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From Russia With Love

Young performers come to Nashville from all over, hoping to become country stars. But few have come as far, or gone through as much, as Bering Strait.

In a way, this six-member Russian band began with the fall of the Soviet Union, which broke down barriers to American influences - including country music. One enterprising classical music teacher decided to form a bluegrass band from among his students.

"Bluegrass is a very technical music," says Dobroist and steel guitarist Sasha Ostrovsky. "He thought that would help our classical training."

Over the next several years, that student bluegrass band evolved into Bering Strait, which became a regular fixture at a Moscow Mexican restaurant called La Cantina. It was there they began meeting people from Nashville, and ultimately dreaming of going there themselves.

"If you want to do country music seriously, Nashville is the only place to be," declares guitarist and banjo player Ilya Toshinsky.

So Bering Strait began visiting Music City in 1995, and soon were spending most of their time in Nashville. But their struggles had just begun - money was scarce, they were signed by a series of record labels that promptly collapsed, and an apartment fire meant all six of them were eventually bunking at the Nashville home of their manager, Mike Kinnamon.

That harrowing story is told in the documentary The Ballad Of Bering Strait, now in theaters and soon to debut on CMT. "It's so truthful and emotional, sometimes depressing, sometimes happy," says Ilya. "The simple fact that we can say, 'Have you seen my movie?' is worth it for me!"

While the movie's release is a thrill for the members of Bering Strait, the real prize was the January release of their 12-song self-titled debut album, nearly six years in the making. "Seeing the finished CD, I almost got teary-eyed," admits Ilya. "I'm just so glad it's coming out."

"The single most important thing is being able to tell our parents," chuckles Sasha. "I can show this CD to my dad and say, 'OK, there it is! That's it!' "

-- Chris Neal

Fast Facts:
Name: Bering Strait
On the radio: "I Could Be Persuaded"
Hometown: Obninsk, Russia
Members: Alexander Arzamastsev, 29 (drums); Natasha Borzilova, 24 (lead vocals, acoustic guitar); Sergei "Spooky" Olkhovsky, 25 (bass); Sasha Ostrovsky, 22 (Dobro, steel guitar, lap steel); Lydia Salnikova, 22 (keyboards); Ilya Toshinsky, 25 (guitar, banjo)
Influences: Sting, Dire Straits, The Beatles, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson

Check out Bering Strait on GAC's Top 20 Countdown "New Artist Spotlight" beginning Feb. 7!