The Kruger Brothers trio are releasing a remarkable new project, “The Roan Mountain Suite,” on April 28 as part of MerleFest’s 30th anniversary celebration that runs through April 30. This weekend also marks the trio’s 20th anniversary at the Americana music festival held on the grounds of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
It’s the fifth commission granted to composer Jens Kruger and the Kruger Brothers. The project coincides with the 50th anniversary of the inaugural meeting to conserve the Roan Mountain, located on the North Carolina/Tennessee border, an effort initiated by the late Stanley A. Murray, husband of patron, Judy Murray, of Kingsport, Tennessee.
“It is a classical suite,” Jens Kruger explained in a recent phone interview. “We’re very proud of it. I worked really intensively on it for about a year. I went there up there and read a lot of history about it and the people who lived there. It is sacred ground. I became fascinated with this place. I took extended hikes and began feeling really connected with the area. The various pieces of the suite reflect the different ideas that could arise in one’s mind and heart when they are there.”
Can’t make it to the iconic music festival in person? In another first, the Kruger Brothers are allowing portions of “The Roan Mountain Suite” through a live stream on Facebook.
The trio has become world renowned for their unique classically-infused folk/acoustic music. Their latest original work was commissioned to honor the region, history and legacy of Tennessee’s Roan Mountain. The Kruger Brothers are joined on the album by The Kontras Quartet of Chicago.
According to a press release, Judy Murray founded The Stanley A. Murray Roan Mountain Suite Memorial Fund to seek support for the project, which has come to fruition. Dedicated to the memory of Stanley A. Murray, 1923-1990, The Roan Mountain Suite is a musical experience honoring the treasured landscape of the region. Stan Murray was a 14-year chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conference, a visionary and champion of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and Highlands of Roan, and founder of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy,initially founded for the protection of Roan Mountain.
“Roan can be perceived in many ways through all of our senses. Countless beautiful words, have been written about the Roan, and glorious photographs have been taken, but I’ve always felt that Roan needed a wonderful piece of music to pay tribute to it, to honor it,” Murray says. “When I heard the Kruger Brothers and works that Jens had composed, I knew I’d found my composer and my musicians.”
The Roan Mountain Suite is a vibrant new example of Jens Kruger’s brilliant ability to enlist the illustrative power of music to tell a story in eloquent detail. While Jens plays in a melodic style that has roots in bluegrass, his music is distinguished by long, melodic passages and a complex compositional foundation, often building on jazz or classical themes and techniques.
“Jens is able to capture the essence of a landscape and translate it into music,” Murray says.
The Kruger Brothers return to MerleFest with performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 28, 29 and 30. During the Saturday performance, they will share music from The Roan Mountain Suite as a livestream through their Facebook page.
“We have never done this before, it is new to us,” Jens Kruger added.
Originally from Switzerland, Jens Kruger began playing North American folk music at an early age and was particularly inspired by recordings of Doc Watson, Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and other progenitors of country, bluegrass and folk music, according to a press release.
He writes the music for all of The Kruger Brothers’ original tunes, collaborating with brother, Uwe Kruger, for insightful and stirring lyrics that complement the music. In 2006, Jens began his official venture into the themes and forms of classical music when he was commissioned to write “Music from the Spring” for banjo, guitar, bass and full symphonic orchestra. Jens has since received four commissions to write classical pieces which The Kruger Brothers have performed with various orchestral ensembles: “Appalachian Concerto” with string quartet; “Spirit of the Rockies” (commissioned by Canada’s iconic Banff Center) with a small orchestra; “Lucid Dreamer,” a chamber music piece written specifically for and commissioned by the Kontras Quartet; and now, the Roan Mountain Suite.
Jens Kruger is known for his innovative banjo composition and performance, integrating folk music with European classical music. He was awarded the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music in 2013, the fourth recipient of this prestigious honor. Jens was inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame in 2011, and was nominated for the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Banjo Player of the Year Award for 2016.
“Music is an enhancer,” Jens Kruger said in the release. “For instance, you can look a landscape and the right music enhances the emotion you have for that imagery. Music also shapes, to a certain degree, your perception of the landscape.”
Since their formal introduction to American audiences in 1997, The Kruger Brothers’ remarkable discipline, creativity and their ability to infuse classical music into folk music has resulted in a unique sound that has made them a highly respected fixture within the world of acoustic music. The honesty of their writing has since become a hallmark of the trio’s work. Uwe Kruger shines as a singer who is both direct and emotive, and for his impeccable guitar playing. He is also the lyricist for the group’s original songs. The trio is known for inventive compositions and performances that defy categorization.
Born and raised in Europe, brothers Jens and Uwe Kruger began singing and playing instruments at a very young age, and began their professional career in 1979. With the more recent addition of New York City native, Joel Landsberg, (who comes with his own noteworthy musical pedigree, having studied with jazz great Milt Hinton), the trio has been performing together since 1995, and is now based in Wilkesboro.
In their ever-expanding body of work – more than 20 albums to date – Jens Kruger (banjo and vocals), Uwe Kruger (guitar and lead vocals), and Joel Landsberg (bass and vocals) – The Kruger Brothers personify the spirit of exploration and innovation that forms the core of the American musical tradition.
“The first time we came through here the way our music was received took us by surprise,” Jens Kruger said in the phone interview. “It was overwhelming. It still is.”