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Thursday, June 17, 2004 03:34 pm

American wine, Eastern Euopean barrel

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One of the lesser-known legacies of Ronald Reagan's years in the White House is a band comprising citizens of the Czech and Slovak republics, formerly Czechoslovakia. It's probably fair to say that without Reagan's efforts to end the Cold War, Fragment would not have come together.

The band, which formed in 1983, has performed here twice in recent years, but the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where Fragment will perform on Saturday, is its largest venue so far in the capital city. The church is also probably the smallest venue of the group's 2004 U.S. tour schedule, which includes festivals in Athens, Ga., and San Diego and culminates at the International Bluegrass Music Association's Fan Fest in Louisville, Ky. Fragment is riding a wave of acclamation since winning the European Bluegrass Music Association's band competition in late May.

Fragment's appearance here is as much a surprise for concert organizers as it is for the group's fans. "We had not expected to have the opportunity to present Fragment," says Mark Pence, a member of the board of the Prairie Grapevine Folklore Society. "Their U.S. tour this year begins in Champaign and then [moves] to Bloomington. We found out they would be in Bloomington and had a free date, so we will be their third city on the tour this year."

As a European band that plays bluegrass, Fragment has helped breathe new life into an American art form. Pence compares Fragment's effect to the measures that saved Europe's wine industry after the disastrous 19th-century blight that nearly wiped out the continent's vineyards. "What saved the European wine industry was that they were able to graft their plants onto American root stock that they imported from the U.S.," he says.

Mark Mathewson, co-host of Bluegrass Breakdown on WUIS (91.9 FM), describes Fragment's style as "contemporary" bluegrass. "A lot of their songs have pop influence, and as a result they have a wide-ranging appeal. They do songs by first-generation bluegrass folks, but they'll also kick in something from Gordon Lightfoot," he says.

The band has featured many different members since its inception, but Jana Doláková, the only female vocalist ever engaged by the group and whose voice Mathewson likens to Alison Krauss', has been on board since 1994. Henrich Novák and Richard Cifersky have been voted Dobro and banjo player of the year, respectively, by several European bluegrass associations. Milan Marek is an accomplished mandolin picker who played with three other Czech bands before joining Fragment. "The guitar player [Tomás Jurena, who graduated from high school in 2003] could play with anyone," Mathewson says.

 

Fragment performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 745 Woodside Rd. Tickets, which may be purchased at the door, are $10, or $8 for members of Prairie Grapevine Folklore Society. For more information about the band, visit www.fragmentband.com.

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