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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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In Music

Kruth chooses Bosnian gypsies over Big Gig


John Kruth and his merry mandolin revved up most of Summerfest's stages, but for the first time since 1986, they won't roll into The Big Gig.

"It looks like I'll be playing at Hal Willner's tribute to Neil Young in Prospect Park in Brooklyn on June 26," says the Brooklyn-based Kruth who lived in Milwaukee for 10 years. "And then I leave for Croatia where I'll be playing the Croatian Guitar Festival in Istria with a wild band of Bosnian gypsy guitarists. Really!"

But the man once called "the Pete Townsend of the mandolin" will return to Wisconsin later this summer to play a couple of shows in support of his seventh CD, "Songs From the Windy Attic," due out in July.

"It's the most stripped-down album I've ever made, the closest that I've come to making a folk/blues/roots record," he says.

"Windy Attic" features Kruth on mandolin, guitar, banjo, flute and harmonica, an upright bass player and Steve Bear (of Swamp Thing fame) on pots, pans and boxes.

"After a couple years of standing on one foot waiting for three 'interested' small labels to lay their money down, I've finally decided to do it myself," he says.

Kruth left Milwaukee for San Francisco in the late '90s to start the band The Electric Chairmen with Camper Van Beethoven's Jonathan Segel, Victor Krumennacher and Greg Lisher.

"We made one album and played a couple shows and like the name implies, we burned out in short order," says Kruth, who then moved to New York.

Although he intended to start teaching by the time he was 30, at almost 50, he's finally mastering the task. A few days a week Kruth puts down his mandolin to play the professor and teaches a music history course at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

He also writes liner notes for jazz CDs, articles for "Wax Poetics" and other publications, wrote a biography of jazz great Rahsaan Roland Kirk called "Bright Moments" and produces large concerts and benefits.

"Living in post-September 11 New York City I've had to be as flexible as Gumby and have more arms than Durga to juggle all the curve balls life can throw," says Kruth.

Although he's been away from Milwaukee for years, Brew City still seeps into his life like beer in your shoes at a Summerfest concert. In March, he did a show of Townes Van Zandt's music for the Bowery Mission for the homeless with comrade Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes (among others) and recently hooked up with ex-Milwaukee banjo/fiddler/hippie hell-raiser Peter Stampfel to start a "small volitle punk ragtime orchestra" called Crewe of Bedlam.

"There are certain things I really miss about Milwaukee for sure, particularly its strong sense of community and genuine cast of characters. It may be small but the people there are unique, quirky and creative," he says.

John Kruth will play August 14 at Mother's Fool in Madison and August 15 at Clark place in Steven's Point. Milwaukee shows have not yet been announced.

John Kruth's Web site is johnkruth.com.

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