Thursday night, the Kruger Brothers played a wonderful set for an eager crowd at the Carolina Civic Center. Their idiosyncratic style combined with technical skill made for an exciting and powerfully moving concert at the historic venue in rural North Carolina.

Before the concert began, the warm lobby welcomed audience members in from the light autumn rainfall. Warm smiles abounded and the smell of popcorn filled the air as people got their tickets, connected with friends, and admired the theater. The lobby walls were decorated with local art (available for purchase) and large lettering that read, “Welcome back! We missed you!” Feeling less like they were at a theater and more like a home, the audience took their seats.

The band opened with the first movement from the Kruger Brothers’ Appalachian Concerto. The piece, normally accompanied by a string quartet, blends classical concerto music with Appalachian bluegrass, creating something totally unique. As the piece progressed, the band’s real talent began to reveal itself. Jens Kruger’s banjo melodies came at breakneck speeds. Just last week, he was inducted into the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame, and it’s no wonder why!

Of course, this fact was not boasted by Jens himself, but mentioned by his brother, Uwe. Uwe, who can pick a mean guitar lick, sang us songs about the transcontinental railroad and one called, “Harder than Steel,” about a Roan Mountain soldier in the Revolutionary War. His soothing bass voice, layered by harmonies from his bandmates, drew the audience into his words and made the songs feel powerfully alive.

The Krugers moved from Switzerland to North Carolina in 2003. For most of their professional tenure, they’ve played with bassist Joel Landsberg, who matched the brothers’ rapid tempos, but also provided an essential and versatile contribution to the ensemble. He easily alternated between the drive of a steam-engine and the elegance of a classical upright.

As the first half of the show concluded, the band played their first cover of the evening, Curtis Mayfield’s gospel classic “People Get Ready.” “We didn’t write this song,” Jens said, “but we wish we had.” Inviting the audience to sing the last chorus, the band left for intermission on quite the high note.

Richard Sceiford, executive director of the Carolina Civic Center Foundation, gave generous thanks to the organization’s supporters before introducing Brianna Goodwin, president of the Robeson County Arts Council, which co-sponsored the evening’s concert. She welcomed the crowd back from intermission, and that’s when things really took off!

In the second act, the band played more covers: from John Prine and Bob Dylan to Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” the band continually proved that they could take any song and turn it into something that was totally their own. They said they picked that skill up from their long-time friend and major stylistic influence, the incomparable guitarist Doc Watson.

The highlight of the night came as the band played two original pieces of music. The first, “Carolina in the Fall,” is a very personal song written by Uwe about how he fell in love with North Carolina on his first visit in 1997. Many of the band’s songs are from the perspective of immigrants, and the brothers bare their own experience through their music. They played softly, but with passion, as they sang about the wonders of seeing the majestic North Carolina landscapes for the first time.

The band closed the concert by performing a movement from their instrumental composition, Crossroads Ogden, which was commissioned by the city of Ogden, Utah to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike – the event that marked the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. It was originally performed with a symphonic orchestra and a full ballet. But even in the form of a trio, this piece wowed! The band played full steam ahead in this grandest of finales and received a standing ovation from the riveted crowd.

Of course, with such a reception, the band had to play an encore or two. The first was a moving rendition of Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London,” followed by an instrumental spitfire piece, over which they introduced each bandmate one last time.

The Kruger Brothers stayed after the show to connect with their audience. While this year marks their 40th year on the road, this was their first in-person concert in a while. But they haven’t stopped performing completely. Over the course of the pandemic, the Kruger Brothers began to record weekly concerts, live streaming on YouTube and Facebook every Wednesday night at 7 pm EST. Through these virtual concerts, the band has recorded over 700 songs for their catalogue!

Seeing the show at the Carolina Civic Center made the evening even better! In December, they will be putting on the 10th Annual Robeson County Christmas Show; in January, the world-renowned Glen Miller Orchestra will grace the stage. It’s so wonderful to have such a beautiful historic theater that offers such rich entertainment to the community at affordable costs.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have several hundred bluegrass songs to listen to so I can feed my newfound Kruger Brothers addiction!