A little bit of song, a little bit of satire

Lori Penner, The Red River Valley Echo, August 30, 2018

There are many ways that a culture can stand the test of time. One way is to celebrate it. Another way is to be willing to chuckle at some of its unique qualities.

The entertainment provided at this year's Culture Day in Neubergthal has both of those methods covered.

Along with seminars and tours, Culture Day will also feature the made in Manitoba music of the Letkeman Bros. as well as the hilarious perspective of Andrew Bergman, the writer/editor of the satirical blog, The Daily Bonnet.

With over 21,000 followers on Facebook and countless blog readers, Bergman's work has influenced the way people see and understand the world around them.

His usually light-hearted fare includes headlines such as "The Most Effective Mennonite pick-up lines", "The Seven Deadly Sins (For Mennonites)", and "Mennonite Protestors Demand Their Second Commandment Rights."

There was a time when Mennonites were considered rather stoic and at times humourless, but Bergman's unique comedy reveals that there is also a funny side, which has helped this centuries-old faith sustain itself for so many generations.

When he started the website, he wasn't sure if the ideas would keep coming, but so far, he's had no issues.

"It seems I'm still coming up with ideas and people are still reading it," he said. "Of course there's real news happening all the time, so as long as Mennonites are interacting with the world, I suppose there's always new material."

Bergman has written in different styles including essays, articles and serious editorials.

But he said writing satire is something he loves.

"I think people like to laugh," he said.

"I know I do. So while there are, on occasion, serious messages being conveyed with satire, I think it's more enjoyable because of the humorous elements."

Bergman said it's not always easy to gauge how funny a particular piece will seem to his audience. Offending anyone or sparking anger is not his goal.

"Even after writing hundreds of articles, the audience response is still quite unpredictable," he said. "Of course each person's sense of humour is different, so with every article there are some who love it and some for whom it's not their cup of tea (or should I say yerba?)."

"I'd say my default tone is more towards being light-hearted," he said. "I'm saying 'this is silly" rather than angrily saying 'this is evil. The articles are primarily to entertain or to provoke dialogue."

Bergman says it's an honour to speak in the historic village of Neubergthal. "I've been to Neubergthal before and it's one of my favourite places in Manitoba. I hope the locals will tolerate my use of English, not Plautdietsch."

The evening entertainment continues with Winnipeg-based band, The Letkeman Bros. Rooted in bluegrass while jumping between folk and country, The Letkeman Bros. (Josh and Jake of June Killing Stones) bring you an intimate experience reminiscent of the classics that have come before them.

"I'll be performing a lot of my solo folk music, as well as a mix of old school country with some traditional bluegrass," Josh says.

The brothers were born into a family that loved music. "My father's side -the Mennonite side-would get together every weekend and have jamborees, and play acoustic gospel and country folk songs. I started joining in when I was about 12, and that music became a huge part of our lives. Those oldies are ingrained in me."

They've been playing seriously since 2014, playing music of all different genres in their group, June Killing Stones, and have recently shifted to a more traditional bluegrass/folk brand. Josh is lead vocalist, blending in harmony with his brother Jake.

"The gospel music aspect of our Mennonite heritage has also been a huge influence for us, right along all that rich Mennonite food," he laughs.

A member of the Neubergthal Heritage Committee recently came across an original song about Winnipeg called 'My Winter Home' that Josh had posted on his Facebook page. "It really took off, and I guess he decided we'd be a good fit for this event. We're really looking forward to it."

You can check out their music at www.joshualetkeman.bandcamp.com or at www.facebook.com/joshualetkemanmusic.

Neubergthal Culture Day takes place at the Neubergthal Commons on Sept. 15. Admission is $20 for the 7 p.m. evening performance. You can preregister by emailing neubergthalheritagefoundation@gmail.com.