It’s July 21st, the Belgian national day, and I’m heading down from Brussels to the distant Bredene to delve into the world of country music. Upon my arrival, three marshals guard the entrance to the promised land, with a welcoming smile they let me in. Bathed in a sea of cowboy hats, I make my way through the festival.
I quickly spot the irrepressible dance floor, which is completely exhausted from the excitement of the many dancing cowboy boots.
There is always live country music, it strikes me that every song has a different line dance that everyone has fully mastered every step. It is quite impressive and beautiful to see how the line dancers move in harmony. There is something soothing about it, like the waves of the Bredense Sea. It seems that I have ended up in the mecca of the Belgian line dance world and I’m not mad about it!
If you want to give your dancing legs a rest, there are the many country and western stalls to explore. They come mainly from Germany, I gather from the poster with the inscription “Leather hats: Every leather hat on this table only €29” the poster in a bad dutch.
My urge to own anything wolf themed gets stronger than myself and I buy an oversized fleece sweater with a howling wolf, no regrets.
A number of bear shaped hoe balls further on I find a series of tents that show the traditional way of life at the end of the 1800s. During the two-day festival, people really live here as they did back then. The attention to detail that has gone into the scene is amazing.
In one of the tents I spot Patricia, or rather “Annie Ralston”, that’s her country name. Washing clothes with her hands in a metal bowl, she explains to me that in the country world you can choose to adopt a country identity. This can be a fictional or real character. It is important that you study the time period and life of your chosen character so that it is historically accurate.
Deputy Gray Eastwood (real name Johan) tells me that the sense of togetherness is what attracts him to country culture, a passion he shares with his wife. She is also the marshal of their line dance club.
After much talk and line dancing, the sun begins to sink into the horizon, it’s time to tie the horse to the post and lower the Texan flag to herald the end of the festival day. But first the traditional cannon is fired. I’m so startled by the loud bang that there are literally Texas stars spinning around my head.
I ask Benjamin Franklin Terry (real name: Tonny) what the meaning of this is. He explains to me that firing the cannon is a tribute to the fallen rebels at that time the American Civil War (1861-1865). Those who fought for the Confederate States (the 11 southern states of the United States) called the rebels, they fought against the abolition of slavery and thus against the northern states, called the Union or Yankees.
In honor of the fallen rebels who fought to preserve slavery, I have a few questions. Is the ode to this era as innocent as it seems? The emphasis is on depicting the way of life in the Confederate States, which were pro-slavery after all. The federal flag is therefore prominent at the festival. I’m having a bit of a hard time with this. I wonder if those present know the meaning behind this flag. I think the Confederate flag should be used more carefully, even though these events are from a bygone era, the consequences are still very much felt today and should be given more consideration.
Is during this time still acceptable to have a platform to celebrate such a thing? I get the impression that the morality of this issue is not really being questioned here. I think there needs to be some sensitivity to the degrading history behind this period. Are the festival goers aware of the racism that characterizes this time period? Or do their intentions go no further than simply having fun and dancing together to music? There is a very big difference between them, one that we should not gloss over. If the festival were to show a visible acknowledgment of the unpleasant facts, that would be something.
On the one hand I enjoyed the day, I was warmly welcomed by all the people I spoke to and enjoyed our conversations a lot. I myself have a big heart for American culture, but I also struggle with the glorification of a time when blatant racism and slavery were the norm.
I go home with mixed feelings. It is difficult to think in extremes and create a clear line about what can and cannot be done in this subculture. During the long drive home, I come to the conclusion that I will never join a line dance club, but when Johnny Cash plays on the radio, I enjoy singing along.