The Dutch are fans of bluegrass. One only has to refer to the Shiny Moonlit Boys Bluegrass Band to come to this conclusion. The band – Sebastiaan Lit (guitar, lead vocals), Mark Schilder (banjo, tenor vocals), Jean Paul Joosten (mandolin, baritone vocals), Gijsbert Ditweg (dobro), Laurens Joensen (double bass) – originally merged when Lit and Ditwig met during a jam session at the La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France. They then decided to form a new band back home in Holland and began to actively search for stable pickers within the local Dutch bluegrass scene. That’s when they recruited the others. On a few occasions, a guest violinist has also joined them on stage.
Describing their sound as “straight bluegrass!” Lit says their influences were pretty obvious. “The founders of this music of course,” he insists when asked. “Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, and many other artists who stayed true to the style – such as Del McCoury, Jim & Jesse, JD Crowe & The New South, The Bluegrass Album Band and the Johnson Mountain Boys.”
The band regularly performs gigs within the local Dutch music scene, mainly in bars and smaller venues. However, they expanded their reach at the same time. “In the summer, we hold festivals overseas,” Lit explained. “Last summer, we did a little mini Scandinavian tour in Denmark and Sweden. We also played at the Nääsville Bluegrass Festival, one of the main bluegrass events in Sweden. Additionally, we played at the European World Of Bluegrass in the Netherlands, an event that attracts bluegrass enthusiasts from all over Europe and beyond. We also did the Foxbarn Bluegrass Festival in Belgium. We’ve also played a number of festivals that aren’t necessarily bluegrass oriented, but rather have a broader music lineup.
These experiences allowed them to expand their parameters and interact with many musicians of considerable renown.
“We met a group of excellent, well-known American pickers while they were here playing festivals in Europe,” Lit suggests. “We had some great jam sessions with them.” He names the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Seth Mulder & Midnight Run and Mile Twelve with Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and David Benedict among those with whom they had the opportunity to exchange their licks.
Luckily, too, Lit says local audiences have responded well to his music. “People always seem to enjoy the unique bluegrass vibe, especially when we’re playing live,” he notes. “I think the three-part harmony singing around a single microphone, then having us take turns doing solo breaks, makes it engaging to watch and listen to.”
Although the group has not yet entered the studio to record, Lit says he plans to do so this winter. In the meantime, they posted several live videos on Soundcloud and Instagram.
“We’ve written some originals that we’ll start playing live after the tapings,” says Lit. “Until now, we’ve mostly played covers on stage. Some of our favorite songs include You can have it, a teardrop, Julie Ann Come On Home, and Rock salt and nails.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Lit has his own theory as to why bluegrass enjoys such popularity and appeal around the world.
“I think it’s the authenticity of the style,” he muses. “It’s simple, acoustic and down-to-earth. It has this very accessible basic format, with plenty of room for personal expression. This is why so many bluegrass fans also enjoy playing the style themselves and being part of the community. It has this binding family feel. The social aspect is just as important as the music itself.