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Review from Cedar Rapids (IA) concert

Druha Trava brought their bluegrass fusion from the Czech Republic to CSPS in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 19, 2011. The band, founded in 1991, has toured the United States every year since 1994, except for 2008. (Druha Trava photo)

By Diana Nollen/ SourceMedia Group

CEDAR RAPIDS – Druha Trava translates to “second grass,” which seems akin to “new growth,” which seems to embody the Czech bluegrass band’s sound.

This is bluegrass by way of rock, country, gospel, folk and Celtic influences. And it’s fantastic.

The folks at Legion Arts have proven they know a good thing when they hear it, and Wednesday night’s concert (10/29/2011) at CSPS marks at least the 10th time they’ve brought Druha Trava to the Corridor. I’m ashamed to say it’s the first time I’ve seen the band in action, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

A small but wildly enthusiatic crowd of 85 in the renovated Czech social hall basked in the music of the band that opened for President Obama’s 2009 speech in Prague’s main square.

It’s easy to see why the seasoned ensemble has toured the United States almost annually during its 20-year history. Its music is firmly rooted in American traditions.

Dubbed “Czechgrass,” the sonic fusion blends the band’s original songs with the sounds of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bill Monroe. Except under the deft fingers and vocals of Druha Trava, the songs don’t sound anything like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, CCR and Bill Monroe. They sound completely new.

Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” becomes an even more mysterious, sensual ballad. The Stones’ “Wild Horses” takes on an easy, loping cowboy gait under Lubos Novotny’s haunting dobro slides and Lubos Malina’s banjo picking. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” gathers no moss with the band’s kicky bluegrass and stunning string work on dobro and acoustic guitars, acoustic bass, mandolin and banjo.

The tone changes entirely when Malina trades his banjo for low whistle and penny whistle to add a Celtic flair to the music. The gospel favorite, “Peace in the Valley,” becomes utterly serene with a quiet rhythm gently supporting the gorgeous three-part vocal harmony that really let the lyrics jump out and shine.

The vocals retain their gritty urgency in any genre, from lead singer and mandolin player Robert Krestan. He and Malina have been performing together for nearly 30 years, leaving their previous band, Poutnici, to form Druha Trava in 1991.

Novotny has been along for the ride since the beginning, as well, and it shows, in the tight way the band plays and the loose way they interact. Emil Formanek joined in on guitar in 1984. Award-winning jazz bass player Tomas Liska is the newcomer, coming onboard in 2010.

The intimate setting of CSPS is the perfect place to witness the sheer pleasure of seeing the five bandmates play off each other as they play their music. The sound is equally captivating whether in Czech or English or purely instrumental. The band’s CDs, including the newly released English-language collection, “Shuttle to Bethlem,” went flying off the tables at intermission and after the two-hour concert.

This is one international band that makes you feel completely at home.


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Robert Krestan's Czech Radio...

Listen to Robert Krestan [and the music of Druha Trava] during a guest appearance on an Olomouc, Czech Republic radio show.

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Druha Trava is a wonderfully individual band from the Czech Republic that is hard to describe.

They perform new acoustic world music with bluegrass influences. You might hear them perform a bluegrass tune, Bob Dylan tune or one by another American or British artist, or one of their many originals.

Though they basically use a typical bluegrass complement of instruments, you might see the banjo player also pick up a clarinet or Irish whistle. This along with the versatility of the dobro player helps create much of their unique sound. The Bluegrass Association of the Czech Republic declared Druha Trava "Group of the Year" in both 2005 and 2006.

Booking U.S.: Bea Flaming - bea@druhatrava.com - phone: 612-929-9368
© DRUHA TRAVA 2007 - 2011

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