We make no apologies for alerting you, dear readers, to the delights to be found at Static Roots, the small but perfectly formed two-day festival of Americana roots music which is held annually in Oberhausen, a small town close to Düsseldorf in Germany. A close cousin to Ireland’s Kilkenny Roots Festival and the home-grown Ramblin’ Roots held in High Wycombe, Static Roots sets out its second post pandemic stall over the weekend of the 7th and 8th of July with a lineup guaranteed to thrill which includes The Cordovas, Malin Pettersen and a rare appearance on this side of the ocean from Jim Bryson. AUK’s roving reporter Ken Beveridge met up with the festival organiser Dietmar Leibecke when they were both at the most recent Kilkenny Roots Festival and Ken took the opportunity to speak to Dietmar about this year’s Static Roots and to delve into its history.
Good morning, Dietmar, we first met at The Kilkenny Roots Festival. Can you remember what year that was, which acts appeared and what was the appeal?
In 2013 I was the tour manager for Canadian songwriter Leeroy Stagger and we attended the SummerTyne Americana festival in Gateshead. It was my first time experiencing a festival which was built around my favourite kind of music. Every act was just great to see and the atmosphere was pretty amazing. So my wife and I started checking out other Americana and Roots festivals and the Kilkenny Roots Festival seemed to be the top of the game. In 2014 we met you on the morning of the second festival day of the Kilkenny Roots at the breakfast buffet when you asked my wife about “The Wynntown Marshals“ T-shirt she was sporting that day. We went to see The Webb Sisters, Aoife O’Donovan, Barrence Whitfield and Irish heroes John Blek & The Rats (who will be playing a reunion show at this year’s Static Roots Festival). The overall atmosphere was just brilliant and the audience consisted of like-minded music lovers. It felt like the place to be.
I know that you got the idea of Static Roots from attending that Kilkenny Festival. Can you tell us what part Willie Meighan played in formulating that idea?
A common friend introduced me to Willie Meighan via Facebook and when I entered Rollercoaster Records for the first time to pick up my festival tickets, I walked up to this guy and asked him if he was Willie and he replied, “Oh, you’ve got to be the 7-foot-tall German! Welcome to Ireland.” Some months later I travelled all the way to Edinburgh to see Danny And The Champions of The World and The Wynntown Marshals and coincidentally, there was Willie with a group of folks who I met at the Kilkenny Roots Festival earlier that year. You were there as well! After the show the group wanted to take a picture and Willie came up to me, saying: “Hey Dietmar, get over here. We’ll take a picture and you are already part of the family.” And that’s how it felt. Becoming a part of the Roots family. Willie was a mentor in the creation of my festival and I discussed organizational, technical, and ethical questions with him. The most important advice I got from Willie was “Follow your guts, no matter what.” That advice still carries me.
Am I right in saying that this was not your first foray into hosting music events? Tell us more.
After a musical revelation in the spring of 1981, I became a passionate music lover and promoted my first show back in 2006 when I invited Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3 to play my 40th birthday party. During that night, Steve Wynn introduced me to the concept of house concerts which we then started in the fall of 2007. We established a house concert series with more than 90 shows until the pandemic set in early 2020. German music magazine ‘Folker’ called our series “one of the most successful house concert series in Germany.” In 2016 – due to some private anniversaries – we started the Static Roots Festival.
Can you tell us all about the very first Static Roots festival? Particularly the significant year and the medical situation that you were in?
In 2016 my wife and I were celebrating many anniversaries: it was my 50th birthday, our 25th wedding anniversary, it was ten years of promoting live music, and the fifth anniversary of a successful kidney transplantation surgery. My wife donated a kidney to safe my life! We celebrated all these anniversaries with the inaugural Static Roots Festival. Back then it was a one-day event with six acts (one of them taking the wrong direction to another Oberhausen in Bavaria – but that’s another story).
I seem to remember that there was free entry and free beer – surely that must have been a dream I had!!
That’s right. Because of our anniversaries we had invited people to the festival and offered free drinks and food. We then asked folks to donate to “Doctors Without Borders” and support a good cause. We still keep the relationship to Doctors Without Borders and think it is important to give back to society. All proceeds from the sale of Static Roots Festival merchandise go straight to Doctors Without Borders. We recommend a price for the merchandise and if people can afford it, they put more money than recommended into the piggy bank. We also don’t mind if people give less than the recommended price. Whatever they can afford.
Who was the first act you booked for the first Static Roots and who else appeared?
I’m pretty sure the first act that I booked was John Blek & The Rats. After seeing them at the Kilkenny Roots Festival in 2014, we booked them right away for our house concert series and they went down a storm! We also had the Scottish band The Wynntown Marshals, Kilkenny based The Midnight Union Band, Leeroy Stagger from Canada (who btw played the first show in our house concert series). We were also supposed to have Daniel Romano but he took the wrong turn and ended up with his band in a Bavarian Oberhausen about 700 km south from where the festival took place.
We have already mentioned the late great Willie Meighan. Tell our readers more about ‘the Willie Meighan spot’
After suffering from a serious disease, Willie Meighan died in 2017. Because of his influence and help, we decided to always have an Irish act in the festival line-up playing in memory of Willie. This year it is going to be the Cork-based band Rowan.
The festival has Americana/Roots/Alt Country acts from across Europe, USA, UK and Canada. How do you choose who is going to be invited to play? Is it your choice and your choice alone?
The good thing about Americana music is the wide spectrum of genres like country, folk, blues, rock’n’roll, soul, pop, rock, psychedelic etc. At the festival, I always try to feature all the aspects of Americana music so keeping the line-up very versatile. Through the many years of promoting live music and travelling across Europe to attend festivals, I feel very well connected to other festival makers and the Americana scene in general. When at festivals I also like to see the opening/young acts as I think it’s pretty important to follow their careers.
You choose not to be the Master Of Ceremony for the festival. Tell us more about the ‘host with the most’, Jeff Robson. How do you know him?
I think Jeff and I became online friends back in 2008 through our common friend Leeroy Stagger. Jeff hosts the fantastic radio show ‘Tell The Band To Go Home’ on UMFM in Winnipeg, Canada. My wife Marion invited Jeff over to the inaugural Static Roots Festival: it was her birthday present for me – bringing Jeff to Germany. It was a total surprise getting to meet Jeff in person! On the day of the festival Jeff asked me if he could introduce Leeroy to our audience. He did and it felt like Jeff owned the stage. It was a no brainer to make him the Master of Ceremony. It still blows my mind that Jeff comes over all the way from Canada to Germany every year to host our festival.
Now a difficult one. Your top five acts that have appeared at Static Roots.
That’s a tough question because I’m booking acts I’m a fan of. Therefore, I actually enjoy each and every performance. Of course, I want the festival to be successful but I’m not booking for commercial reasons. I’m getting paid in emotions and all the happy faces, the warm hellos and good byes, the friendships that exist because of the festival. There was, however, one particular performance at the Static Roots Festival 2019 when Canadian songwriter Joe Nolan got up on stage. It was one of the most magical moments of my life and at the end of the gig I was standing there, shedding some tears, hoping no one would see me crying. But then I realized that the whole, sold out, crowd had tears in their eyes, and the audience broke into a storm of applause. An incredible experience and well worth every effort that Marion and I put into the festival.
Dietmar, thank you ever-so-much for taking the time to answer my questions. As always, it has been a great pleasure talking with you and sharing your memories and stories. I look forward to seeing you in Germany in July.
Static Roots takes place in a former zinc factory known as the Altenberg Centre in Oberhausen. As well as various halls, cinemas and concert rooms, the centre also has a wonderful outside patio courtyard where festival goers can sit, chat and enjoy food from the various food stalls at the festival. The chat and the inevitable late night sing-songs are now an established part of the Festival with many of the acts joining in on the late night frolics.
Tickets available from: staticrootsfestival.com.
Thanks to Hans Settler for this video of Pete Gow at last year’s Static Roots.