A country and western ball at the "end of the line"


This is the 10th edition of Stepping Out. This evening we're coming to you from what is actually a tram depot (and cultural centre) in Prague 8 - Kobilysy. And here, once a month, they hold a traditional country ball.

Standing beside me is Misa, who comes once in a while to dance and to listen to some country music... Is it not unusual for someone like yourself to come to this kind of evening?

"It is. My brother-in-law - he showed me this place about two years ago and I fell for this place out of many reasons. One of them is that you can dance, it's laid back, and I love the way people are dressed here: they have cowboy boots {laughs} and definitely it's not typical and you would rather see this somewhere in Texas. Not here."

Yodle-lay-ee-oh, yodle-lay-ee-oh, yodle-laaaay. Yodle-lay-ee-oh,yodle-lay-ee-oh, yodle-laaaay...

The band playing this evening is a five piece ensemble that usually plays this gig - five middle-aged men who never quit their day jobs but love country music. Called 'Semenaci', which can only be translated as 'The Seed Sowers', each member is dressed to the T in individual country-and-western regalia: everything from red-and-black or blue checked shirts to leather vests with frills to the obligatory cowboy hats and cowboy boots, and even a sheriff's star. One thing is immediately apparent: this kind of outfit doesn't come cheap and we haven't even mentioned the instruments. A bass, a mandolin, guitars, and a banjo - each of these must cost a lot.

It's worth every penny or in this case every Czech crown - both the public who have come to see the 'Seed Sowers' - as well as members of the band itself - seem to be having a pretty good time.

"For me country is a great thing. It's all about atmosphere and the people. A great band too. You can't compare this to something like an ordinary discotheque."

"They're playing really well - I can't complain."

"They're songs that have something to say and after all " country means country". It's not just about the music - it's a way of life."

The beer flows and after a while couples of all ages, including many who have seen the better side of fifty, get up to dance. Some of them really know their steps, ordinary people who love country music as much as the evening's band leader Pavel Budin. I seek him out as he and his band mates take a short break backstage.

"I can only tell you thing - country music is a cure. For everything. You'll forget all worries, problems, illnesses, you'll forget. This music doesn't bother anybody, anybody at all... We don't play any songs in English though, just Czech, though we also like old American songs. We perform in Czech, usually country balls, and the audience that comes to see us naturally wants to sing along. That means we have to play mainly songs for them."

A cure for all ills - why not? I have to remember to put on a Hank Williams record the next time I'm laying in bed with the flu, or perhaps some Johnny Cash. This night, though, belongs to the "Seed Sowers". As Pavel Budin says the Sowers play for the locals and they play a determined set.

But it's not the end of the night, not yet, not until the usual raffle that shows just how much a regular part of local peoples' lives this evening has become. Auctioned off are porcelain knick-knacks, a book for musicians, a coffee mug, that kind of thing.

A woman's cheer is cut short when she realises she's just won the object she donated earlier - certainly a funny moment. But soon she is given a replacement present - so everyone ends up happy. This evening at a tram depot cum community centre, this evening for country fans.