Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Sausage in a jar.

It's BB King this morning. Live at the Regal.

There is just a week left on the Songs & Whispers Circuit and in a way, BB King brought me here. Or that's what I'll tell myself. In reality it was Iceland Air and the German train line in conjunction with Hertz.

But...almost 15 years ago one Monday morning in late October I was sitting in my apartment at 910 North 7th St. in Fargo, ND drinking coffee and celebrating a recent breakup by listening to Live at the Regal. BB King was coming to town later in the week and the show was sold out (though, I couldn't afford a ticket even if they had been available). The phone rang and it was Deb Jenkins, a local promoter and venue owner. I'd been playing duo shows with a friend at her Full Circle Cafe for a while and was expecting to book another show. We did all sorts of covers from James Taylor, Marvin Gaye to Joni Mitchell. She asked me if I had 45 minutes of original material which I didn't. I had no original songs save for a bad blues riff I'd written in the key of A and an even worse half song I'd started after the breakup commenced. So of course I lied and said, "Sure". She asked if I'd be available to play a 45 minute opening set that weekend and apologized that it would only pay $50. I agreed and spent the next 4 days holed up in my apartment writing the songs that would end up as my first solo record Three Day Notice. And then on Friday night, with the first original songs I'd ever written/played in public, I opened for BB King.

Back to the current. Yesterday was a day off and and and it mostly didn't rain. We bought day passes for the tram and just bopped around Bremen. Maybe the 4th time we've bought tickets for the tram and yet again, nobody checked to see if we had tickets. Much unlike the time transit security threatened to kick Jess of a bus and fine her for stiffing the city of Birmingham out of a nickel (£0.05) by going an extra stop. We tried to find a taco joint. I mean we really gave it the ol' college try but we were denied. Again. We ended up at a little bistro place that served nachos con carne with Käse au gratin. Or melted cheese. They were Doritos bits (maybe 6 whole chips) smothered in cheese and a bit of chili. No utensils provided so a difficult finger food. 

The night before was a duo gig with my circuit partner Pi Jacobs at Katocomben in Achim. Great venue and a wonderful crowd. I'm learning that the Germans are a very honest people. Take for example the fella who came up after the show and says, "your new album is Holding On, right?". Yes I say. "I don't like it....the show I liked, but not the record...too country." It's a bit different from my Midwest upbringing where you're taught that if someone makes lunch and it's terrible, you smile, eat, say how great it was and then complain to all your friends later...in a blog. Midwest nice. Oh, and they made us a sausage dinner. 

What we hoped for.

What we got. 

Pi Jacobs at Katocomben

Tonight I play at a church about a mile away from the flat. Best commute of the tour so far. 


Friday, 20 May 2016

Zweigelt, Käse, & Vollkornbrot. Oh my!

It's Ry Cooder for the morning soundtrack and I'm pretty pleased with this decision. 

Last night was a show at one of the best known venues in Oldenburg: Listaff. A great room with a nice stage and cabaret seating. I didn't get a photo but the huge chalk diagram on the wall depicting the proper construction of a hamburger was pretty fabulous. Ky, the owner and chef really gave me the hard sell to try one of the hamburger delights on the menu but due to the huge Greek lunch earlier, I had to decline. We've come to the conclusion that Greek food is to Germany as Mexican food is to the States...you'll find a Taverna nearly anywhere and they're often inexpensive and pretty damn good. Anyhow, the show was good but with a beer festival going on a mile away the competition for audience was a difficult one. 

The night before we were at the Syker Vorwerk Gallery in Syke. That's pronounced Zeek-a. The Gallery was built in the late 1600's and the acoustics were amazing. There was a sculpture exhibit by Louis Niebuhr on and his work is great. The crowd was amazing and I was joined for a couple songs by a local drummer. Before the show we hung out with the director, Nils, and had the usual German snack of brown bread, cheese and prosciutto. Not just brown bread but thick, heavy, seedy awesome brown bread. A few years back in France we met a fella named Jonosh from Germany who was staying with Fabrice, a French show promoter who put on a great theatre show in Changy. Janosh had had it with French baguettes and talked about how he couldn't wait to get home to have some real bread. I get it now. 
Syker Vorwerk show
The night before that was at....I have no idea. It's starting to blur. By the time this 2 month Euro tour wraps there will have been nearly 60 shows. In any case, the night before was in Germany and I know I didn't get nicked by a speed camera. That was earlier in the week on the way back from Hanover. KulturPalast Linden in Hanover was great. A bit smokey and the Pho joint next door closed during sound check leaving me on the opposite side of the venue having Greek again but in the end it was a wonderful evening. Well, until I caught the bright red side-of-the-road flash on my way out of town going about 60 as the limit went from 70 to 50. Oh well, not the first time that has happened and I'm sure it will be cheaper than last year in Amsterdam running late to the airport (traffic/construction and a BMW)....yikes. 

Oh, we bought bikes. 15 Euros a piece. You get what you pay for but it's faster than walking. At least it's faster when the tires don't blow out. Yesterday we had a wheel malfunction and the bike mechanic seemed appalled at the condition of our bikes. We politely informed him that we only paid 15 a piece and that they only need to operate for another 10 days, please just fix the tire. He said we'd paid too much, washed his hands as though the bike had some communicable disease and said he couldn't replace the tube until the following evening. Today I'll go find some tools and fix it myself. I'm immune to the bike. 
our beautiful bikes

TGIF. Not that this really applies. Even remotely. 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Should have kept my mouth shut....

So it's 9:59am here in Bremen on Sunday the 15th of May. It's a day off and it's raining. I'm listening to Bach's Cello Suites 1-6 as performed by Ralph Kirshbaum.

When I was in middle school and into high school, like many people all around the world, I was a huge Garth Brooks fan. In retrospect that may be the beginning of my obsession with Oklahoma artists: J.J Cale, John Fullbright, John Moreland, Carter Sampson and so on. Anyhow, he had a tune on his first record called Unanswered Prayers and I assume you can deduce the gist of the song's meaning. Well, I asked for rain and it came along with a 25-30 degree temperature drop, hail and 30mph winds. Request granted and delivered in full on the day I had a show at a beach club where just the day and week before hundreds of people relaxed in the sun and enjoyed the scenery. All while getting ready for the annual kickoff for the Summer Concert Series at Sonnendeck in Dangast. While modest in numbers the crowd came and sat attentively in the near freezing semi outdoor concert area while occasionally being dripped on from the rain coming through the roof. Thanks to the venue for the blankets! Hell, we even had an amazing rainbow as a stage backdrop twice during the show.
performing at Sonnendeck ("Sundeck") Beach Club

As a side note. On the way to Dangast I recall hearing a "tone" come from the car. It was the sound the car makes when it alerts you to a falling petroleum level. In layman's terms we were running out of gas. Well, it said we had 89 km to go until we were walking. That number began dropping drastically fast and soon we were sitting in front of a closed fuel station in a really small village that was preparing for the parade commencement to celebrate Pfingstmontag. Part of the Pentecost, I believe. This was an even worse time to experience a language barrier than earlier in the day when I got a haircut and ended up with the hipster/military-style look I'm currently sporting. Thankfully though, the good people of the town realized our plight and waved down Felix, the station owner, who opened the station long enough for us to pump 30 Euros worth of Super 95 allowing us to continue north to the Baltic. 
the parade just starting

As I mentioned it's a day off and I think we're going to check out the biggest flea market in Germany. We've heard rumors that we may find bikes that have "fallen off the truck" and are available at a steal of a price.

And we're off....

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Praying for rain.

It's strange to think it's been ten years since I played regularly with Kelly Pardekooper. If anyone ever went to the Honk Tonk Tuesday sessions at Mickey's in Madison that was his brain child. We also played a handful of proper shows in and around Madison during the short time he lived there. He's an Iowa guy and a great songwriter. He has this tune called Pray for Rain we used to play sometimes and lately I've been thinking a lot about droughts. Not the typical farm related rain drought referred to in the song but the kind of audience drought we're seeing here in Germany. Why can't it just f*#@ing rain?

The shows have been cool but as I mentioned last time, it's been a rash of really nice weather here in Germany. And like the Irish say "make hay when the sun shines", the Germans do "make outside activities a crushing priority over going to some American dude's show that is only in town this one day all damn year"- Josh Harty. Patience is waning.

Hamburg government building
Take last night for instance: We arrived at the venue at the scheduled time of 5pm, 17:00, after spending a way too short time exploring a small slice of Hamburg only to be told the sound tech wouldn't be there until 6:30pm/18:30. So we left and found a little Greek joint to have dinner. We went back at 6:30 and were told we were still early...maybe 7pm/19:00. "Why don't you sit down and have dinner and a drink". Thanks but we already left an hour and a half ago and ate somewhere else. Fast forward to 7:55pm/19:55, 5 minutes before show time. "It doesn't look like anyone is going to come, it's just so nice outside...you should have a night off and take a wander around Hamburg". To which I said, "we'll hold out for a while and see if anyone shows up...you never know." Besides, we already had a short wander around Hamburg that we cut short as to be sure to arrive at 5.
8:45pm/20:45 rolls around and not a soul. Again, "you should go have a night off." We packed up and drove the 90 minutes back to Bremen listening to Billy Joel and Fleetwood Mack sandwiched in between German techno while the Audi's, BMW's, and Benz's went flying by at Mach 4 on the way home from their BBQ at the beach.

The gig the night before was semi-outdoors at the Hafen Casino and Truck Stop. A kind of hometown gig for Songs & Whispers as it was their first ever gig some years ago. It was a good time and we had a nice crowd. Tried schnitzel for first time and a curry sausage. There was a fella who was scolded and denied access to the show by the owner due to his propensity to steal things from the bar. Drinks out of the cooler. Salt shakers. He left and returned with a bottle of clear liquor and sat on the stoop across the narrow street and watched the show. He clapped early on all the endings but not for long as he needed his left hand to keep from falling off his perch.

Jess in a Hamburg central square

The Hafen Casino Truck Stop!

When in Germany, do as the Germans.

Tonight I'm off to Walsrode and it looks like they have a French menu. Forecast in sunny and warm all day. I'll bring something to listen to and my driving gloves for the trip back....


DISCLAIMER: Last nights venue was a wonderful place doing great things and the proprietor Tine was lovely. I only wish it had rained.

Monday, 9 May 2016

On a German Straße.

The trip to Bremen from Amsterdam was pretty uneventful. It was a bit longer than expected, though, and I was told that due to the train coming from Amsterdam the German authorities may have done a bit of inspecting before they let it come into Germany...aka they may have had some reason to think there could have been some illegal contraband on board. In any case, I made it to Budget to retrieve the trusty German chariot which strongly resembles a Ford Fiesta. It's not that festive.

This is the first extended German tour I've had and it's been organized by Songs & Whispers. They're a Bremen based promotion and booking company and have been pleasure to work with so far. They've provided a flat for us to use while we're in Germany and I must say it's nice to unpack my suitcase for a little while. We're sharing the flat, as well as a few shows, with LA based artist Pi Jacobs. My fears of her being a 20 something grunge rocking, whiskey fueled party hound were dashed, though, when she turned out to be perfectly pleasant and a fan of hummus and rice cakes.

Pi last night in Bremen
The first show was in a nearby town and Arne, the S&W rep we're working with, came along for the show. Well, I should say he offered to drive and I gladly took him up on the offer. We set up for the show and after sound check I ended up involved in an impromptu free style blues jam with a fella who was passing by. It was....interesting.

The following day on my way to Rostock I saw a Fiat Panda slide down the highway and directly into a steel barrier. Everyone was fine but as I do have a certain fondness for the Panda I was sad to see this particular one end it's tour of duty so flamboyantly and in front of a crowd. On the way back to Bremen the following day I saw a Mercedes on it's roof on the Autobahn near Lubeck. Like the previous day everyone appeared fine. I wasn't too sad about the Benz.

Nice scenery on the Autobahn

Rostock is a nice college town located on the Baltic Sea. Rostock is home to one of the oldest universities in the world, the University of Rostock, founded in 1419. The weather was nice. I mean, really nice. And in northern Germany, which doesn't get many really warm days, when it's this nice people take to the harbor and their back yards. They'll also take to the sidewalk with a boom-box strapped to a wagon that's full of beer and hang out. Right there on the sidewalk. A kind of foot path jamboree. The great weather also means the average Rostockonian isn't likely to spend their evening inside listening to some dude they've never heard of. I played the show to a small but fantastic crowd who apparently had been busy texting their friends during the show. After I finished a group came in and said they were there for the show which led to a table side after show, show. Then more people showed up, and more.

Not much of a vegan menu

I'll get to last night and the screaming Turks in the lower flat in the next issue but for now, I've noticed that my socks don't match. This means I need to do laundry. Hopefully I won't run into the scary German woman who yelled at me about the trash in the trash bin yesterday....

Auf Wiedersehen,

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Liberation Day

Today is Liberation Day in the Netherlands. A celebration of liberation from the Germans in 1945. It’s also Remembrance Day to remember those who have died in war. Much like Memorial Day in the States but I think more of the population in the Netherlands knows that it’s a holiday with a meaning and not just a day free from school and the bank or a reason to go boating and get loaded. At the gig last night I was told that at 8pm sharp there would be two minutes of silence and this was the case all across the Netherlands. Two minutes of silence in a huge room full of people next to another room full of people in a city like Amsterdam with everyone being silent. The sound of silence is amazing. As a side note, this was the only cool part of this particular gig. Note to self and others: Don’t play a bar gig on the eve of Liberation Day in the Netherlands. I imagine it’s not unlike playing Hooters on the 4th of July in Tampa. 

It’s about 10am on Zaagmolenstraat and Paul has just made coffee. He was in Ethiopia recently and brought back some beans and they're fantastic. His parents wind-up clock is ticking in the other room and occasionally you can hear a siren in the background. Aside of the sirens and the clock chimes at the top of the hour it’s pretty quiet. The apartment is small, coming in around 400 sq. ft. I’d imagine, but it’s perfect and about a 15 minute walk from the central train station. Jess and I stayed here for 3 days a couple of years back in December when it was full on Dutch winter. We stayed inside mostly, cooked and listened to nothing but Sam Cooke. 

This will be next year's tour car. 

Today there will be a brief gig with the Amsterdam Songwriters Guild at the Central Library and it will also be on Amsterdam FM. Fingers crossed. Tomorrow I’ll take the 9am train to Bremen, Germany where we’ll be based for the rest of the month. 25 nights straight, with a couple days booked in the afternoon and evening. I believe that’s a play out of the Brian Epstein rule book there. Wish me luck. 



Wednesday, 4 May 2016

A Day in the Life

We flew out of Dublin where to nobody’s surprise it was raining. But to be fair it had been raining everywhere in Europe. The night before was a nice show at the DC Music Club. I found out a few hours before the gig that the DC Club was the Dublin Conservative Club which was where the Music Lee series puts on shows. You rang a buzzer at the door, were rung in and would then proceed down the stairs, over the red carpet, past the mirrors and through the red velvet covered halls that led to the basement level bar and music room. There were snooker tables in the side room and a garden area around back that was visible to nobody outside. I had the feeling that if the show didn’t go well or didn’t draw a crowd I could be disappeared before I finished my post show Guinness. Luckily, I’m writing this….

We flew Aer Lingus to Amsterdam and I happily took a nap for the first part of the flight. I woke groggily and ordered a coffee from the attendant who magically appeared in the aisle and was quickly made aware that coffee on this flight was not free. 3 quid! I think the Aer Lingus folks have been hanging around the Ryan Air folks and the result does not favor the coffee dependent/loves the free stuff kind of traveler. At least it was real coffee and not instant. 

We arrived ahead of schedule at Schipol Airport and were greeted by a customs official who was much like the Honey Badger. He didn’t give a sh**. A lightning fast passport stamp and we were off to the Avis counter to retrieve the keys to a well worn Citroen C3…a step up from the quaint little C1. This car, though young in age, had clearly seen it’s fair share of tourists who were surprised at the manual shifting. This was made evident by the nearly non-existing clutch. We cruised up the A1 as fast as possible to Gronigen where we met up with Peter Mulvey and John Statz at the Rhythm & Blues Night. Peter’s agent couldn’t make it to the gig so Jess became his representation for the night…in that she made said claim (Peter said to do it) and we were given a free hotel room. BAM! 

The following day was a gig at Cafe de Amer in Amen.  Great gig with well over 100 of the best folks I’ve seen in a while. It was like negative quiet in that room. We even indulged in their famous meatballs at the break. It’s amazing what a little clove can do the meatball. If you’re into that sort of thing. Then we went to Hilversum and had a nice little rooftop concert with some friendly folks we met last year on a FreeBird Concert run. Thanks Christoff! Again, such lovely people to hang out with. Thank so much Linda!!

Jess is in Greece for a few days and I’m in Amsterdam for a couple shows with the Amsterdam Songwriters Guild. It’s sunny and warm and the gig tonight is a 10 minute walk. These people riding bikes while texting/smoking/rolling a smoke/drinking coffee/chatting over Facetime and avoiding the kids on their souped-up scooters will never cease to amaze me. It is one of the most most terrifying bits of clockwork action I've ever witnessed.