrics. The predominantly older crowd of first generation Polish immigrants was totally into it.
Druha Trava Druha Trava.
My hipster myopia had previously caused me to view punk bands like Post-Regiment and Dezerter as some of the pioneering troublemakers on the Polish music scene, being contemporaneous with Solidarity and other major socio-political changes in that country. But, as I learned from these old folks reliving their younger days, Polish musicians and fans were rocking out they best they could in light of living under a repressive communist regime in the '60s and '70s
Poland's Warsaw Pact comrade to the south, Czechoslovakia, also had an active pop and rock scene in the '60s and '70s, one that provided a rebellious undercurrent to a rigidly censored society. The arrest of the country's equivalent of The Velvet Underground, the Plastic People of the Universe, would play a part in motivating Czechoslovak dissidents to write Charter 77, a 1977 manifesto critical of the communist regime.
In 1989, when that regime was being overthrown in the Velvet Revolution, one of the major acts of resistance came from a performance in Prague's Wenceslas Square by Marta Kubišová, a pop singer who had been prohibited from performing for almost 20 years.
However, alongside the local manifestations of Beatlemania and psychedelia, an interest in Bluegrass music developed among Czechoslovak listeners. Robert Křest'an, currently of the Czech Bluegrass ensemble Druhá Tráva, has participated in this interesting aspect of central European pop culture for a a very long time.
Křest'an discovered Bluegrass in the '60s by tuning to the radio programming broadcasted on American Forces Network radio on the other side of the Iron Curtain in Munich, (then West) Germany. He was hooked from the moment he caught those transmissions.
"When I was very little, maybe 10 or 11, I heard the banjo on the radio and I was stunned," Křest'an says. "It was like a whole new life for me. So I found out what kind of instrument it was and what kind of music it was. I came into the Bluegrass and banjo music scene and started to write songs. Bluegrass music is 'me' music."
Communist authorities at the time didn't like this kind of music curiosity for simple reasons that reflected the polarized view of world power at the time. "It was subversive because it was American, that was all," Křest'an explains.