ARD rides folk music wagon

Hit show showcases Volksmusik, Schlager

BERLIN — While all over the world “Idol” has millions worshipping at its feet, in Germany, ARD trumpets the success of folk music.

The longest-running music show on German-language TV, “Musikantenstadl” has showcased traditional German Volksmusik and more modern Schlager tunes since 1981.

Unlike weekly music skeins such as “Deutschland sucht den superstar,” RTL’s hit version of “Idol,” “Musikantenstadl” airs six times a year, including a live five-hour New Year’s special. Its bimonthly schedule makes it more of an event show than the regularly scheduled “Superstar,” which still scores well among its key 14-49 demo.

But when the two shows do go head to head, “Superstar’s” hip young candidates are left in the dust by the graying brass bands, decked out in lederhosen and the impeccably coiffed balladeers who grace “Musikantenstadl’s” rustic, country-style stage.

Much of the credit for “Musikantenstadl’s” recent success goes to Austrian Schlager star Andy Borg, who replaced the show’s longtime host Karl Moik last fall. The younger Borg re-energized the show and drew fresh blood to the program’s aging demographic just as “Musikantenstadl’s” producers — German, Austrian and Swiss pubcasters ARD, ORF and SF — hoped.

Borg’s first outing on “Musikantenstadl” in September attracted 6.6 million viewers and a market share of 24.1% in Germany alone — more than 1.6 million more viewers and a hefty 6.9% increase over Moik’s final show the previous year. By contrast, RTL’s “Superstar” has drawn between 4 million and 4.5 million viewers during its current, fourth-season run.

On April 28, “Musikantenstadl” drew 5.45 million viewers (21.8%), trouncing “Superstar’s” much publicized semifinal, which was watched by 4.23 million viewers (17.2%).

In addition to Borg’s own popularity in the three countries — since exploding onto the music scene here in the early 1980s, he’s amassed a heap of gold and platinum records — “Musikantenstadl” has managed to straighten its geriatric bent by introducing a youth-oriented talent segment showcasing amateur Volksmusik and Schlager singers.

“We want to give young artists the chance to perform in front of an audience, just like I had when I started out,” says Borg, who catapulted into the limelight in 1981 after appearing on ORF’s talent show “Die grosse chance.” “These are kids that meet on weekends at their local village pubs and play in brass bands and have a passion for what they do. There are very few opportunities today for young people to exhibit their talent.”

While “Musikantenstadl” has benefited from the facelift, it remains a more modest affair than it was in the 1980s and ’90s, when it set itself apart from rival entertainment programs by becoming a global roadshow — the only German entertainment skein ever to broadcast from five continents, from Moscow to New Orleans, and in venues as diverse as Disney World and the the gates of Beijing’s Forbidden City.

“Musikantenstadl’s” days of globetrotting are over, but the show still travels throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland, showcasing its unique musical cultures and rural sensibilities — and it’s still garnering top ratings from Europe’s German-speaking TV auds.

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