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European country fans are City Moon-struck

By Adam Wilmoth
Staff Writer

It's difficult for small bands with independent recording labels to get their songs played on the radio.

But a little modern technology and a good name can go a long way.

About 6,000 miles.

Oklahoma-based country band City Moon is little-known in America, but after having two singles reach the top of the country music charts in Europe, the band is preparing for its first trip across the ocean.

The band is headed to Schleusingen, Germany, for Country Music Festival, a seven-day event featuring 23 bands. City Moon is one of three American acts at the festival.

"Over here, festivals are very plentiful, but my understanding is that over there, these things are pretty exclusive," band leader Virgil Bonham said. "As band members, we're just interested in playing for a new kind of fan."

Europe discovered City Moon when the song "Trail of Tears" was included on a compilation disc released in 1994 by Gypsy Heart productions.

City Moon hit the top of the European charts two years later when it released its "Way Too Hot" album.

The new version of "Trail of Tears" reached No. 1 in Holland; "Rocky Mountain High" hit the top spot in Northern Yorkshire; and "September Night" made it to No. 1 in the Netherlands.

The upbeat tempo of "Trail of Tears" and the success of the album could be the reason City Moon is so successful in Europe.

"Our first tune we played was a rockabilly tune, which is what they wanted," Bonham said. "If we had picked 'Dreaming of You' or one of the ballads, we might not be sitting in this place. Those are good songs, but they like the rockabilly. We happened to pick a tune that hit a nerve."

But a good name didn't hurt them.

"A big point for us is the Oklahoma name because of the big flood of Oklahoma artists who have been successful in country music," Bonham said. "When you say you're from Oklahoma, that's good in country music."

The Oklahoma name, along with a little modern technology, is part of what landed the European stop.

Frank Fischer with the Concert and Tourism Agency of Schleusingen was looking on the Internet for an Oklahoma country band to play at the festival when he found City Moon's Web page at He downloaded the free MP3s and liked what he heard.

"We lined up the trip through e-mail and the Internet," said Steve Cannon, publicist for City Moon. "He'd never heard the band or even heard about the band. I still haven't seen his face."

But Fischer liked what he heard so much that he agreed to pay for the band's airfare, hotels and ground transportation as well as paying them a fee for the performance.

The Country Festival in Schleusingen is designed to be a place for new acts to perform. Although the band has received airtime on radio stations throughout Europe, Cannon said he does not believe City Moon has been aired on any German stations.

Bonham said the band is excited about playing in front of new fans.

"From some of the words I have gotten, I think we will be well-received, and I expect to have a lot of real friendly people with a lot of questions," Bonham said. "I think the reason they're going to be curious is our variety. We will start with the fiddle and move to contemporary country and end up with the banjo."

The City Moon musicians usually share jokes and stories with their audiences during performances. But they might need some new material for the European audience.

Much like Jerry Seinfeld, who drove around England for material in his American Express commercial, Bonham said the first thing he will do when he lands in Europe is find out what the biggest chain of stores is there so he can still tell his Wal- Mart jokes.

"We're a very communicable group. We're going to spend a great deal of time mingling with the crowd," Bonham said. "Most of them are fluent in English. They know the words, but they sometimes don't understand phrases or jokes. I don't think it will be a big deal, though."

City Moon has been popular in Europe for six years but is just now gaining popularity in the United States.

Ted Stecker, program director for KXY radio in Oklahoma City, said it has always been more difficult for independent bands to get airplay on the radio because the independent labels don't have the marketing and sales force the major labels have.

But the European country stations seek out American artists to play.

"Australia is a perfect example," Cannon said. "A gentleman found us on the Internet and called for a CD to play on the radio. He came to me. I didn't go to him."

Bonham said he thinks the attention the band is receiving overseas will make them more successful at home.

"We're hoping our performance and how well we do there will fuel some excitement and interest for our band in the coming months," he said.

City Moon will be back in Oklahoma City to make its sixth straight appearance at the state fair. The band will perform at the fair the last three weekends in September.

Besides helping the fans learn more about City Moon, Bonham said, he expects the trip to Germany will help the group relate even more to fans.

"I would hope to say that it adds something to us. You've got to keep digging for that one thing people look for," he said. "And we'd like to see our Oklahoma fan base get larger. It grows all the time, but I'd like more people to see who we are. And we appreciate what people have already done for us."

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