Two-thirds of the Kruger Brothers are actual siblings: lead vocalist-guitarist Uwe Kruger and banjo player-vocalist Jens Kruger. Bassist Joel Landsberg joined his longtime bandmates in 1995 after meeting them in Switzerland, and the trio has been very close for 24 years.
“We feel like family,” Landsberg says while calling from his Wilkes County home. “I look at us as if we’re brothers, even though we don’t come from the same mother or the same country.”
Jens and Uwe Kruger hail from Switzerland and Landsberg is from New York.
“On paper we’re different but when it comes to music we’re on the same page,” Landsberg says.
The trio, which will perform Feb. 2 at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, are united by their passion for bluegrass and folk. The Krugers embraced such iconic bluegrass figures as Doc Watson and Bill Monroe as children. The Kruger Brothers played Merlefest for the first time in 1997 and became enchanted with North Carolina. The Krugers and Landsberg moved to Wilkes County in 2003.
“There was just something about Western North Carolina,” Landsberg says. “We loved it and it became our home. We enjoy the music that has come out of that area and we’ve been well received in and around the area, particularly in Raleigh. Last year we came into Raleigh and played with the North Carolina Symphony and it was a special evening.”
There is no band that sounds quite like the Kruger Brothers due to their amalgam of bluegrass and American folk. Jens Kruger’s banjo playing helps set the act apart. He has earned a spot in the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame. Kruger was named as the 2013 recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music.
“Jens’ ability to make beautiful melodies is just extraordinary,” Landsberg says. “He takes us to another place but I also believe it’s special what the three of us are able to do.”
Jens Kruger has always been close to his heroes. During the summer of ‘82, Kruger spent the season with Bill Monroe.
“It’s a pretty simple but amazing story,” Landsberg says. “Jens had a chance to meet Bill and Bill took such a liking to him that he asked him to stay with him during that summer. Jens learned so much.”
Each of the members of the Kruger Brothers had the opportunity to meet Doc Watson.
“We were fortunate to spend time with him,” Landsberg says. “He lived up over the hill from us and we just idolized him and love his music. Jens would play (Watson’s beloved late son Merle’s banjo), which was special. We definitely think it’s important to know your musical past. It can have such an impact on your present and future.”
Considering Landsberg’s background, it’s fascinating how in sync he is with Jens and Uwe Kruger.
“It is interesting since I grew up in New York and was very influenced by Broadway,” Landsberg says. “They grew up on American folk music. They were crazy about it. Somehow we’ve found common ground and we make a style of music that we love to play in some amazing venues, such as Meymandi Hall, which is one of the nicest concert halls in the country.”
After playing with each other for nearly a quarter century, Landsberg notes that the act is almost telepathic. “We know what each other will do,” Landsberg says. “We’re so comfortable with each other. Again, the three of us are like brothers. Obviously Jens and Uwe are brothers but I’m fortunate enough to be part of that brotherhood and I treasure it.”
Who: The Kruger Brothers presented by Pinecone
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2
Where: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Tickets: $29.15 and $34.15.
Info: 919-996-8700 dukeenergycenterraleigh.com