Interview: Dietmar Leibecke

You can find gold in the most unlikely of places if you look hard enough. Now, Oberhausen, a quiet industrial backwater in the Ruhr valley a few miles from the metropolitan splendour of Dusseldorf, wouldn’t be the first place you would look for an amazing two day americana and roots festival.  Well, it turns out it is THE place to look as for the third year running the magnificent Static Roots Festival graces the town’s Zentrum Altenberg, a converted zinc factory and for two days in July home of some of the genre’s real gems.  AUK took time out to speak to the festival’s curator and  insatiable  supporter of americana music, Dietmar Leibecke, to talk about what is fast becoming a ‘must attend’ event. 

So third year in, what’s changed? It still looks like a killer line-up and an amazing weekend of music. Is it a case of what’s not broke, don’t fix it?
Thanks for the compliments! Actually, this year we only changed the number of acts and now have 11 acts instead of 9 last year. We will open doors an hour earlier on both festival days. The venue suggested to set up an acoustic stage in the beer garden – that might be an option for a following year but for now we’d like to keep the separation between inside music (and an attentive, passionate audience) and outdoor craic in the beer garden and on the patio (burgers, cakes, chats…).

But then again there is a change! Lots of people travel from far (we sold more than half of the tickets to non-Germans) and arrive early. We’d like to introduce them to the Ruhr valley. There is so much to see and explore in and around Oberhausen and that’s why we organized a “StaticRuhrTour”. We will be visiting some relicts from the mining area, go to see the iconic Zeche Zollverein, an amazing colliery and a World Cultural Heritage. We’ll have stop at a “Currywurst” shop, might sip a beer at a corner shop – both things typical for the Ruhr valley. Part of the experience is travelling by public transport with busses and trains. It’ll sure be good fun.

Tell me a little bit about the venue. It really is some setting!
When we started the festival in 2016 we ended up at Zentrum Altenberg in Oberhausen almost coincidentally. Actually, I live about 20 minutes from the venue in Oberhausen and planned to do the festival in my hometown Mülheim. After three months of planning and negotiating with my favourite venue in Mülheim, their manager all of a sudden refused to do the festival with some really weird explanations. So we were a bit under pressure to find another location and coincidentally got in touch with the guys in Oberhausen. And man, I am SO happy we ended up there.

The venue is an old zinc factory from 1904, a beautiful red brick building with wonderful windows, it’s got a big room with a huge stage, massive sound and light installations, the people working there are absolutely professional, friendly and passionate about their jobs and it’s great fun working with them. In front of the venue there is a cosy beer garden and patio.

How is Americana music viewed in Germany? Has there been an increase in the attention it gets in the press, media and radio? As a man on the ground, have you seen a rise in popularity or is it still a ‘niche’ genre?
Pop Country (Don Gallardo said it quite nicely: “Americana – just like country before it became awful”) is definitely on the rise and gets more and more attention in Germany. But then again there are a few more radio stations that put on Americana shows while I would still consider it a niche genre in Germany. A look at the tickets sales undermines the impression: half of the tickets have been sold to fans from other countries than Germany. But we are on a good way to establish the Static Roots Festival.

As a regular visitor to Kilkenny Roots, what have you taken from that festival and hoped to implement to yours? Tell me a little more about the ‘Willie Meighan slot’ on the bill and is that something you will continue with moving forward?
The legendary Kilkenny Roots has been a massive inspiration. When I attended Kilkenny Roots for the first time in 2014 I had no idea what to expect. But I was blown away by simply just everything: from the quality of the acts, from the passionate, attentive and most friendly audience, from the feeling of instantly becoming part of a huge family, from the great little (and big) venues, from the passion of the organizers and the crew.

Willie Meighan became not only a good friend but also some kind of a mentor to me. We discussed acts, talked about the ethical side of booking acts, how “business” might have an impact on the festival, about organizational things. A few weeks before the first Static Roots Festival, an act jumped off the bill and I talked to Willie about that. He recommended to book The Midnight Union Band from Kilkenny. Willie said “They are alright” which was kind of the highest praise coming from Willie ;-). So we booked them and Willie was so right, what a great, rocking band performing killer songs!

When Willie died late last year, we decided to keep his memory alive and have one act in the line-up playing to remember the late, great Willie Meighan. There was no other option than starting it off with The Midnight Union Band. And it’s our clear intention to keep this slot in the festival line up for the coming years.

So the line up this year, what drew you to those certain acts? It certainly covers a wide array of talent.
Often times I ask musicians for recommendations and so e. g. I found out about Anthony da Costa through Aaron Lee Tasjan while Cale Tyson’s guitar player Juan Solorzano highly recommended Charlie Whitten. And I actually instantly fell in love with their music! There is so much talent, and it’s a great way to find out about local talents through travelling musicians.

Then I experienced a phenomenal live show at the Take Root Festival 2017 in Groningen when I was completely blown away by the Cordovas from Nashville, USA, and booked them on the spot for the Static Roots Festival 2018.

A dream line up would consist of whom for you? Money, availability, aside…
First of all, I am a fan. As a fan I am absolutely happy with the line-up. There is a wide variety of Americana styles with influences in Indie-Pop, Indie-Rock, Southern Rock, Country, Blues, Folk, Indie-Folk etc. Each and every act has been chosen because of their high quality. I ‘m getting to see eleven acts who touched me with their songs and performances. I will be having a brilliant weekend no matter what. For now this is my dream line-up!

What are the plans for the festival moving forward?
In my humble opinion I think it would be best for the festival to keep it small and personal but powerful. It would make it easier to keep the priceless magical atmosphere we had at the first two festivals. At the venue there are different opportunities to grow (e. g. an outdoor stage, another stage room with a capacity of 500 people) but for now I totally love the setup. Oh, and of course it would be great to break-even at some point in time.

What I loved on both my visits is a real sense of ‘community’ and friendship. Is that something you were hoping for or has that just happened?
We were absolutely striving for the atmosphere of community and friendship. It’s one of the things that I experienced at the highest level over at the Kilkenny Roots Festival in Ireland, and in parts at other Americana Festivals in the UK. I want our new guests to come as strangers and leave as friends. Our festival motto is “peace, love, rock’n’roll” (you can find it in the festival logo) which is what it’s all about!

We also try to get things down to a personal level very early when sending out the limited hard tickets. Every buyer receives a postcard and a personal message with their tickets. Static Roots is not supposed to be a mass event, we want people to feel welcome right from the beginning.

Tell us where we can get tickets and any logistical details.

Tickets are available through our website: www.staticrootsfestival.com
We’ve got travel information and advice on our website as well: www.staticrootsfestival.com/how-to-get-there

And if you are looking for accommodation check out this link: www.staticrootsfestival.com/accommodation

Static Roots Festival takes place on July 13 & 14th

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