American bluegrass at Norwegian Opera
Judy Collins, Jonas Fjeld, and Chatham County Line performances enchant
M. Michael Brady
On Saturday evening, Feb. 8, in Oslo, there were two remarkable performances at the Norwegian Opera’s main stage, the city’s largest, built for presenting the titans of the operatic repertoire. The performances were of “Winter Stories,” a synergetic collection of 11 bluegrass songs extolling winter. The six performers were of the elite of contemporary American bluegrass.
Lead singer Judy Collins, 80, was born in Seattle, where she lived until age 10. The family then relocated to Denver, where Collins studied classical piano, at which she became apt, making her public debut at age 13. She might have had a career as a pianist. But with time, she developed an interest in folk music, drawn to it by the music of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Within three years, she was playing the guitar, at which she also became apt. The rest is history.
Singer and guitarist Jonas Fjeld, 67, was born in Bodø, a city in Nordland County, Norway. As a child, he moved with his family to Drammen, southwest of Oslo. There he started a comedy band that began making recordings in the early 1990s. One of band’s early albums included a bilingual Norwegian and English version of the Norwegian song “Engler i sneen” (“Angels in the Snow”) that remains durable. It was the last of the 11 “Winter Stories” songs.
Chatham County Line is an American bluegrass group of four men, formed in Raleigh, N.C., in 1999. In 2005, the group met Fjeld, who was sufficiently impressed to invite them to Norway to tour with him for some concerts. The outcome was two recorded albums, both of which went gold in Norway.
The two “Winter Stories” performances were a phenomenal success in Oslo. Both were sold out well in advance, proof perhaps that American bluegrass remains viable in Norway.
Further listening: “Winter Stories,” featuring Judy Collins, Jonas Fjeld, and Chatham County Line, available at Amazon.com in digital, CD, and vinyl formats.
This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.