TOUR DIARY DAY 1
Started the day at the Brandenburg Gate and doing some touristy things then I made my way over to Budde Music Publishing. It was really nice to put a face to the names on our contract. Stayed and chatted for about an hour and did a little bit of strategizing for mine, TFS and RATS catalog. Be great if some things come to fruition.
Then I got an email from Hansa Studios about there may be a little bit of time to show me around the studio but they do have sessions going on today so I drove over to test my luck and they were in fact tracking so I couldn’t go in so I did the next best thing - I bought a t-shirt! “Is Bono here? How about The Edge?” I thought I was funny but I was the only one laughing.
So early morning jet lag = late afternoon nap. I slept in the car outside the club for over an hour. No complaints, it felt good.
Then I went and played Unterrock in Berlin, small basement style bar with a nice Yamaha PA system. Nice to not have to bring one and super easy to dial in. Small crowd as it was a bit wam in there, probably 25–30 outside listening but only 10 or so inside.
Play to the folks that are there not the ones that aren’t - that’s my mantra.
The folks really dug it, they asked me to play a couple of songs twice and I was really surprised that the song that seemed to go over the best was “Nothing needs to be said”, a quiet narrative type of song. I played the Paul Kelly song “To her door” and one guy sang along word for word! Turns out he’s from Melbourne and a giant PK fan. That was unexpected. In the break he and I chatted Aussie music - I told him I would play “Reptile” by the Church for him, he didn’t think I could do it. Afterward he said “That was amazing, you played all the different parts of that song and still made it your own!”
Was overall a great start to the tour, sold some CDs and the “I <3 Toast” stickers are going over huge. This started a whole conversation about toast and we got back to the ﬂat I’m staying at and we made some amazing raisin toast.
The tour may have just been renamed “The Toast Tour 2016”
TOUR DIARY DAY 2 AND 3:
The thing I forgot to mention from Day 1 was at the end of the night being invited out to go to another bar (at 1 am) by my AirBnB host Norm and his two friends. They were super nice and already a bit drunk, but I had a 9 am call time at Potsdamer Platz so I did not go out. There’s something about this musician thing as a “job” and not as an excuse to drink on school night that some folks miss. It may make me a bit of a square at times but I do take what I do seriously. My host was very gracious and this isn’t a dig on him at all - I just get it a lot about why am I not drinking at gigs and stuff.
Moving on to Day 2 - I was so excited to be playing Potsdamer Platz, an art festival… I was inside the Potsdamer Platz MALL where the art festival was taking place.
It was a ﬁne enough gig, paid well and what-not but I was still inside a fucking mall. I was swapping sets with another singer/songwriter named Sebastian Niehoff, he was very good from what I could tell, all his songs were in German (and didn’t rhyme at all -Ha!) and had a good day. We talked guitars for a few, now this is interesting to me - On Friday night someone asked me what kind of rental car I was driving. I have no idea. I had been driving it for a few days but the only description I could share was “It’s white.” (Turns out it’s a Ford and I still don’t know the model). I’m not a car guy. But when I saw Sebastian playing I said to myself “Oooh, a J45, banner year - looks like mahogany back like mine”. Sebastian had a nice Gibson, I spotted it right away. Turns out his Martin D28 got stolen at another gig fairly recently and this is still new to him. Sounded fantastic. We get to talking and he tells me that he once took a VW Van up the California coast. I explain to him that I rent space for my studio from some folks (Diane Staggs) that rent VW campers vans. After a few minutes of Internet searching and looking at his video - yep. Same folks. World gets smaller again.
I attempt a sing along with some folks in the last set and very nearly get them going, I’m upstaged a bit by two small girls aged 18 months and 3 years old dancing on the side of the stage and the younger one keeps trying to put the
sharpie from my mailing list in her mouth. They are adorable and you can’t compete with kids for attention - I don’t even try.
Sebastian and I swap 45 minute sets back and forth from noon to 8pm and I’m pretty beat by the time we ﬁnish up, I’m walking into my hotel room and I hear “Bobbo!” Which is really odd since 1) I’m in Berlin. 2) I’m about two miles away from where I was playing. It’s the soundman and he invites me to a rooftop party. This sounds like a lot of fun, it’s also the night of the anniversary of the Berlin Wall going up back in ’61. There’s probably some party or something. We make plans to meet in the lobby in a few minutes.
I go upstairs to my room and there is a fantastic shower, the bed has 6 pillows ranging from ﬂuffy to ﬂat and the music that comes on the tv in the room sounds like out takes from Brian Eno’s “Music for airports”. I hop in the shower and I don’t move for another 7 hours.
I guess playing 6 sets of music in 2 days is tiring.
Sunday I get up and plan to do some Berlin Wall history stuff, you know anniversary a day late - whatever. I go over to the museum, the east side gallery and then get lunch at Mustafa’s - hands down the best kebap place I’ve ever been to. This is my second time there and it was not a ﬂuke. I stood in the rain for 30 minutes just to order and the line was longer by the time I ﬁnished eating. See pics.
Then I started the long drive back to Bremen, made longer by road construction and rain. Something I will say for Americans back home reading this - we could really learn a lot about driving from the Germans. Like. A. Lot. Folks think that the autobahn is no speed limit anywhere and that’s just not true, there are many places where there is in fact a speed limit, it could be 120 kmph (roughly 60 mph) or it could be open. But through all of this - people stay to the right unless they are passing. Going slow - that’s ﬁne, stay to the right. Trafﬁc moves along very well and there isn’t like that asshole weaving in and out of trafﬁc in all lanes, you ONLY pass on the left. I’m not a “good” driver, I mean - I do ok, I’m aware of stuff,
use my turn signals but if I am used as a control for the average American driver 90% of American drivers need to go back to school. We as a country suck at driving.
Back in Bremen now and doing some guitar re-stringing (I get about 2 days out of a set of strings) and dinner. I learned that this tiny bottle of wine I bought is crap why would you make red wine sweet??
TOUR DAIRY DAY 4:
Last night I had a glass of wine when I got back to the ﬂat - I discovered that German word for “headache” is right on the front of the bottle - “Lieblich”. But I survived, new lesson learned today.
End of my ﬁrst week here and so I headed down to the laundramat at 8 am. Waking up early still, I don’t know if I can continue to call it jet lag. Next to the laundramat is a bar and I as I walk by I notice a poster advertising a Songs & Whispers show there - I’m on the poster but I don’t think I’m playing there, wait. I may be playing there. Would be good to know so I can coordinate laundry day with the showtime.
Have now been approached by many teenagers who have a form that they ask to be signed to help children around the world and they ask for a donation. I’m pretty sure it’s a scam - I offered change but they only wanted bills. It’s strange to keep getting shown the same form.
Had our meeting at S&W today and it was good to ﬁgure stuff out for the week. I miss Astrid but Arne is doing a good job - it’s a lot of scheduling for sure. As I’m leaving Kaurna Cronin shows up and we do a cd swap. I tell him this one is going to sell better than his last one because he didn’t put his picture on the front. Everyone laughs. I’m such an asshole.
Pack up and drive the 222 miles to Amsterdam, it’s a fairly easy drive with the hardest part being when you actually get in the city. I ﬁght for a parking spot near the venue - I ﬁnd a short term loading zone type parking - it’s 5 euro an hour to park there and I have to do it because I’m actually early. The soundman handles all the details for the bands here and my itinerary says that I have a parking space provided. It’s a small thing for a venue to provide and so helpful. We’ve actually started including it in our rider back in the states. Places like the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff actually keeps a spot blocked off for traveling bands. When booking in Hermosa Beach, it was the hardest thing for them to secure. Money? They have that. One parking space near where we are playing? That’s going to take a week to coordinate!
I’m playing Dwaze Zaken - it’s right in the heart of Amsterdam, I’m looking at canals and they are feeding me some chicken curry and rice and it is fantastic. The soundman has just informed me that there in fact is NO parking space for me. He takes out his phone and starts showing me where the free parking is available - it’s about a 15 minute drive. Across the river, past the green area and the big WHAT?? It is not close. He says it’s about a 30 minute walk so I better get going to be back in time for the show.
I’m kind of annoyed but not as annoyed as I will be in after driving around for 35 minutes trying to ﬁnd it. I end up ﬁnding a car park that’s only about a 15 minute walk away - it too is 5 euro an hour. This is bullshit.
I’m starting to not like Amsterdam and I’ve only been here 2 hours.
Tune in tomorrow for part two !!
TOUR DIARY DAY 4: PART 2
I walk back from parking the car, Amsterdam is a fabulous city for a bike rider. I love bike riding but I can’t carry the stuff to play a show on a bike - so I have to use a car, and they seem to penalize you for this - you want to drive a car? We’re gonna make you pay.
The venue is a nice restaurant and I’m excited by the location and stuff, seems to be a good crowd there and there’s a soundman! That’s always a good thing.
As I’m setting up I am informed that the other performer for the night is not coming so I’m to play 2 sets instead of one. No big deal - it brings my total up to 8 sets of music in just 3 gigs! Woo - Jumping right in.
I ask the sound guy about monitors (a speaker facing me so I can hear what I’m doing) and he says they don’t need them in there, it makes it sound bad. I’m kind of confused by this but trust him. I plug my stuff in and I’m strumming waiting to hear my guitar and the soundman says “sounds good.” I look at him a little puzzled, “You can hear it?” “Yes, sounds good out here.” I talk into the microphone and he can hear me. I cannot hear myself or my guitar at all. AT ALL. This is a pretty loud room and there’s a table of 7 or 8 women all talking very loudly next to me. I am not annoyed with them because it also occurs to me that I haven’t seen any signs up that even tell people that music is happening tonight. They are just here and I happen to be standing next to them with a guitar.
Quick technical stuff: The venue has a pair of Bose loudspeakers that were nice stuff back in ’75 when Bruce Springsteen used to use them as monitors on stage. Here they are hung about 10 feet in the air and aimed at a small portion of the audience - they are very directional speakers meaning: if you are not right in front of them, you’re not going to hear them at all. And the PA desk is a Behringer eurodesk, One of the cheapest mixers you can buy and still call it a mixer. I have heard these mixers sound ok but I don’t have any idea how this one sounds.
Sound guy tells me we’re ready to start. I was going to do some looping stuff tonight with my pedals but that is clearly not an option since I won’t be able to hear the loop at all. I prep myself with “the people who are here don’t know any of this crap, you are just a guy performing - it’s not their fault, give them the best you got.” As I’m tuning up to start I break a string. Brand new string. Is this an omen?
I launch into some songs, staying a bit off the mic so I can sort of hear myself in the room - it really is like screaming into the abyss - if the abyss is a roomful of people talking louder than you are performing. The danger in this is that it is really easy to blow your voice out trying to be heard - so I just trust that folks can hear me and not push too hard. This trust is blown when the one woman paying attention in front tells me that she can’t hear me.
I get some response from a few folks and there’s a guy here taking pictures of me, he seems nice too. I’m reminded of a show we played a couple of years ago with @stressechoes that was a quiet room with no PA and how Andrew Corey from that band owned the room by doing a really quiet song - let’s try that. So I play a really quiet song, I put everything into it and I ﬁnish and get no response at all. Not even sure if people knew I ended the song. So I go the other way, the woman in front listening is named Martina and so I dedicate “APB” to her, when it comes time to do the solo I jump up on a chair in the middle of the room and I sing the rest of the song from there, no mic just being the loudest thing in the room - the table of 8 sort of looks at me for a second, Martina likes it, the camera guy snaps a picture and that’s it. I’m not breaking through tonight. Martina thanks me and leaves.
It’s a tough slog the rest of the way through, I don’t give up, I’m sweating it out and working my hardest but I’m not even sure anything is even coming out of the pa speakers. I’m told a couple of times that they can’t hear me. This is why there’s a soundman right?
The soundman tells me I have to ﬁnish by 9:45 so he can catch his ferry home. Ok, I don’t really care. While we are packing up I talk to him about the sound “I have a monitor for performers” he says “but we don’t like the way it sounds in the room so we don’t use it.” After talking to him for about a minute it occurs to me that I know way more about sound reinforcement than he does - I may not know his room but I bet I could make a better sound in here with just one AER that Songs &
Whispers provides me to use. I explain to him how we could use the AER behind the performer so they could hear themselves and then you can take a line out from the AER and go straight into the Eurodesk with one line and ﬁll the rest of the room with the overheads. This clearly confuses him and he says “But then everyone will want to use their own pa.”
I’m done. Go catch your ferry.
You can have a tough night and still feel good because you played well or you made a connection with someone, maybe a few people bought CDs, maybe the ﬁnancial side of it overshadows people not paying attention…
None of that happened. I ended up making 50 euro for the night balanced against no real connection, no cd sales, 32 euro spent on PARKING, and I drove 225 miles to get there. (80 euro in gas round trip!) I was going to ﬁnd a place to crash for the night but I was pretty burnt on this city, get me out - I carry all my stuff the half a mile to my car and drive the 225 miles back to Bremen. I hit the pillow at 3:03 am.
It’s a long drive for sure, I stop off in a rest area and sleep for about 45 minutes at one point but I’ll be damned if I give that city another nickel.
I should add that my frustration is focused at the venue, the city of Amsterdam was a silent bystander and I know S&W sent them promo stuff - they always do The venue did nothing to promote or even let people know there was entertainment. I had the tools and the know how with me to make this an enjoyable show but that was blocked. I also found out today that I was supposed to pass the hat for tips - this was something that I asked about and the venue would not allow me to do.
TOUR DIARY DAY 5:
Another long road day - 260 miles. The miles roll along today with the help of Kathleen Edwards Page albums 4 albums as well as her Building 55 EP. You could say I’m a fan. When she sings “you spend half your life trying to turn the other half around” - it gets me every time. I’m like, That’s ME!
After KE I moved on to some Luke Doucet (long haul driver - that’s me!) and then dove into Matthew Ryan alphabetically (by album) starting with Boxers and making it all the way to the beginning of “vs the silver state”. My iPhone is somehow missing “Concussion”, it’s an oversight that will be remedied.
Good traveling music is so important, not just that but I am using my iPhone for the gps for everywhere I am going and I discovered that with it plugged into the car - unless I have music going it won’t play sound through the stereo. Almost missed a turn today because the album ended and I was just driving along and whoah! There it is!
Haven’t ﬁgured out why it needs to be playing music in order for it to work. I may or may not become interested enough in solving that mystery.
Tonight I’m in Chemnitz (German pronunciation: [ˈkɛmnɪt ͡s]), but from 1953 to 1990 as Karl-Marx-Stadt. What a rad name! I’m at the Exil Cafe which is connected to this theater and it’s very nice. They are expecting me and have signs up and everything and bring me food. All good so far.
As I’m loading stuff on stage the manager come over and starts gesturing to the pa equipment, he doesn’t speak much English and my German is clearly nichts sehr gut and he is kind of showing me the mixer and he shrugs. I tell him “show me where the power is and I can handle the rest of this.” “You know how to?.. ”. He trails off, I nod yes and he seems genuinely relieved to not have to run sound.
It’s a pretty hefty system too, a pair of subs and two speakers mounted on top of each sub with one spun around facing the stage - monitors. All is good. This system is so good I’m going to break out the Porchboard tonight. The Porchboard
is kick drum pedal that I stomp with my foot and it…well, it sounds like a kick drum. Many PA systems can’t handle the low end but with these subs pumping I could get a regular rave style beat going for as long as I can keep stomping!
Excellent sound tonight.
I start off with “Part Time Cowboy” and it gets a mixed reaction. Not really a country type crowd me thinks and so I try “Heading South”, kind of spacey with ebow song, I use my looping pedal and I’m not even annoying with it and it goes over well. I play some quiet numbers and they go well, I kick it up and they like that too. Finding a nice groove.
At the break I sit and talk with a couple, he is from South America and she is from Finland, English is their common language and they are very nice, she has just been hired as a puppeteer here at the college. I couldn’t bring myself to ask the 17 follow-up questions to ﬁnding out someone is a professional puppeteer. He does music videos and we discuss working together when I come back thru Chemnitz in October.
I down about 10 glasses of water during the set feeling good that I’m still steering clear of the diet soda. Sarah, the bartender just keeps bringing me new glasses and soon there are empty water glasses all over the stage. You think beer bottles are rock and roll? Yeah, whatever.
I talk to Anya at the bar, she is really interested in the resonator guitar and so I show her and explain it as best I can in English and she is catching every third word. But we have a nice chat about traveling and she asks why I like traveling and where is my wife and so on. I tell her that I really like being in a place for a couple of days and then move on, maybe it’s because I’m still looking for a home and tell her a little bit about me and Tracy moving across country and stuff. Anya nods and says she grew up in Chemnitz but lived for 4.5 years in The Netherlands. “I really liked going somewhere else and then when I came back I realized the things that I missed and didn’t appreciate when I lived here.” She’s now a school teacher and said one of the things that is nice about moving back to where you grew up is “you get the jokes.” I thought that was nice, she also really liked the song “Hate this town” appropriately enough.
Three college aged girls come up to thank me for a nice night of music and it’s nice, they ask where I’ve been and I mention Berlin and they asked why I liked it and I talked about the history, the people…the kebabs and one of them says there’s a great kebab place, it’s outdoors and always a long line and describes Mustafa’s. I show her my picture of the Kebab I got there a few days ago and they are all jealous.
It was nice to be in a place where people wanted to hear music. This was a bar where folks hung out and talked. Hardly anyone on their phone and not a tv in sight. Awesome.
I’m writing now from my hotel room they got me. It’s nice. Not as nice as Berlin but nice. The clocks in the lobby show New York, Berlin, Tokyo and Moscow time. This hotel was here when Chemnitz was called Karl-Marx Stadt. You can see it in the details, the elevator, the decorations, the festival of brown that is this hotel. Everything is just a little bit more function over design. No fancy swipe cards here - we to metal keys.
Tomorrow I’m going to ﬁnd the Nischel in town which is apparently a giant head sculpture of Karl Marx and everyone jokes about it here. Nischel is a Saxon dialect word for ‘head’.
TOUR DIARY DAY 6:
Good night sleep and caught up on my paperwork, yes there’s plenty of paperwork on tour and I wish I could do it while I’m driving but multitasking while driving is still not a good idea.
The iPhone gps is working great while driving but I still can’t ﬁgure out why Siri only talks when she’s interrupting music - if no music is playing, no gps directions. Very strange. It got so I was kind of tired of listening at one point and so I put on Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” just so Siri had someone to interrupt and the music nearly put me to sleep.
No Bueno. Nichts sehr gut.
For some reason there is no hot water for the shower today. It’s been a while since I have taken a legitimately COLD shower, thankfully it’s not all that cold outside the shower but not a pleasant start either way and then I get yelled at by one of the neighbors for not taking my trash out. We are both confused by this apparently someone else has been using the bins designated for our ﬂat and left trash in them for a few weeks. “Ich habe nur funf Tag.” (I’ve only been here 5 days) I tell her. We come to an understanding and all is well.
Ich weiss nichts.
The drive today is actually quite nice and after the last few trips 180 miles seems almost…easy? There’s only little bits of trafﬁc and 2 construction areas and then I’m on smallish country roads for about 30 miles winding through little villages and farmland until I get to the top of Germany on the Baltic Sea at Tillman Hahn’s Gasthaus - it’s a Bistro I think. Really nice restaurant in a vacation area. As I’m looking for the venue I see a large poster with me on it. That must be the place! It makes me think how odd it must be for the models that are on billboards - like that’s me right there! Granted this is a small poster, only about 3 foot square, it was shocking enough to see it not knowing it was going to be there.
Tillman comes out to great me and it’s a nice place, they tell me they have a special tonight on the menu just for me - chicken tikka masala. I think - that’s odd, I love CTM but then I remember that this place likes to have dishes from where the performers are from and ask what we would like. I had originally told them I was from SoCal but didn’t think having Mexican food or a Hamburger was all that special so I told them about the tikka masala!
It was for real. Tillman tells me how he brought a guest chef in from India a while back and they brought with them an authentic recipe for the tikka masala and how they only offer it on special occasions and I look up by the bar - there’s a huge ﬂat screen tv by the bar (that immediately has me thinking ‘oh crap another sports bar I will be ﬁghting for attention with’) and on the tv - there’s a revolving group of pictures letting patrons know who and when the musical acts will be. I notice three different pictures of myself and today’s date attached. Respect.
Tillman and I have a great conversation waiting for my dinner to arrive - I tell him how I’m fairly new to the Indian cuisine and how it started with our friend Sal who hosted a house concert and served up goat curry. Well Tillman knows a bit about goats! I learn about Boer Goats (from the Dutch word for farmer) and how they come from South Africa and were raised for meat and how there’s a local farmer here in Kühlungsborn that he gets his goat meat from.
I know enough to know I know too much.
The Gasthaus has a nice stage area in the garden, Tillman runs an extension cord to the stage for all power and brings out some lights and everything.
I’m playing for about 30–40 people and they are a very tough group to read. They seem to be understanding me but it is so quiet in between songs, I make sure that I’m talking slowly and clearly with my stories and folks seem to like it. The other night in Chemnitz the country type stuff didn’t go over well, tonight I get a request for Garth Brooks. (!?!?). I tell him I don’t know any Garth but I will play something better, how about a country hit from 1973 by Del Reeves? “This song has been my touring experience so far this year, it’s called ‘Looking at the world through a windshield’.” It goes over well.
It’s a good night, I get these very reserved folks to sing along with me in APB and we all have fun. Tillman invites me back any time I want and he gives me a copy of his cooking book! It’s still early and I like the idea of driving through the night while there’s hardly any trafﬁc so at 11 pm I head south.
I crawl into bed at 3 am and call Tracy on FB calling. (Absolutely brilliant that we can talk and not have international phone fees!) She tells me that she mapped out my ﬁrst ten days of this tour and it would be the equivalent of driving from Madrid, Spain to Moscow, Russia.
I fall asleep doing math in my head.
TOUR DIARY DAY 7:
Had a good sleep and a hot shower - so I’m already ahead of yesterday.
Tonight I’m at Schwarzer Hermann, it’s only about 20 minutes away so EZ-PZ! It’s a bit of a long gig though - 7:30–10 pm. I don’t have a problem playing for 2.5 hours, I just wonder - who wants to listen to a solo acoustic guy for 2.5 hours?
I’m reading the tour rider before I go and I see that this place is a smoking bar. I just ﬁnished ironing my new t-shirts to sell but I’m not bringing them to a smoking bar! No one will want to buy t-shirts that are all smoky smelling - so I leave them home, I’ll bring them with me tomorrow. The shirts look good.
It’s an easy set up with the AER on the front of the stage feeding a monitor to me I got it mostly dialed in, I’m not 100% thrilled with my acoustic sound through the AER. I keep bringing down the presence and the highs but it’s still getting a little shrill in the top end. Maybe tomorrow I’ll ﬁgure it out.
I’m playing for a little bit, kind of a thin crowd inside of about 4 people and about 25 outside and I see Lara come in and sit down with her friend, I’m pretty sure I’ve met her friend before but my brain won’t put it all together. Lara is a Riddle & The Stars fan and when I play a couple of those songs I can see her singing along and that just carries me through. A bunch more people came in shortly after that and all was good.
Thank you Lara!
I try a couple of newish things tonight like a song I wrote last week called “Queen of the Party”, well actually the song is an old Gypsy Mechanics song but I couldn’t remember the words so I wrote all new words. First time I’ve performed that and I threw in the Pete Townshend song “Heart to hang on to” as well.
For a nearby gig I’m actually really tired for some reason tonight, I break down and as I’m taking the last trip to the car I notice that outside the bar has pretty much doubled in patronage. There must be 60 people outside now but for noise
reasons I can’t play past 10 pm but this bar starts picking up at 10 pm. Weird.
Sold some CDs, made some connections. Winner.
Throat is a little sore. 2.5 hours of singing will do that to you.
TOUR DIARY DAY 8:
I was bitching about all the driving I am doing and you know what? I got sick of listening to myself. I signed up to do this, it’s what I love to do. So in the words of Frank Zappa* “Shut up and play yer guitar!”
Today I am in Dangast at a place called Sonnendeck. It’s a holiday getaway type of town and I’m playing on the deck of this restaurant. They have weather curtains that drop down and they roll them up when folks are playing the deck so that all the folks on the beach can hear. When Tracy and I played here a few years back it was raining and the room was full. Today it was beautiful but a bit hot on the deck until they opened the curtains and then I was playing to about 100 or so people.
I’d been having a weird day with songs on the radio seeming to hit me the moments when I needed it and I’m sitting at Sonnendeck and every song on their overhead was a German language pop song. Not odd, I am in Germany but 40 minutes of nothing but German pop songs and then Phantom Planet’s “California” comes on and it feels like a ray of sunshine lifting me up saying “don’t worry, you got this.” I pull out my phone and message Jason Schwartzman (the drummer of Phantom Planet and the songwriter) and tell him “I’m in Northern Germany sitting here having a day and your song just came on and it was like a friend patting me on the back.” He writes back “No way! That’s the best.” Yes it is.
Sonnendeck is known for their French fries or Pommes (chips) and I get the gourmet burger and it’s pretty good but the Pommes are great! (See pic). They have people that come stand in line just for their Pommes!
Now I’m not gonna lie - my ﬁrst song sucked tonight. I’ve been messing with the key of “Massachusetts” and it wasn’t ready. It wasn’t good. But the rest of the show rocked. I dove in, I rocked and rolled. Had kids on the front of the stage most of the night. During my ﬁrst break I had a guy wearing a Dropkick Murphy’s sweatshirt come over to buy a cd - he looked at “Heart Like Mine” and said “I already have this one, which one is the new one?” “You already have it?” “Yeah, last time you were here I bought it and I really love it.”
That was two years ago. Awesome
Another guy comes up and says I remind him of The Band and do I play “The Weight” I tell him I haven’t played it in a long time. He says “I used to play it with my brother, we had a group, but I am just a doctor now not a performer like you. You play with such passion, I can’t help but wish I could do what you do.”
Second set goes well, I get a sing along for “APB” with Raphael (hard name to put into the song!) and I have an 8 year old boy named Paddy that wants me to do an autograph for him. I tell him I will give him an autograph if he will give me his. He is very cute and he runs to get some paper.
I end the set to the sound of “Zugabe! Zugabe!” (Encore)
So I take out the new song I’ve been working on “Queen of the Party” and I get people singing along with the “mama said she’d be alright” part at the end. I ﬁnish up with a big rocker and it’s the end. I put my guitar down and there’s a line of people to buy my CDs. One guy says “I’ll take one of each and a t-shirt.” I have to run to my car to get more CDs.
I’m exhausted but a good exhausted and I start breaking down the gear when Paddy comes back to see me, he’s brought some Pommes to share with me. Best tip of the night.
*that’s for you Chad!!
TOUR DIARY DAY 8:
Lots to process today.
Woke up suddenly because I thought I heard someone say my name at 6:30 am. Was mistaken, I am all alone in the ﬂat but I’m also totally awake now so I get up and go get my laundry from the basement. Still wet. My undies will dry in the back window of the hatchback rental car today. Sorry to those passing by.
My drive to Alsdorf today takes 4 hours and the fun is the construction in town once I get here, that coupled with the streets closed for the Europafest Festival today makes for interesting driving choices.
I’m playing at ABBBA Treff. I forget exactly what the acronym means but it pretty much breaks down to Alsdorf Couseling and Education Center. (Yeah, I know the letters don’t match, lost in translation!!). And the Center is in an older “Mall”. Like formerly shops and the like. Norbert is my contact and he’s super nice. He tells me that after a bigger mall went in nearby this one went out of business but it is centrally located in Alsdorf and so they started doing counseling there, put in a small restaurant and re-opened. There are lots of Syrian refugees here, some older German folks, a bunch of kids - there’s a lot going on the whole time I’m performing.
I start sawing away at my guitar and singing my songs and not very long into the playing the sheer ridiculousness of my songs in this circumstance is overwhelming. Everyone is very nice and folks listen and clap and cheer a couple of times but I see a woman who is missing most of her right arm and you just know that it’s her scar from Syria. And I’m singing about being Glad to be alive and driving across Texas and how Massachusetts is a funny word when you’re drunk and it just doesn’t add up.
Norbert passes the hat while I’m playing and yeah, this is my job - I have to get paid for my performance and yeah, I drove a long way to be here but shit - I didn’t leave a war ravaged country to be here!
I talk with Norbert some more and I convey these emotions I’m having while playing and he assures me that they enjoy having me and it’s great for some of them to NOT have to constantly be reminded of where they left and have some fun. Oh, yeah. That’s my JOB.
We talk more about the counseling that he’s doing and he tells me that most of all the adults are very happy to start a new story here. Meaning, yeah, they have lived through bombings and family being killed but they just want to start fresh, new life and leave the pain behind. They are enrolled in German speaking classes and take classes to get jobs and working really hard. Many of them have quite a difﬁcult time with all the paperwork that needs to be done in order for them to stay, so they assist with that as well. He said the children have the hardest time letting go of what they have seen especially if they have seen one or both of their parents killed. They are more resistant to leaving it in the past. This last bit is said so matter of factly that my brain doesn’t even comprehend it until much later.
My mind is spinning from all of this. He continues that their center has received some criticism from far right Germans about “why are you helping refugees and not our own.” So they also started a group that works with retired aged folks to get them out of their home and mingling and meeting new people - including the refugees coming through.
We sit down to share some goulash and continue talking - making light conversation I tell him that I, too, make goulash and have a great recipe from my buddy Roman. We joke about my cooking show and he brings the chef over and tells her all this and then she disappears and comes back 5 minutes later with her hand written directions for her goulash!! (I’ll have to make a copy for Roman Sonnleitner)
Now here is the weird thing - last night I played a vacation area for some folks that, while maybe not rich…they were comfortable, fancy cars and holiday at the beach. There were easily 2–3 times as many people listening last night than there were today and today in the hat I made nearly twice as much money as I made last night.
The people today had less and they gave more.
I am very humbled by today’s show.
TOUR DIARY DAY 9
I kind of forget where we left off, Alsdorf and a very nice Spartan room at a discount motel and I drive the 3 hours to Darmstadt.
Darmstadt is a nice city, there’s a city center with produce stands and sausage stands and lots of people milling about. There’s a gelato place that is really busy every time I walk by and it’s tempting but I avoid. There’s like these little passageways into the Marketplace that lead to the outer ring and there’s plenty of parking in this city- beneath it!
I get some parking near the Golden Krone where I’ll be playing tonight, from the outside it looks a little worn down and…punk? I meet 2 guys waiting for the doors to open at 7 pm. I ask if they are here for the music “what music?” I point to my name on their calendar*, “no, we’re here to drink.” Back in the day The Gypsy Mechanics used to play the Rat in Boston and that place was run down back in the 90’s, this place looks like it hadn’t cleaned since the 90’s. The music on the overhead is putting me in time as well, “1%” by Jane’s Addiction, “Territorial Pissings” by Nirvana, “Holiday in Cambodia” but the Dead Kennedys… If I was still 19 I would be loving this mix. The people here are a little older than me.
On stage there’s a Yamaha PA head. Awesome. I know what to do with that. There’s two large pa speakers and one monitor. Testing proves the monitor has a blown horn (it sounds like there’s a big blanket covering the speaker) but the two big mains both work so I ﬂip one around and face it towards me so I can hear and in a matter of minutes I get it sounding really good in this room.
As I start playing the room ﬁlls up with college aged students, I found out earlier that a lot of them have just landed in town and classes start next week. I get some good cheers and clapping. They like the songs with the fancy bits on guitar so I do a couple of rockers. After almost an hour I announce that I’m going to take a break for a few minutes and then do another set and I have a hat that I will be going around with - the mention of the hat clears the room. College kids are the worst. Zero dinero, zero CDs moved.
I go to the bar to get another water, mit gas unfortunately and start talking to this guy at the bar and his friend with a guitar. Turns out he’s from the states and stayed here after his time in the army, does a mean beat-box and we hang out and chat. His friend starts taking out his guitar to play with me (I guess) but when I start playing in F#m he puts his guitar away and leaves. Not sure exactly what happened there. Me and Bigg have a great chat after the gig about family, race relations in the states and here, his dad was a police ofﬁcer too and the problems he’s faced in Germany being a black guy getting pulled over all the time. “I’m a black man who doesn’t smoke, drink or do drugs and I’m a security guard and I still get pulled over while driving my car and they say because ‘you looked suspicious’.” We talk about our dads and our moms and it’s a good night.
You can have a bad night performing but if you make connections with people it can override the rest. That said, I had a pretty decent performance, the sound was good. There wasn’t anything promoting the night anywhere in the place. On the tour rider it actually stated that the venue does not want any ﬂyers from my touring agency. What the hell do they expect then? No ﬂyers, no promo, no people. I’ll take my guarantee and leave.
Well, I thought I was going to leave. I ended up hanging out in the parking garage waiting for them to let me out after the machine took my ticket. I told my AirBnB host that I would be back by midnight, it’s nearly 1 am when they ﬁnally arrive. I’m not actually annoyed by this, it just kind of drains me. I was ready to go, now I can’t. Urgh.
I wake up to tea already steeping and waiting for me. Volker, my host, is super nice guy from Peru, he works placing abused and neglected kids in foster homes and is here in Germany working for a few months because…Ok, I don’t remember this part. Anyway, he’s here and has a nice ﬂat and we chat about music and life while we drink tea. He was listening to my stuff yesterday and said it was kind of Garth Brooks like (!?!?!? Seriously??). I tell him I aim for more Springsteen and he says he hears that it’s more like Nebraska era. I can get on board with that. We try to ﬁnd some common musical ground on YouTube, he plays me some Runrig (which is like traditional Scottish music with a progressive rock band playing along), they are hugely popular in Scotland. I introduce him to the Pogues. I say, it’s like Runrig if they were drunk, punk and Irish. He likes it. Then he plays me
some Peruvian pop music and asks me to play him one of my favorite songs so I put on Blue Rodeo’s “Hasn’t hit me yet”. As soon as the band kicks in he says “They sound a lot like you.”
I will be sure to tell Blue Rodeo that they sound a lot like me next time I see them.
I didn’t realize Darmstadt is only about 2 hours away from where my uncle Marty and aunt Petra live so I try to get in touch with them about having some lunch before I drive back to Bremen but I waited too long and didn’t give enough notice so I miss them but my friend Tobi from Radio Gong says he’s available so I stop by Wurzburg on my way north.
We met Tobi way back in 2011 when we came to Wurzburg to play a Radio Gong festival (shout out to Marty’s buddy Chris for making that happen!) and we have stayed in touch ever since - usually to compare hamburger recipes, Tobi takes his burgers seriously - dude even makes his own buns! So we hook up around the corner from Radio Gong and get some Thai food. Why Thai? Because he says it’s great and it is! I meet his wife for the ﬁrst time and we have a wonderful lunch and then head over to Radio Gong where we record an interview to be played later on today. Tobi plays me the new Sting song and it’s really good.
One thing that comes up with everyone I talk to is Donald Trump. Part of me is happy to not be in the U.S. at the moment so I can try to avoid all his shit but everyone brings him up and how is it even remotely possible for him to be considered for president. How? “It’s like the people that live in these small places who only care about their small place and not about anyone else in the world or even anyone in the next town.” I’m told roughly this over and over. I agree.
People ask “You’re not for Trump are you?” And I shake my head no and then they say “I can’t imagine you being here doing what you do if you were.”
It’s an interesting moment in time right now. I’m going to get off this soapbox in a minute but being here has put me in an peculiar place and I’m just trying to be the best American I can be.
This ain’t the Olympics but it’s deﬁnitely something.
*The calendar I speak of is on one piece of paper about 6“x9” and has all the bands for the entire month on it. There is one copy, outside to the left of the front door. Only copy anywhere.
TOUR DIARY DAY 10:
After my long ass drive back to Bremen last night I just wanted to make some dinner and climb into bed but ﬁrst I had to wash dishes after being gone for 3 days the sink was left full of dirty dishes. Thanks ﬂat mate!
Also, it’s way hot here. If you are doubting the whole global warming thing - I have noticed the summers and the heat in Northern Germany getting hotter just in the past few years of us coming here. They are breaking heat records all over the country right now. Shit is real.
Anyway, today. Meeting at S&W and discuss the gigs and stuff and I’m ready for this week. This week. Today is Wednesday! Alright. I’m back on track now.
Playing Zum Fass here in Bremen which is a bonus because it’s right next to the laundramat I like to use. I’m going to set up gear and do laundry at the same time. I can multi-task like that. Turns out I can see the dryer spinning from where I’ll be playing.
Zum Fass is in the gröpelinger section of Bremen, it’s walking distance from the ﬂat and they are new to having music here. It’s like an old Irish pub here, smoking inside and out and a hard drinking crowd.
Bonus tonight - Geoff Geib (former mandolin and keyboard player in The Fallen Stars) is in town so he’s joining me on a few songs. It’s really great to see him and catch up. He’s here because he got married recently (a year ago) and his wife is from Turkey and they are having a wedding party thing soon. So his wife is visiting family in Turkey and he’s hanging out with me.*
I get a really great introduction from new friend Heiko and I’m off and running. It’s obvious early on that soft and pretty don’t count for much tonight. These folks want to rock, they like fast songs and the fancy bits of guitar. So I give it to them. We get a really great sing along going with APB and I swear one guy sang along with a couple other songs that I couldn’t ﬁgure out how he knew.
Geoff and I are rocking away and we’re given some shots. The shot we are given I’m told is called “Holy Crap”. Or some variation like that. I’m not much of a shot guy, I’m thinking it’s something traditional like schnapps or something. Nope. Down the hatch.
Smooth? No, not really. I play a couple of more songs and then more shots are offered. After the ﬁrst shot my voice got noticeably… More Westerburgian** and some notes actually burn a little bit to sing. The second shot was too much.
Again, I don’t really do this. I was never the guy doing shots at a party - ever. But they are nice and we are walking distance from the ﬂat…
I try to do the second shot and they made me laugh just as I did it and wouldn’t you know it - half of this thing comes back out through my nose.
Did it burn? You bet your ass it did. Was not as pleasant as the ﬁrst shot.
Alright - I will do another song.
I can barely croak it out. The cool Westerburgian gravel has given way to full on Tom Waits phlegm. My voice cracks and my sinus passage still burns. I play the last song and say goodnight. It’s a good night, I sign a few CDs, pick up my laundry and head home.
Bonus points for now knowing what I would sound like doing Tom Waits covers and also how to get my voice to sound like that.
I’ve seen Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers do loads of shots on stage. I should’ve been paying better attention to their form because I’ve never seen it come back out Roger’s nose.
I got two rock-n-roll demerits tonight.
*He offers the traveling advice of “If you want to save money on airfare, travel to a country that has recently had an attempted coup.” **As in Paul Westerberg of the Replacements.
TOUR DIARY DAY 11:
My throat still hurts from whatever crap I drank last night. Getting better but shots on stage not typically a good idea if I want to continue singing.
If it was just schnapps or something but I found out that they did the same thing to Tom Richardson last week saying “It’s good for the voice.” I think that’s a bit of a trap. I’m on to you now.
I got a notice saying that the amp that I sent myself from California has arrived in Bremen and I have to go pick it up at the customs ofﬁce which is right around the corner from the S&W ofﬁce so that’s my plan for this morning. I don’t have to leave for Oldenburg until about 1 pm so I get to the customs ofﬁce at noon and I end up leaving at 1 pm. I was “next” in line that entire time. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
So I pick up Geoff and we drive up to Oldenburg and have a great interview on air and I play a song live and they spin a second one off my cd. Really great visit with Olie and we try to arrange another get together in October. These folks are so amazing and nice. He promises to come to Litfass tonight. (And does!)
Geoff and I get to litfaß a bit early so we drive around and ﬁnd more döner. We are convinced we could make a fortune if we opened a döner shop in L.A. But neither of us want to work there, we just want to own it and eat there. It’s like Morrissey said “I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” I’m shocked Geoff doesn’t know this lyric because I feel it sums him up nicely. He agrees.
Litfaß in Oldenburg has a nice big stage and PA system, I’m left to my own devices with it and dial it in pretty great. The Porchboard is making a nice thump through the system, the acoustic is big and full. I’m pretty stoked.
And then in walk some of my favorite people in Germany - Mike, Irene and Maryann. TFS and RATS have done 3 house concerts with them and this year will be the 4th. They are super nice and Mike is even wearing his “This is Happening”
shirt. We have a good catch up and talk about the show RATS is doing in October with them. All is good.
Starting playing this set, it gets off to a slow start but soon picks up speed No Expectations sounds particularly good, as I’m playing some TFS songs I can see a few folks singing along. I can’t tell you how awesome a feeling it is to see people singing along with words you wrote. There’s another guy here wearing a Motel Americana shirt that he bought off me last weekend up in Dangast! I remember him because, well he was wearing a Dropkick Murphy’s sweatshirt, and I’ve only made 8 of these t-shirts so I’m going to be very connected to whoever buys them, I’ve done them all by hand!
I dedicate APB to Mike and teach the room how to sing along with the song, having a few ringers in the room helps and the song goes great, huge sing along I jump up on a table and play the rest of the song from the middle of the room atop a table. Do a bunch more songs and end it up to the sound of “Zugabe!” (One more song)
So I play “Hold Me” and this song is really coming together on this tour. I’ve rehearsed it a ton and I’m really liking how I’m incorporating the piano part on the guitar (cause I only have two hands) and I love playing this song. It’s probably my second or third favorite song I’ve written.
Another encore and I’m done. Spent. The water bottles here tonight are tiny and so Geoff and I keep reﬁlling them at the tap instead of getting new bottles.
It’s a good night. As I’m leaving the owner tells me to ﬁgure out how to come back next month because he would like to have me again. That always feels good.
I talk to Oliver from Oldenburg Eins (radio station) and he tells me how much he likes the song “Massachusetts” and that it is in rotation at their station. Awesome.
I have just fallen asleep twice while typing.
Tomorrow isn’t a terribly big drive, only 190 miles but I have to sleep.
TOUR DIARY DAY 12:
Feeling pretty good from last nights show, with folks singing along and having a good time - I’m pretty jazzed to hit the pub tonight up by the Baltic Sea.
First I stop by the S&W ofﬁce to pick up our schedule for October and stop by the customs ofﬁce to pick up my amp. All goes well, we start planning for 2017 already with shows booked at Breminale and Haus Am Walde as well as a tv show thing. We also start talking about how if I ever ﬁnish writing my book I could incorporate that into some bookings here at book stores as well. So now I have to ﬁnish writing/editing my book. I created a folder on Google Docs for all my short stories and there’s currently upwards of 250 of them. It just sounds like so much editing!! But I’m excited by the idea.
I was talking with Gina Villalobos yesterday about touring and music and she has new stuff coming out really soon so I listened to her ﬁrst two albums on the ride and they’re just great. I don’t want to say she sounds like Rod Stewart because it’s not accurate but she has a vocal sound that lives so easily in rock and roll. There’s a bit of raspiness to it that sits just above the guitars in the mix and just below the cymbals. Much like Rod Stewart’s voice does. Looking forward to her new stuff and I just love her World Party cover of “put the message in the box”!
Heading north to Rostock is a bit of a ride, I notice that a good portion of the Autobahn heading in the opposite direction is completely closed. That’s going to be an issue later. My ride does require a 30 minute nap pit stop in a rest area but I get there on time and they are happy to see me, they have my name on the wall and everything. Pub Mambo #1 is an Irish bar up by the Baltic Sea and a nice little bar too with nachos on the menu!
I set up in the corner and the place starts ﬁlling up. Norbert keeps me hydrated all night with some “Proviant” beverage that is like an orange lemonade. It’s tasty.
I start playing and I just can’t ﬁgure out this room. The music on the overhead is nothing but Fleetwood Mac for the whole time I am not playing. I love me some Fleetwood Mac but is it common for a bar to play nothing but one artist for an
evening? This can’t be like this all the time, maybe this is for me because I’m from SoCal. I’m going with that because otherwise it’s just strange.
The room sounds great and the little AER amp is ﬁlling space and I’m playing better and singing better than I did last night and I’m really into it but I feel like I’m annoying these people by being in their bar. Not the owners, the patrons. I get pretty decent applause at the end of songs but am pretty much ignored for the duration of the music part. I do big songs, I do quiet songs, I do in between songs - same exact reaction. I can see a few people on the other side of the bar paying attention and they are as far away from me as possible and still be in the same room.
I dig deep and leave nothing in the tank and still just a smattering. I announce last song and I rock a nice upbeat number and it ends, they all clap and it’s done. Trying hard to make that connection and coming up empty every time. Managed a little sing along but I am working on the farm tonight.
Taking the hat around, I seed it with a ﬁver to make it look better - I ﬁnish up with nothing but coin. One table gives me 5 euro and makes sure I know that it’s from all 10 of them. I sell 3 CDs. I’m just spent.
I have a handful of folks tell me as I’m loading out how much they enjoyed it and that’s really nice but when I was playing I couldn’t tell that at all!
The music on the overhead has changed to the jukebox and it’s now playing metal, speciﬁcally “breaking out of hell” by Airbourne. If this is what the crowd wanted then everything makes more sense.
Turns out there is a hostel for me to stay at tonight but I didn’t know that and didn’t bring a change of clothes or my toothbrush. I thank them but I’m going to drive home now.
As soon as I get out of town I hit up a rest area and my self loathing hits it’s zenith and I buy a bag of Doritos and a Mountain Dew.
Before I start driving I ﬂip through my iPhone for some good music for the ride, I haven’t listened to Wilco in a while so let’s go back to the beginning. “AM” is an awesome album. It gets slagged by folks that want to compare it to Son Volt’s “Trace” but I love “AM”. It’s got a looseness to it and great songs. “Dash 7” is my jam tonight. I love how you can actually hear a really slow freight train rumble by in it. And then I move on to “Being There” and this album is amazing. How good is it? Well, it’s lifting my spirits. It reminds me that their drummer Ken Coomer contacted me about working together but we haven’t been able to make that happen. Maybe I will make that happen in 2017. And I start thinking about writing my book and what approach I’m going with and I’m up out of the doldrums. I’m ready for another day. Thank you Wilco.
OH, and the highway was deserted clear down to Breaker’s Point* - my detour puts me on back roads for about 25 miles through thickly wooded area that for a while I forgot I was in Germany - it felt like driving in the backwoods of New Hampshire, like Rte 153 or maybe some sections of 13. Over 25 miles I saw 3 other cars on the road and they were all together. It was a long bit of driving with pea soup fog for a good part of it where you could only see about 25 feet in front of you! Weather has changed here, the September Summer is gone, it’s now in the low 50’s at night, fall is here.
I’m mostly ready for tomorrow which is good because I have two gigs tomorrow.
Shake it off kid, You got more at bats coming up.
*Bonus points if you get that reference.
TOUR DIARY DAY 13:
I HAD TO SET AN ALARM!!
I know, right?! The horror. I had to be in Verden by 11 am which meant I had to leave by 10:30. I can already tell that you are not feeling very sympathetic towards my need for an alarm but waking up by 9:30 is difﬁcult when you don’t get to sleep until 4:30 am.
Today is a 2 show day with a short open air concert in Verden and then a 2 hour gig in Brake. I ﬁrst got nervous about this but then realized they are only 66 miles apart. Piece of cake.
The Verden Open Air is put on by my friend Jeanette who I met back in 2013 and she’s been a good friend to the band and me. (She was also the cinematographer of the TFS “Glad” video where I run through Bremen). There’s a few other bands on the bill and it’s nice to hear live music that isn’t me for a change.
There was like an alternative type band, a jazz band, a pop band, a female singer who sang to a backing track and me. Quite eclectic and honestly, very nice. I chat with one of the guitarists about his telecaster. He mentions that he has the Ritchie Kotzen model pickups and I say “oh, Dimarzios” and he realizes I know some stuff about guitars and the conversation gets easier. Another band had a drummer using a cajon as well as a drum pad and it was actually really cool. I don’t know if I’ve just gotten more open to what can be done with one of those or if they have actually just improved that much. Brandon has one of these Roland drum pad things and what this guy did was pretty cool. The jazz band was ﬁne. Ron Burgundy* would approve.**
I hop up and do my thing and get a pretty decent crowd happening. Nice. I sell some CDs, sign a few autographs and drink some free hot tea. It’s a good day!
Then I head up to Brake, well that’s not true. First I got in a few Facebook discussions about politics. THEN I head to Brake. I am that cartoon where the wife is waiting for the husband to come to bed and he’s at his computer “No! I
can’t come to bed - someone on the Internet is WRONG!” I’m going to try to take tomorrow off from arguing.***
Brake. It’s not pronounced like the English “Break”. It involves rolling the R and elongating the K sound to an almost CH sound. German pronunciation: [ˈbʁaːkə]) and I’m playing Harrier Hof, it’s a very nice pub/restaurant. I’m showed around by the owner and he is keen to have me, tells me to order whatever I want off the menu and shows me the PA. Awesome.
It’s been raining on and off all day, it’s in the high 50’s for temperature and I see that they have goulash! Today keeps getting better. It is a very meaty goulash**** and very good. That’s two goulash’s in two weeks! RATS will be back to play Harrier Hoff in October and they are getting me their goulash recipe! I’m just going to wander the world picking up goulash recipes!*****
Time to play. It’s a pretty intimate room and rocking in here feels…too much. Maybe I can work up to that. The house PA is pretty decent and they run a speaker to the other side of the restaurant so folks in there can hear it as well. Well, actually - they more or less can’t escape it!
It’s a fun night with a very polite German crowd listening intently. I break down the 4th wall and all the solemn-ness with APB. As I’m introducing the song a woman in front of me is giggling and pointing to the guy sitting next to her. I ﬁnd out his name is Frank and I sing it to him, everyone gets in on the singing along and we’re all friends now. Sell a couple CDs and sign some posters and chat with a woman who was married in Massachusetts and goes to California every other year. She is very nice and knows a bit about the states and everything. Nice! It’s almost time to go but our friend Rebekka and her boyfriend Claus are still here so we have a nice sit down chat. Claus is a journalist who has been covering the recent German elections and I ask him to ﬁll me in on all the goings on.
There’s a lot to it, lots of ins and outs and who-done-it’s but it is really interesting to see where we are as a people. I feel like humanity is standing on the edge of either embracing all fellow man OR building a wall around everything and bury our heads in the sand of isolationism. There’s a lot of imaginary walls that folks are working really hard to build and justify.
Rebekka is also a ﬁreﬂy fan and did the artwork for our Leaves on the Wind Music Project.
Show is good. I try to play mandolin by itself on one of my songs and it turns out it doesn’t actually sound like.a good idea.
Tomorrow I am at Katakomben in Achim which is like 30 minutes away and I don’t have to be there until 6 so no alarm and I picked up raisin bread for toast tomorrow- will be celebrating Bobboism in style!
Oh and ﬁrst equipment casualty today. Guitar cord died so that needs to be ﬁxed tomorrow as well. I seriously have an incredible knack for breaking things.
*they had a ﬂute.
**I don’t really enjoy jazz but this was actually quite nice to listen to.
***Unless someone is REALLY wrong!
****Sorry Roman and Ben. - But it was awesome.
*****If I was to open a restaurant it would be goulash, doner, pizza and chicken tikka masala. Actually that sounds like an amazing restaurant!!
GUITAR GEEK WARNING: (ON THE ROAD EDITION)
Everything has been working pretty well so far. I brought my Gibson Acoustic J30 (Hummingbird) guitar and it’s a real work horse. There’s a real openness to it’s sound so I am able to play with great dynamics just on it ampliﬁed. My two pickup system still working*- sending the piezo bridge pickup to the LRBaggs para DI (thanks Rick!!) and LR Baggs sent me a nice little carry case for it as well.
The Fishman Rare Earth humbucker in the sound hole is feeding a Tech 21 NYC “Liverpool” pedal so it adds a little dirt to the signal when I need it and I can of course blend in some atmospheric what have you with the Line 6 M9 any time it’s needed.
I picked up a really cheap resonator so I don’t have to do a bunch of retuning for a couple of my open tuned slide playing songs. It has been really helpful despite being a bit underwhelming tone-wise** and a real conversation starter for some guitar folks who always ask about it.
The resonator has a mini humbucker pickup and if you use traditional bronze or bronze alloy acoustic strings the sound can be very unbalanced so I found some strings that are nickel wound for acoustic. So that helps. I really wish it had a pickup on the cone or the bridge, it’s just really dark sounding.
I’m continually asked about how many guitars I own and I truthfully don’t know anymore. I think it’s more than 30 but it’s deﬁnitely less than 50. I’m not entirely sure where they all are. When I got here to Germany, Ben told me that there was a mandolin at the S&W ofﬁce so I went and got it and have been using it. It has a red star sticker on it and I know we got it for a RATS tour but I may have given it to Ben. So I don’t think it’s mine anymore. So that means I only own 2 mandolins - 4 tops. This may seem like a lot but I’m still 2 shy of where I should be. I don’t have a single Gibson electric guitar and my 12 string acoustic is not to my liking. I can’t foresee needing any more beyond those two things.
Other things I’m using on this tour is of course my Franklin Strap guitar straps. I’ve been using them exclusively for a bunch of years now and I have also been using a Tapastring Guitar Care strap keeper. This thing is so clever - acoustic guitars have that endpin/jack combo and your strap is always falling off of it and no strap locks work on it - this solves that problem. I’ve been using mine for about 2 years without fault. It slips around the strap and onto the jack and then a small plastic clip holds it in place. Essential if you do any kind of movement while playing.
I’ve included a pic of my traveling tool kit. I don’t have a roadie, I have to be able to ﬁx things on the spot and sometimes ﬁnding a music store ain’t that easy while traveling.
*Well, once I replace the broken Mogami Cable.
**“She was underwhelmed if that’s a word” ~ Sloan
TOUR DIARY DAY 14:
It’s Sunday so all or most of the shops are closed here. I made a dash to ReWe at 11 pm last night to get some stuff to eat and beat the closing doors to get some good raisin bread for toast and some eggs and what-not.
That might sound boring but I’m staying in a ﬂat here in Bremen (in the Gröpelinger section speciﬁcally) and if you don’t plan ahead for a Sunday - you’re food options become very few.
I worked on some guitar stuff today to be ready for tonight when I’m playing at Katakomben in Achim.
Every time we have played at Katakomben we have had a good show, ﬁrst time was an open air festival type of stage, second and third time were indoors (one of those with an awesome stressechoes double bill) and tonight is my ﬁrst time here with the new owners.
Michaela is very nice and she suggests that I play outside. I look up at the sky and she can see my doubt so she pulls out her phone and shows me the weather - 3% chance of rain and a low of 50 degrees. She assures me it will be better and she is right.
There’s always that moment of when you’re setting up the gear of “Is anyone going to show up?” It’s part of pretty much any performers psyche. But before I can ponder this too long people are already arriving!
I see some familiar faces and have a great chat with friends Jens and Horst and a few others. Jens is even wearing a Fireﬂy shirt!! We chat about Fireﬂy and some other stuff and I’m ready to play now.
The folks listening are awesome, we get two sing alongs going and it’s just a fantastic night. We get a good “APB” sing along and some ringers in the audience help with the second “A PPPP B”. (You have to hold the second P!) and while
playing “Queen of the Party” we all sing “Mama said she’d be alright” together and my night is complete.
We all make plans to see each other again in Verden and Club Moments. I sell some CDs and a tshirt and call it a night. Achim, you deliver again. Thank you all!
TOUR DIARY 12.5. (TOM BRADY EDITION)
I hate the number 13 so there will be no tour diary day 13. Today’s is 12.5 in honor of Tom Brady. Why 12.5? It’s a PSI joke. Come on! FREE BRADY - AGAIN!!
It’s Monday all day today which means a meeting at the S&W ofﬁce and we go over stuff for the coming week. I hang behind to catch up on our itinerary for October as well as borrow a drill to make ﬁxes in a guitar. Aw Yeah. It’s happening in the morning. MAKES HOLES IN TEETH!! Ha!*
I’m driving to Hannover today, playing a record store and Kulturpalast. I’ve heard good things about both so I’m looking forward to it.
Hannover isn’t that far, only about 85 miles. I take my time and listen to some good tunes on the way - which on the ride up included The Stelle Group, Kurt Vile, REM and Phil Cody. Piece of cake until I hit the city and all their construction messes with my gps and I drive a couple extra circles.
25 Music is an awesome record shop with CDs and vinyl and a stage type area by the front door. Benjamin told me to get there early to look around and I’m here about an hour early so perfect used cd shopping time! I score 2 amazing CDs. Roxy Music’s debut album from 1972 and Jim Cuddy’s “the light that guides you home”. These along with Tom Richardsons’s “Pockets” EP.
More about the albums later.
I play the record store and it’s not quite as bad as when Spinal Tap do the in store signing but it’s not really a happening gig either. Some folks listen for a minute the staff seems to like me. Ah well. On to tonight.
Kulturepalast is a nice venue, small but a cool stage and nice sound system. Tycho Barth is opening up for me and he’s really good. Acoustic playing that I hear some Dave Matthews chord changes and he sings in English and reminds me a
little of Sun Kil Moon. His guitar player, Phillipp, is using delay and volume pedal swells, I didn’t catch the bass player’s name but the cajon player is named Be John Winston - I know this because his dad tells everyone that he named him after John Lennon and John Winston KILLs on the cajon.
Watching and listening them I’m thinking “aw shit, I hate going on after really great bands!”
So they ﬁnish and I set my stuff up and I dive in and have a pretty great show. There’s probably less than 15 people there but they are so into it and we sing along and when I go into “1, 2, 3” John Winston hops up on the cajon and we ROCK it for the last bunch of songs. He knocks over his cajon, I strum until I break strings - we jump and end the set. So much fun.
I play rockers and quiet songs and it’s great. Sell a couple of CDs and pack up. Nicest compliment of the night is I’m told that my voice is really easy to listen to. I can dig that.
Can’t wait for Tycho to get some stuff recorded. That shit is gonna be great.
Now I’m going to go off here a bit on my cd purchases.
Roxy Music’s debut is so freaking weird. Even today this album would still be completely freaky. Just listen to Remake/Remodel or Virginia Plain. How the hell did this band go on to make “Avalon”??** I love Eno’s contributions to this band, it’s kind of dumbfounding that this band was even allowed to make a second album. I’ve seen videos of Remake/Remodel and man, the early 70’s were such a crazy time to be in the music business - throwing money at art school bands like this. I’m glad they did but this shit would never get made today and the world deﬁnitely suffers for the lack of it.
Jim Cuddy’s “the light that guides you home” is a fantastic companion to anyone who is a Blue Rodeo fan and what sold me on it was two things: 1) seeing that it was produced by Colin Cripps and 2) seeing that it had the Cuddy/Kathleen Edwards duet “married again”. Fantastic. Everything this dude does is fantastic. He’s got an annoyingly beautiful voice - like he could sing the phone book and you would be singing along.
Tom Richardson’s “Pockets” EP is like an acoustic “Avalon” album. -I’m thinking he has sex while listening to his own album. I ask him about this and he denies it but that’s what his music sounds like. Rom Tichardson. Tom and I did a cd trade today and it was nice to ﬁnally hear what my ﬂat mate sounds like.
Now I’m home in the ﬂat, getting ready for bed. Ben is all hyped up on some Jagermeister he had tonight and while enthusiastically making a point showers me with his water bottle. He and Tom had a good night. Really wish I had a show with one or both of them before the end of this tour.
*Will be covered in a new Guitar Geek update.
**Which is still the best “mood” music for any guy that can’t get his head around a Barry White album.
FILE UNDER: PEOPLE ARE AWESOME
Played a show a couple of days ago and this guy liked what I was doing but he didn’t have any cash on him. We tried using the Square card reader but my signal wasn’t strong enough and it wouldn’t work so as we’re talking he says “I have a paypal account”. So I tell him I do as well and “here, take the cd - my contact is on there, you can just go to the website and send me $10 for the cd.”
He promises me he will do it and I believe him.
Next day I get a notiﬁcation of a sale of “Motel Americana” off the website.
Then I get 5 more notiﬁcations: sales of “leaves on the wind volume 1”, “new coastline”, “found & lost”, “this is happening ” and “where the road bends”.
I believe with that many purchases you should get at least one for free - you know like if you keep the punch card from the sub shop? So I’m sending him a free “heart like mine” today.
TOUR DIARY DAY 15:
I set to working on my resonator today. (See GUITAR GEEK WARNING post) and installed a second pickup on it. Just a stick on piezo thing. It sounded pretty ok. Not fantastic but deﬁnitely better than I thought it would sound. I had to borrow a drill and make holes and it worked out ok. Now I can send the piezo to the DI and the magnetic pickup to the pedals and what-not.
That was most of what I got done during day light hours today but then I was only awake for a handful of hours before it was time to leave to go to my show. It’s day 14 and I’ve played 18 shows so far. In the 27 days of the ﬁrst leg of my tour I will have 3 days off.
Something interesting about doing these tour diaries - people have been coming up to me at shows having read them, they already know what’s going on! I have nothing left to say. These diaries may exhaust all my charm.
Anyway - I’m playing the Immanual Church in Bremen tonight. We played here last year with Rufus Coates and it was my favorite show of there’s - it’s a big old gothic church with a Bösendorfer piano, a giant gong and just great natural sound.
Arne is here from S&W and he’s helping set up sound and lights. I like Arne, we’ve developed a good working relationship which roughly translates to “I give him a lot of shit and he mostly puts up with it.”
We have the PA dialed in and it’s room ﬁlling. Like loud in here. We turn it down but it’s still a bit much. A few folks come in and I start playing, I’m having a hard time delivering because I see as soon as I play the opening guitar chords two women in front immediately reach for ear plugs. That’s not good at an acoustic gig. So I play one more to see if it can be better and it’s actually hard to sing it because I just know it’s too loud so I unplug. I unplug and walk down in front of the PA and say to the folks that I think this will be better and it is.
I play the rest of the show pretty much in the audience and it’s one of the best shows of the tour. I’m able to tell what the songs about in a very relaxed manner and it’s great. I get a kick out of myself by playing “Nothing needs to be said” and dropping 2 F bombs in a church.* I love it when that song goes over well, it’s one of my favorite songs I’ve written. I dedicate APB to Petra in the front row - they were pretty nervous about singing along but we got it going and I did a cover of “Looking at the world through a windshield” and dedicated it to Arne because of all the driving he’s making me do! We have a good laugh it’s a good night.
Sell and sign some CDs and talking to two nice women and they say “we’ll see you at Club Moments!” And I tell them that I’m not playing Club Moments because I’ve been booked to play a TV station in Chimnitz and they get mad. I say I’m sorry and that I would love to play Club Moments but I got this other gig. They ask if Arne booked me and I say yes and I immediately feel bad because they go over and corner my booking agent about me being booked somewhere else! It’s funny and I’m glad I can’t understand what they are saying although I can kind of get the gist of it but because it’s in German it just sounds a bit more severe.
I get home from my gig and one of my ﬂat mates tells me “the girl I bought weed off of knew you.” And for some reason that made me feel like more of a rock star than it should’ve.
Now I’m drinking some wine and getting ready for my 1 am skype biz meeting with a friend in the states.
All in a day’s work.
*I’m badass you know, I’m nationwide!
TOUR DIARY DAY 21:
I just realized that my day numbering was way off. I couldn’t ﬁgure it out. I’m writing down Tour Diary Day 15 and I’m thinking “shit, I’ve been here longer than that.” So I did math. My counting got off somewhere along the way - this is day 21.
That makes more sense.
I felt like doing something simple today so I went to the mall. My brain was like “go get something for Tracy for your anniversary and have something to eat at the food court.” I accomplished all of that but while making change at the food court someone walked off with Tracy’s present. It wasn’t anything big or expensive but I was pretty annoyed just the same. So I stewed about it for a few and then went to a different store and bought her something nicer. On top of that the chicken curry I got in the food court wasn’t that great either.
After that I go to the S&W ofﬁce and pick up Maraike - she is the PR person there and we head up to Syker for the show. Tonight I’m playing in an art museum but it turns out in the past they have had some of their artwork damaged by patrons of the music events so I’ve been moved to the basement.
The basement is actually pretty cool but has so much reverb it’s like playing a tiled room. The ceilings swoop down and around and it’s almost designed for echo. I suggest NOT bringing the PA down here but the woman from the place said it would be better. (Ha!). So I set the whole damn thing up and then when the folks arrive - I don’t use any of the PA.
Maraike and I are served a very traditional German type of meal of bread, grapes, ham, cheese, cheese/yogurt spread and beverages. It’s very tasty and Maraike and I have a really great conversation about where we live and come from, lots of stuff about the venues and this tour. It’s the longest I’ve ever spent with her and I’m glad we had this time to connect.
I feel like I sang ok tonight but with so much echo going on it was hard to tell at times as everything just kind of blurred together. This was also one of the smallest “crowds” I’ve played to and I’m told it’s because there was a big football (read: soccer) match tonight and everyone is watching that.
Doesn’t matter where you play; football is messing with your career. At least it’s not on a tv playing in the corner. That shit is the worst. I love me a football game but I hate performing opposite one.
We have a good show together, it’s way intimate and I tell stories and dedicate songs. I feel really bad because I recognize folks who have seen me play before but I really can’t remember their names and it makes me feel like I’m ungrateful and I’m really not! I play the song “part time cowboy” and mention my boots that I’m wearing and one of the guys says afterward - “those the same boots that fell apart last year?” And I’m gobsmacked! Not only has he seen me play before but he remembers the absolute ridiculousness of my boot dilemma last year!
I’m told there was a reporter there - I don’t know if she’s writing a story about the show or what. In any case - it was a lot of fun.
One thing that I’ve really discovered on this tour is the essence of what my songs are about. I’ve learned a lot about them and about me through playing 2 sets of music almost every day. I may think I write songs about people and characters but there’s a lot of me in there as well and there’s a few little ticks that keep coming up - there’s a line in “1, 2, 3” that goes “We were listening to Westerburg singing ‘hold my life’ the day I asked to you be my wife, time for this one to come alive.” And Tracy is always to my left and it started a long time ago that whenever we’d sing that line we just started looking at each other on stage. I’m here by myself and whenever I sing that line I look over to my left - and I’m hit with a bit of “where’s my Tracy?” And I do it every time I sing the song. I’ve been rehearsing the song “Hold Me” a lot outside of the shows because I really love the song and the big long notes are really hard for me to nail and it intimidates me every time it’s coming up. So I’ve been playing this song more consistently and ﬁgured out how to add the piano line in on guitar. And every time I play “Massachusetts” I’m reminded of playing it for my dad just a little over 2 months ago and it gets me every time. It used to just be a song I wrote and now it’s become a part of my memory of him.
Tonight when I’m playing “Dam” and I’m not plugged into any effects so I just start stomping the ﬂoor to add a backbeat and with this room it really booms kind of like last night in the church when I did the same thing only in the church it really felt like the stomping on the ﬂoor was resonating through the whole church.
Pack up, time to go home.
Since Maraike rode with me I’m also driving her back and she asks if I can drop her off at the bar where her boyfriend is hanging out and so we stop by the Schwarzer Hermann and have a nice drink and great conversation with her boyfriend and her roommate. It’s a very greatly needed rest at the end of the day. I tell them about my adventures shopping today and about the thing I got Tracy* (Tracy don’t read the footnote!) and Maraike’s roommate thought that was very romantic. I tell them the story in the footnote and it’s very nice. I think Maraike bought my wine but it may have been her boyfriend - either way I say thank you and head home.
I may have only played for a half a dozen people tonight but they all will remember it.
In other news - I am not playing the Club Moments gig on Sunday. I am driving to Dresden for a show on Saturday and to Chimnitz for a show on a TV station on Sunday. Monday will be my ﬁrst day off in 15 days and I will spend it driving 6 hours. And then Tracy and Ben show up and we start the Riddle & The Stars tour.
OH! And I just got a notice that my song “Hold Me” is a ﬁnalist for “Best Song 2016” by The Miews. So I got that going for me, which is nice. http://www.themiews.com/
*a while back I discovered that if you get some perfume for a trip that you’re taking together - in the future whenever she wears that perfume you both will be reminded of that trip and wherever you were. It started with our honeymoon and now whenever Tracy wears that perfume - we’re transported back to that time and place. We think it’s pretty cool and so I got Tracy some perfume because we’re going to have a couple of days off and we’re going to go to Copenhagen and I wanted that same sort of thing. Ta-da!
TOUR DIARY DAY 22:
Today started uneventful, did some laundry and hanging out waiting to go to my show in Bremen and then I get a phone call from S&W - there’s been a change of schedule for tonight - is there any chance I can drive to Düsseldorf to play there instead because one of my tour mates got arrested last night and can’t make that show.
Well, that’s different and new.
Sure, why not. Playing an Irish bar sounds good to me tonight. It’s a few miles there (180) but it sounds like a better gig than the one I had.
I get to the club and as I walk in I can hear The Stone Roses playing over the stereo - that’s cool. I have never heard the Stone Roses playing at a bar anywhere!
As I’m setting up in the corner a guy comes up and says he heard me on the radio this afternoon and it sounded good so he came to the show. He and I talk for a while and he’s also a guitar player and he is from Düsseldorf but his band is all refugees and they are sponsored by the city of Düsseldorf! He shows me some pics and a little video. Folks from all over, mostly Syria but also Croatia and Pakistan. They all bring their own world instruments into it. He said the cajon player is 17 and the one of the violinists is 63. We swap info and he’s going to send me some video and music to share with everyone.
I’m playing and singing and a few people are digging it and I get some clapping. I take a break and order my dinner for when I stop at 10 pm. Mark the bartender/manager guy is really nice and of all the places I’ve played this seems to have the most people who English is their ﬁrst language and the outside sitting area has a bunch of Americans hanging out listening.
Second set goes well and as I ﬁnish up another guy comes over to me, his name is Misha and he’s from Libya and he really likes it, enjoys my voice and songs and buys 2 CDs. We ﬁst bump and all is good - he even speaks English too! I make my
way out with the hat to pick up any stragglers and all the American folks that have been outside listening don’t offer up a nickel for the show. Zero. Nada. I tell them I’ve been the one performing - “We know.” Is the reply.
Can’t even say I’m surprised.
Mark comes over to me as I’m breaking down and brings me my ﬁsh & chips. Irish bar in Düsseldorf- damn straight I’m getting ﬁsh & chips (and it’s awesome.)He tells me how much people liked it and I eat my dinner and try to piece that information together what I just experienced. I don’t succeed in ﬁguring it out.
Last thing tonight - I drive the 180 miles back to Bremen, just where the autobahn goes down to 70 kph from 120 - I’m slowing down and I see the ﬂash.
Dammit. Speeding ticket. I start to get mad about it and then remember that I’m not in jail - I’ll take a speeding ticket over jail any day.
TOUR DIARY DAY 23:
I meant to write this when I got home last night but we had a good hangout in the ﬂat amongst fellow touring musicians and then just crashed afterward so I’m now having a hard time remembering what I did yesterday.
Had a gig in Weyhe. Which is not pronounced like you may think. The W is a V sound and the “he” is more of a “ha” sound. Don’t worry if you don’t have it - I was helped a dozen times last night and it’s still not sticking.
I get to town a little early, I kind of wanted to sit and go over some of my tour itinerary for next month so I found a restaurant nearby and for what seems like the ﬁrst time in a month had a real nice sit down meal - with vegetables and everything! (See pic). This is one of those meals that makes me think of my mom. No, not making fun. We talk about traveling and she’s always afraid of what she’s going to eat when she’s traveling because she doesn’t like anything spicy. “Spicy” to my mom is a catch all term for “ﬂavor I’m not used to”. Tonight’s food is amazing and she would’ve loved it as it’s pork medallions, potatoes and broccoli with gravy. I devour it. As I’m sitting there it gets cold outside. Fall is deﬁnitely here. But I love how people are still using the outside tables, as I get chilly I see most of the other folks just grab the wrap or jacket they brought with them and carry on. The beginning of this tour the weather was setting heat records throughout Germany and now it’s hitting low 50’s and high 40’s. (Fahrenheit)
The venue tonight is the Shakespeare Theater Pub and it’s fantastic. Patrick runs the bar, his folks own the theater above, there’s a great stage and beautiful sound and sound man!! Me and Patrick talk about guitars and music - he plays in the theater band as well as has his own band. Telecaster guy but wants a Gretsch. It’s a nice casual hang and a nice change to have some downtime before I start instead of rushing to get somewhere and starting right away.
Sound check takes literally 7 minutes and it sounds great in here. There’s a play going on upstairs and I play when the play ends at 10 pm. At about 9 the room starts ﬁlling up and I ask Patrick “Is it intermission?” He says “No, they’re here for you.”
The room ﬁlls up and I start at 10. Great response in a pretty loud room. There’s probably about 100 people here and about half are just listening to me and the rest are folks that just came down from the theater above and are just talking. Because of this mix, it’s a hard room to read while I’m thinking to myself - “did that one go over? Should I do a rocker or a quiet song next?” That sort of thing keeps going through my mind. It’s not technically insecurity because I know what I’m doing, it’s more just trying to ﬁgure out how to keep their attention for 2 hours that is really difﬁcult.
It’s fun to watch people that are obviously guitar players or performers watch me closely, like when I use my looping pedal and then play e-bow over it - you can see them scrutinize what I’m doing. I’m not doing Whitehorse level looping here but it’s still pretty cool if I do say so myself. And when I use the Porchboard you can see them looking around for where the kick drum sound is coming from. Tonight’s system has sub-woofers so my Porchboard sounds especially good. And when I fade in the octave reverb and long delay over some parts I can see these same folks watching my feet for how I’m doing it. When I do a big slide solo in one song - I get big “WOOS” from the crowd when I ﬁnish - it is then I know I’m doing alright.
I don’t say this to brag because I know guitar heroes and I’m no guitar hero but I have a few tricks that I own pretty well and it feels nice when you see people digging it or asking me how I do things.
We get an awesome sing along going and we sing APB for Patrick the bartender but I mistake his name on stage and call him Mark because I’m an idiot. I hate when I mess up things like that. He’s so gracious he doesn’t even tell me I screwed up his name until the end of the night.
I do some more big rockers, well as big as rock can be with a guy and an acoustic and some pedals and I say “danke schön”. They won’t let me leave without doing a few more songs. That’s cool but my voice is starting to go now, I can feel it all scratchy and sore so they let me go after two encores.
There’s these moments that are just strange too where someone says to me after the show “so when does Tracy arrive?” And my brain has to readjust and realize that I put stuff out in the world and shouldn’t be surprised when people know stuff about me. Still catches me off guard.
Starting to get a little worn down I feel. Looking forward to a couple of days off when Tracy gets here. I have Mon/Tues/Weds without a show and then the second leg of the tour starts up.
I had planned to do a bunch of video blog type things but it hasn’t happened, maybe next month when I have someone to hold the camera that will be easier.
Before I fall asleep I start scrolling on FB and I see someone that I know posting obviously racist and very easily disprovable shit online - and it really took the wind out of me. I start typing and then just stop. I just can’t do it today. I’ve sat with and talked to so many amazing people on this tour, I wish people could get out of the small box they live in and see the world for the bigger place it is. More love is needed.
Time to drive to Dresden.
TOUR DIARY DAY 24:
Woke up late in Bremen. Driving 360 miles the night before probably added to the tired but I’ve gotten used to the bed in the ﬂat and look forward to hitting my head on the pillow. There’s a pretty big spider that hangs out on the second ﬂoor window by the stairs, I’ve started having conversations with her. I think it’s a her because of the good sized nest she is protecting. There’s stripes on her legs and for a spider - very pretty. She keeps the mosquitos out and I’m ok with that so we continue our separate but symbiotic existence. So far all the conversation is one sided and usually is about how little she has moved since the last time I saw her.
I have 5 hours to get to my gig which is normally enough time to ﬁnish laundry and get there but today’s gig is 5 hours and 300 miles away. Yesterday I was very nearly at the border for The Netherlands/Belgium and today I’m very nearly at the border of the Czech Republic. “Well I’m looking at the world thru a windshield, watching it ﬂy by me on the right.” Is how the song goes and while it was written about a truck driver in the states it seems to ﬁt my touring for the past month as well.
Tonight’s show is at a bar/coffee shop called &Rausch in Dresden. It’s a really nice little shop, they set me up with food and a hostel for the night. They suggest I go without a PA and that’s ﬁne with me. I’ll just belt it out in the corner.
As luck would have it I’m way early for this gig. I thought I had to be here at 6, soundcheck at 6:30 and play at 8. Turns out I have no soundcheck and I start at 9. I eat dinner and sip tea outside while really enjoying the brisk weather. It’s not cold but someone nearby has a ﬁre going and the smell of woodsmoke combined with the chill in the air really reminds me of New England - and it’s nice. Late September and early October is clearly the best time to live in New England - right before the 7 months of winter set in.
The gig is ﬁne but just ok. For a Saturday night this part of town is dead and the venue neglected to put up any of the ﬂyers sent to them promoting the show. So I rock all 7–12 people there - only one of which actually came to see me. He is really nice and is a Springsteen fan, he grew up in East Berlin and saw Springsteen in
’88 along with 180,000 other East Germans (back before the wall fell). He likes my stuff and has been listening to me on line. I get polite applause from the rest of the patrons and I call it a night after 2 sets.
I have some more tea and chocolate torte and talk with the two folks working there, they are very nice and we talk about Germany and USA, traveling and weather. She tells me she’s been to the states and the thing she missed the most about Germany while there was the bread. “I had this bread called ‘Wonder’ and it was terrible, it all just mushed together and fell apart. When I got back I just got some bread and ate it plain - I missed it so much.” We laughed and I said “Yeah, but Germany can’t make a hamburger.” We all laughed and she said there’s one place in Dresden that makes a good burger and she wrote down the address for me. I will try to ﬁnd it today. Hopefully they are open on Sunday.
As I’m leaving I am given the instructions for the hostel: “there’s a lockbox by the door, the code is ‘1, 2, 3, 4’.” Me, “Really?” Him, “I guess it’s easy to remember.”
Before I go to the hostel i drive thru the city a bit, I’m told it’s really pretty at night and they are correct. So much old gothic-ness to it.
I drive to the hostel and it’s in a…not great part of town. I ﬁnd a parking space on the street and head in. The lockbox has a note for me and all is ﬁne. I fall asleep doing an itemized inventory of everything in the car assuming it will be gone in the morning, it’s a slightly nerve-racking way to fall asleep.*
*car was not stolen
TOUR DIARY DAY 25:
I’m awoken in my hostel 6:30 am by another guest staying in the room.
Oh, did I not mention there were 5 beds in my hostel room? Guy sleeping above me when I got there at midnight(ish) and was ﬁne but then this other guy comes in at 6:30 and starts watching something on his phone - with the volume on! It’s like music videos or something. I shoot him one of those “are you kidding me?” Looks and he turns the sound off but now I’m awake.
Pack my stuff, brush my teeth and get out of there. I’m pretty excited to see that my car is still where I left it and I put in the address for the Marktplatz (market place) and ﬁnd a Starbucks there so I can chill out and check mail and stuff.
I wander pretty aimlessly for a few hours, I get a hamburger at a place that has been highly recommended for having the best burgers in Dresden* and then I drive to Chemnitz which is only like an hour away.
It is too early for me to check into my hotel but I am exhausted. I didn’t even mention the lumpiness of the bed at the hostel. (It was paid for so I’m done complaining). Across from my hotel is a nice little park and a fountain, I sit down on the bench and listen to two old ladies talking next to me. I’m still trying to pick up more German but it is hard. I’m getting to the point where I can hear the different accents from different areas but the words still just ﬂy by me. As I’m sitting there I fall asleep sitting up for about 30 minutes. I must’ve been tired.
The hotel is really nice, I check in and take a proper nap until it’s time to go do this radio show.
I’m playing on Kwartirnik. Now this is a cool word. It has it’s roots in Soviet times where there were bands that wanted to perform but not everyone was allowed to so they would organize Kwartirniks which translates to “living room concert”. I keep messing up the pronunciation so I have Frank record it into my phone. I’m going to be using this word in the future!
Now technically speaking - it’s a bar but it’s very home-y. There is a stage and comfy chairs scattered about and Frank and his assistant are running cables for the microphones. I ask about using my effects and pedals and they said they prefer not to - even though it’s all being ampliﬁed through a PA system. Eh, whatever. I’m good.
I order some tea with honey and the bartender is visibly disappointed in me, he continues with his disappointment with each subsequent cup he pours for me. It’s a nice crowd of people and I’m live on the radio for an hour. Frank interviews me and the question starts in English, I answer it and then he translates the question and the answer into German. It makes the interview twice as long but at least everyone understands it. The ﬁrst of the two interviews is about the music, the second is all about American politics and how is it possible for Trump to be in the position he is in, what is wrong with Americans? Do I consider myself a good will ambassador coming to Germany? It’s a really interesting line of questioning that I never really prepared for but am happy to answer.
He asks if I was always political and does it come through in my songwriting and honestly it doesn’t really, socio-political if anything but any time I’ve ever written anything vaguely political it came out terrible. And here in Chemnitz you can still feel the effects of the Cold War - it’s a city that still feels like it’s rebuilding - over 90% of it was destroyed in WWII. I was 17 or 18 when the Berlin Wall fell. That was a huge thing in the scheme of global politics and I was in high school completely unaware of what was going on. Retrospectively - Painfully unaware.
The music section of the night goes as well as the interview and we all have fun, we sing along and stomp the stage. The stationary mics are difﬁcult for me because of how much I move around but I think it comes through alright.
The people are really nice and I chat with a few of them; a nice couple from the area that are heading to Wales next week and thought how being in this pub and hearing music in English is getting them ready for it and a nice older gent who I was very nearly understanding - his brother lives in San Jose and works as a park ranger in the forest. He didn’t speak any English and we had a nice chat. Everyone really liked it and I get good compliments and folks ask for my website address so they can look me up. And they ask if the band is coming back thru Chemnitz in October.
That’s really nice.
But two nights in a row without any cd sales or hat money is rough. Thankfully I’m being put up in a hotel but this is brutal. A few ask about cds and I say they are 10 euro and they kind of just put them back and say they will check it out online.
I pack up and Frank helps me carry stuff to the car, he wants to talk politics some more. He is a teacher, teaches English to refugees here in Chemnitz. He wanted to donate money to Bernie Sanders but the website wouldn’t let him since he wasn’t American. He works with a lot of teenage refugees and says their struggle is different, they aren’t old enough to get jobs, most don’t have parents any longer and they are just kind of ﬂoating - there’s nothing for them to do in the summer time and nowhere for them to be. They are living this rootless life - they have no family support system and are drifting through the system trying to ﬁnd something to hold on to.
We talk a bit about how the far right in Germany is making a return and the similarities to the far right in the U.S. (and the far right of Muslim which is ISIS) And how comparing Trump to Hitler isn’t just Godwin’s Law coming into play. Folks are feeling pushed out of the new world because they don’t want to change, they don’t like computers, or fact checking or the fact that advertisers aren’t after them. They want things the way they used to be before homosexuals were out of the closet and before women wanted to be equal and before minorities didn’t bitch about being treated like minorities.
And we get it. Folks don’t like change. Change is hard.
I’m traveling and playing music and trying to sell cds. A lot of the new world doesn’t have any use for cds. I love what I do but is there still a place for it? Am I the musical Brexit?
I get back to the hotel and I watch a documentary on Mikhail Gorbachev. I learn how his policy changes were too much for the system he was in and way to slow for the people of his country.
The times they are a-changing.
*Maybe best in Dresden! But if any of these folks had a 5 guys burger they would freak out.
TOUR DIARY DAY 27:
Picked up Tracy at the airport, cleaned the ﬂat and swapped my small rental car for a bigger one for the rest of the tour.
I said earlier that I wasn’t going to complain about the amount of driving I’ve done and I’m still not going to complain but I am offering a free cd/free download and tshirt to whoever comes the closest to guessing how many miles (or kilometers) I drove in the past 27 days.
When they told me at Hertz car rental how many miles I went - I was kind of shocked.
You have one day for guessing. Keep the guessing in multiples of 10’s please. I will tell you it was less than 10,000 Kilometers but more than 5,000.
Tracy is sleeping now, I don’t think she got over jet lag from her last trip from Massachusetts to California because two days later she ﬂew to Germany!
New Guitar Geek Warning blog coming up too.
That’s all for today.
Don’t forget to place your guess to win a cd/t-shirt!
Pic is of my Ford Fiesta rental car that is exceptionally bug splattered. Sorry bugs.
GUITAR GEEK WARNING:
This one is short. A lot of companies make travel guitars and they are usually short scale or crappy versions of a guitar that you don’t really want to play.
My solution was different. I brought my #5 Bobbocaster to Danny Ott, I bought some machine screws and anchors and I had him install the anchors in the neck and then when I take the neck off - it’s not stripping out wood every time an wearing it out. It’s machine screws so I can take the neck on and off as many times as I need to.
Works great. I brought the body with me in my suitcase, Tracy brought the neck with her in her bass bag. Done.
Intonation is set, action is set. It’s ready to go.
Specs on the #5 Bobbocaster guitar:
2 piece Ash Warmoth body,
Late 60’s Fender Telecaster neck (decal had been removed)
Seymour Duncan Alnico II bridge pickup
Fender Wide Range Humbucker in the neck
Custom Wired by Danny Ott to be “Gretsch Wiring” with master volume, master tone and two sub volumes for each pickup.
Strung with 10 gauge Everly Nickel wound strings.
TOUR DIARY DAY 28:
Not much today.
Went and settled up the last month of touring with S&W and then Tracy and I had a leisurely lunch.
It was a good “day off”.
Then we organized our inventory for the month, set up the spreadsheet and then picked up Ben at the train station.
Ben made his famous pasta, with creme frisch and salmon and capers and we killed a great bottle of red gifted to me by Jens Fischer.
It was a good day.
Also announced the winner of the free cd/t-shirt combo to Patrick Walters who was the closest to guessing how many kilometers I drove in my September tour. The correct answer was 7850 which is nearly 5000 miles.
I will be announcing new contests shortly.
Thanks for playing along. The home version of my tour is also available. :)
TOUR DIARY DAY 29.1
What is 28.1?? Well, it’s the 28th tour diary and it’s the ﬁrst day of the Riddle & The Stars tour. (From here on out Riddle & The Stars = RATS)
We have the ﬂat to ourselves, just me, Tracy and Ben. Tracy did a little “Congratulations” thing in Ben’s room for him getting married. (He got married like a week and half ago!) We put some Rouge de France in there and it was good.
Today we all woke up early - 9 am! Because we had rehearsal with Julian at the studio. Julian Claus has drummed with us before - we met him when he was about 17 years old and he’s now 20 or 21. Great drummer and he’s moving to Hamburg on Sunday but playing a gig with us on Saturday night!
At rehearsal Julian is playing all the songs like he wrote them and we have a great rehearsal. We even played “Tracks” for the ﬁrst time ever. Seriously, it was a song we wrote in the studio and have never played it. We all spent some time staring at our hands during that one!
Rehearsal, home, shower, leave for the gig.
Tonight RATS are playing in an old (I think they said 300 year old!) church. It’s on the same site as a few other churches that had been destroyed or something before. We meet the blokes from Rivers Of England who we will be sharing a few dates with and they are really nice guys so I of course set straight to giving them shit about damn near everything.
(SMALL GUITAR GEEK WARNING FOR JUST A PARAGRAPH)
Ian, the guitar player for ROE, sets up his Musicman RD112 amp. And I say “That amp was my friend Kevin’s baby.” I then go on to explain how my buddy Kevin worked at Musicman and that amp was his thing, his design and what-not. Ian tells me that he loves this amp so much he bought a second one when he found it. He’s having trouble with the second channel on this one and so I take a picture
and send it to Kevin and he writes back “My baby!” Kevin says if he has any questions about it to message him, so I’m going to put them in touch. Just a cool gear thing
(SMALL OTHER GUITAR THING)
Ben took his tenor guitar out of the case and the bridge to the archtop had cracked in two! . I have broken lots of things but this is a ﬁrst. I pick up some super glue and we ﬁx and it ready to go.
Heiko is here doing sound and lighting which is cool because that means we don’t have to do it and it’s a pretty good size space - hard to do your own sound in a place like this.
Did I mention it’s a church? I don’t know what denomination but there’s a winged angel that is ﬂoating directly above where Ben is standing. It might be a winged Jesus or John the Baptist. I don’t know, it’s hard to tell them apart sometimes. In any case Berne, the Vicar, tells me that they lower it down for baptisms.
ROE soundchecks ﬁrst and then we set up. Sound in here is tough. Lots of bounce back reﬂection and actually difﬁcult to gauge volume of my amp or effected channel. I forgot to mention - Ian let me use his amp. It sounds fantastic. After some trial and error we have pretty decent sound.
Now before we play, there’s a pub that is in walking distance from the church. Hell, walking distance - it’s about 25 feet from the gate! The owner there is going to be open for us to have some dinner before we play and do we all like schnitzel? All but Ben, so we are set up with dinner before we play.
Our set goes really well. We all make a few minor mistakes but nothing that derails us. One rehearsal and then a show - we haven’t played together since April and it sounded great!
They have a piano on the alter and so Ben plays that during “Hold Me”* and it sounds amazing. Really good night and the folks are really into it too. We ﬁnish up but they want more so we encore with “Chance”. Sell and sign some cds and hang out. Good night.
Had a guy tell me that I am a “Technological Wonder” on the guitar. That’s a great compliment.
We get a nice encore and then we pack it up - or so we think.
After we get all the gear loaded into the car, Cord (who owns the pub next door ) invites us over. He’s bought 2 cds as well. Great hang at the Pub and Cord won’t let me pay for any of our drinks - or french fries!). Awesome evening.
And then at midnight we walk with the Vicar back to his place, which is like 100 meters away. The Vicar has an amazing. No, truly amazing whiskey and bourbon collection. Tracy is drinking her birth year I believe and it’s just great hanging out. Get to hear a Vicar tell a dirty joke and I am put in charge of ﬁnding the music for t he night - Roxy Music’s “Avalon”** sounds really great today. Going through his cd collection, I don’t think too many Vicars would have Monster Magnet cds and Green Day, Nirvana, Depeche Mode - just really eclectic and nice.
Bernd, The Vicar, has rooms dedicated to his whiskey, and there’s a lot of booze ﬂowing, good booze. He knows his stuff too - tells us about the MacLean song that inspired a kind of bourbon that is produced. He offers to let us spend the night but we didn’t prepare for that so we drive home.
There’s more to tell but I just fell asleep typing this. It’s 2:37 am and I need sleep.
Thank you all.
*Did I mention that this song is up for Song of the Year in the Miews? Please click this link and give us a vote!
**Hard to believe it’s even the same band that recorded “Remake / Remoel”.
TOUR DIARY DAY 29.2
Start off today by making new RATS t-shirts. We will ﬁnish them up tomorrow so we will have them ready for Sensadaal.
Today was supposed to be easy. We leisurely wake up and have to be in Hamburg by 5:30 for a 6 pm downbeat. We’re playing this open air plaza type stage fro 6–8 pm.
Hamburg is about 90 minutes away, so we leave at 3 pm to be there by 4:30 - a full hour early for soundcheck.
Apparently a major tunnel is closed and they have buckets of road work going on, throw in 2 cars broken down in the same stretch and we get to the gig at 6:20 pm.
We play one long set that is good but I don’t know about Tracy and Ben but I never really got into the groove having gone from car to stage in zero minutes.
Folks like it, we sell cds and we’re already exhausted. That happens when an hour and half drive turns into three and a half.
We’re loaded and ready to drive back by 8:45, let’s beat the trafﬁc and go have some dinner back at the ﬂat.
We’re ﬂying along nice and easy and then everything is stopped. Major accident. We are stopped on the autobahn for a long time, car off and watching a movie on Tracy’s tablet.
11:45 and we’re home. 3 hours traveling turned into 6.5 hours traveling - all for a little over an hour on stage.
I am drinking wine now.
TOUR DIARY DAY 30.2
It’s Saturday all day today and we have a big show tonight at Sendesaal in Bremen. Sendesaal is a performance theater designed just post WWII. It also houses what was Radio Bremen. In designing the building, knowing the importance of maintaining a radio station during wartime, they built the whole place on springs so it could adjust to any earth bound vibrations. (just in case! So pragmatic!!)The whole building is made like this and it makes it a uniquely designed performance stage as well. Apparently there are only two music halls like this in the world we are told.
They have piano concertos as well as choir things, there are no less than 4 grand pianos backstage, harpsichord…
The place is impressive and beautiful and only about 15 minutes away from the ﬂat! We have our tour rider orders to be there at 2:30 and both bands missed the email update saying to be there at 1:30. These things happen.
Michael and Heiko have been at Sendesaal for hours already setting up lights and sound equipment. The room is already beautiful but with nice backlighting and what-not, it’s really nice. (Someone must have pics of this!) The sound is difﬁcult in this room. It can be overwhelming very easily and we have drums and amps tonight. I’m trying to ﬁnd the balance of being able to hear electric guitar and not be the loudest thing in the room. On most attempts of this - I fail and am clearly the loudest thing in the room.
Our stage set up consists of 7 guitars for Tracy, Ben and myself. It’s a lot but we could easily use more to get these songs over. More on that in a future Guitar Geek post.
We’re playing with Rivers of England tonight (ROE) and it’s our second show with them, I’m really starting to dig their stuff. Musically I would say it ﬂows upstream - that is to say it doesn’t take the easy way to get where it’s going and it’s really interesting in that way.
We ﬁnish soundcheck and all head to the restaurant for dinner. This is a proper “show” where they came around a few hours early and got all our menu requests. I order the Kalbﬂeisch and gnocchi. (Veal and potato dumplings). I don’t typically order veal, this was probably only my second time ever but it was amazing. (See pics)
ROE go on ﬁrst and have a great set and perform an encore as well. They sound tight and really great. I’m looking forward to working with them in the studio this week as I’m producing a song with them. More on that later this week.
We go out to do our set and I notice that Michael, the soundguy, is wearing a Riddle & The Stars shirt. Things like that ﬁll you with a feeling of love. The friggin’ sound man is wearing our shirt! I see more friends like Horst right in front of me and he’s wearing my Motel Americana shirt. That’s awesome.
First song in and I’m already too loud. I have the amp off to the side and it’s turned down but in this room - it can really take over. We tipped it back so it wouldn’t hit so hard in the front but wow. I keep turning down, using the neck pickup so it’s not bright sounding… I’m still just LOUD. I am the loud American tonight.
Did I mention the whole show is being recorded? I will end up with a full 24 track recording for me to mix later on. So hopefully it came out alright and we can release it as a live album.
Show goes really well. In the middle of the show we unplug and we perform “Stronger than Steel” with just acoustic guitar, shaker and Tracy, Ben and I singing center stage - not plugged in, no mics or anything and it’s really beautiful. I’m mostly excited to hear that song.
We ﬁnish up our set and come back out and play some more. It’s a 2 encore night which is a great feeling. Hang out and sign some cds, Ben gets a wedding present from some folks and all is good. Then we realize that it’s 11:30 and the grocery store closes at midnight and won’t be open for two more days. (Sunday closed and Monday is a national holiday).
I feel bad leaving Heiko and Michael to pack up all the sound equipment - It’s the AV side of me that feels like I should start coiling cable - but I am really shite at coiling so it’s probably best I don’t. So we pack up our guitars quick and try to make it to ReWe before midnight so we have food for the next two days.
We fail at this task and so we eat at Özlum, the döner place down the street.
Back at the ﬂat we meet our other tour mates for the ﬁrst time, his name is Chris Rowe and his accompanist Jimmy. They are from New York and are really nice. We share some more of Ben’s wedding wine (wine he brought with him from his wedding) and talk about gigs and before long it’s 2:30 am and we all fall asleep.
TOUR DIARY DAY 31.4
Fall has ﬁnally come to Northern Germany and we all slept until close to noon. Tracy, Ben and I had today off from gigs. It’s the ﬁrst day in a while that none of us had to “do” anything. The rain in the afternoon was nice and we just watched it out the window.
I did 3 loads of laundry and we worked on travel plans and took naps in the afternoon. Ben made a potato and lentil soup that he added so much crushed red pepper to that out faces were sweating but we couldn’t stop eating it because it was so tasty.
Then we worked on a couple of tunes to add to the set list this week and played a board game.
I think that’s all we did today.
TOUR DIARY DAY 32.5
Today I was working as a record producer.
Which is actually a pretty cool job. I was with Rivers of England in the studio here in Bremen. Heiko was engineering the session and it was a lot of fun and is coming out really great.
We had some initial problems of the technical nature - I’m not familiar with Cubase and the software is in German. But we got it sorted and the music is coming out stellar. I did what I do best: “In the intro, try something like….”. “Cut that part going into the bridge…”. And these guys are total pros and nailed it. Then tweaked the kick drum with a dish sponge and duct tape, did a 6 mic treatment and got great drum sounds and viola.
We’re back at it for a while tomorrow too.
Finished up in the studio and rushed home to pick up Tracy and Ben for dinner at 9 pm! Today is Uniﬁcation Day in Germany and pretty much everything is closed but they found an Indian restaurant downtown so we went and had chicken tikka masala - probably the hottest ctm I’ve ever had! So we had ice cream afterward. We were at the ice cream stand with hats and scarfs on but our mouths are not burning any more.
Have some interesting press type stuff happening as well with our song “Hold Me” being nominated for Song of the Year on the Miews website and our album “New Coastline” getting a great review from the LA Music Critic. Links below.
TOUR DIARY DAY 33.6
Still playing record producer today. It’s a good day in the studio with Rivers of England and I’m excited for them to share the song we worked on - we still haven’t mixed it yet but it came out awesome.
We get great acoustic sounds with a Neumann km184 and the little musicman amp sounds great with the ribbon mic on it, vocals thru a Neumann TLM 103 and yeah, some nice mics here.
Before we ﬁnish recording the idea for a chorus of people singing the end bits comes up and everyone gets involved including the interns from Songs & Whispers! Mona Li does her own part and it’s really great.
I’m starting to understand Cubase a little bit more - it’s interesting how you can be recording for years and years and all of a sudden you’re on a whole new platform and it just grinds you to a halt. Well, that and all the instructions and tabs are in a language foreign to you.
It’s a very creative atmosphere in this studio with it being almost hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world, no idea day or night and just the room and what you’re doing. I would love to be here working on a larger project.
Head home and Tracy, Ben and I have a pre-birthday dinner (we’re traveling tomorrow so, it works out well) of spaghetti bolognese, pretzel garlic bread and wine. Mona comes over and Chris and Jimmy come home and we have a nice low key time eating brownies from the supermarket with a match for a candle. Happy Day.
Oh, and I almost forgot - Rob from Rivers of England has the same birthday as me - here’s wishing him a happy day and my friend Emma from TPL it’s her birthday too - she’s 21 now (and owes me pancakes!) and my friend Britt-Marie from Bombshelter, it’s her birthday too! And my friend Jen Armstrong, and Be John and Bobby Turner and Matt Roberti, Jonathan Seeliger and Kimberly Erin too!!Happy 5th everyone!
Tomorrow it’s back to the shows as we drive to Munster and Düsseldorf for some shows. Then we have 2 shows in the north and then Tracy and I are taking off for a couple of days to Copenhagen!
TOUR DIARY DAY 34.7
Started the day on AirBnB site booking places for us to stay. Tonight we’re in Munster and tomorrow in Düsseldorf - the 2 places are about 90 minutes away from each other but about 180 miles away from Bremen so we need a place for tonight. I found a nice place for the three of us to stay close to Munster and the guy who lives there also wants to come to the show. Awesome.
I also found a nice place in the Fredericksburg section of Copenhagen for Tracy and I to stay in next week. Which reminds me that I have to contact my cousin Dylan who is studying in Copenhagen this semester.
The place we’re playing tonight Ben played in July and it’s in the back room of this restaurant. Last time they closed the doors and charged 6 euro to get in. Thru Ben’s persuasion we have gotten them to open the doors, make it free and for us to pass a hat. Make it more inviting. Tracy says from stage “It’s free to come in but if you think we’re worth something, drop some money in the hat or buy a cd.”
We end up getting about 20 people in the room. You might think that’s not a lot but we sold 16 cds and a songbook. That’s pretty great percentages! Did I mention that we printed up songbooks? When we ﬁrst did it, it was just for us we had a bunch of new songs and it was helpful for us to remember all the words and the chords but we had people ask about them and so we did them up nice, put a little something about each of the songs and included the guitar chords so you can play along and…we’re out of them! We need to print more! So cool.
We have a pretty good show tonight, Ludger (from AirBnB does come and he brings his friend Joseph. Joseph buys at least two cds and whoops and woos for most songs and is so enthusiastic. Some folks that saw Ben play in July have come out as well and our friend Astrid is there too! (Thanks for the schnapps!) Astrid used to work at Songs & Whispers as the booking person and she now lives nearby. We have worked with her the past 3 or 4 years and to be in Bremen and NOT see her has been weird.
Our set tonight is pretty good. I’m trying something different with my electric guitar - just using the Tech 21 Liverpool pedal and going direct to the PA (Boris will laugh and say ‘Told you so!’) and it’s mostly pretty good. It doesn’t sound entirely like a guitar amp (cause it’s not) but for my atmospheric guitar stylings in RATS it works pretty well.
We ﬁnish up two sets and end and they want more music so we do some APB and get a really great sing along going. Then it’s time to go to someone else’s home. We sign some cds and say goodnight.
Back at our AirBnB we hang out with Ludger and have a glass of wine. He has a really nice place that reminds me a lot of Marty & Petra’s place in Schweinfurt. Very much same esthetic. He lives here alone, his girlfriend lives somewhere else. We have a really nice talk, he’s been to Boston and speaks pretty good english. He’s leaving early in the morning but tells us to make coffee or tea and leave whenever we’re ready.
I’m loving AirBnB. You stop in, meet some new folks, get a small bit of their world, learn something new and keep going.
Oh, and bonus - today was my birthday too. Thank you all for the FB wishes. The Birthday wishes on FB has to be one of the nicest things about this site. We all bicker and ﬁght and bitch and moan but I will wish my enemy a happy birthday. Well, if I had an enemy. Do I have an enemy? I think I have a nemesis but that’s not the same thing.
G’night and thanks again!
TOUR DIARY DAY 35.8
Had a really nice night last night in Münster. Sometimes you have shows where the audience is just with you and they can carry a night. Sure they buy cds and sure there’s money in the hat and that’s great but there were people in there really listening. Ben made one woman cry. A couple of days ago we had a guy that wanted to buy a copy of the show he just saw, didn’t want the cd, wanted the live thing.
It’s nights like that that carry you through nights like tonight.
O’Reilley’s Irish Pub in Düsseldorf is a nice place, they treat us well, staff is top notch but the people don’t care. Well, that’s not fair to say - there were a couple of people that liked it but it was rough.
We show up and they don’t even know we’re supposed to be there tonight. The ﬂyers that they were supposed to have to promote the show were supposed to be delivered last month (by the person playing there but he ended up in jail) and they were like “we’re having music tonight?”
I send an email to our booking agent telling him they don’t know we’re supposed to be playing, he tells me it’s been conﬁrmed since May and that the promo material has been sent. Ah, well. The staff advises us to play earlier because there are a couple of football (soccer) matches starting at 8:45 so play from 7–9. That’s cool.
Something that is way better than playing in the states - there is a giant tv to the side of the stage that has had sports stuff going on the whole time we’re there when we play, they shut it off. THEY SHUT IT OFF!
If you are a musician you understand how incredibly rare that is for a venue to do. It’s a respect thing that we aren’t always afforded. It’s a small gesture but it’s huge to us. (Us = musicians everywhere)
So we do our two sets, get a volunteer from the audience to go around with the hat in exchange for a free cd. Next to nothing in the hat and we end up selling one cd - to the bartender who really liked us. We eat our ﬁsh and chips and get in the car and drive 180 miles home.
There’s no time to get a big head about yourself on tour - if you have one great show, the next one will remind you that you ain’t all that.
You ain’t nothing but some free ﬁsh and chips.
TOUR DIARY DAY 36.9
We’ve been looking forward to this show ever since it got booked. We have these amazing fans there. Irene is kind of the ring leader of the group but there’s also Michael, Harry and Maryann (sp?). Maryann’s daughter Liza is pretty awesome too.
We met them back in 2013 when we did our ﬁrst show for them. It’s just gotten better since then. We played their 4th of July party in 2015 and they sang the Star Spangled Banner to us. Yeah. It was pretty amazing. And the year before that Irene made us her pumpkin soup that has become a thing in our house as well, she did a Youtube video to teach us how to make it and everything.
Tonight we’re playing a Pub they have rented out for the night. Irene made her famous pumpkin soup for us and we all did shots of…I’m going to say “alcoholic egg nog”? I don’t know what it was but we devoured all of it. Ben’s bowl was so clean that you wouldn’t have known there was soup even in it. And they had a tray of appetizers that were all hand made of deviled eggs, pastry with bacon, tomato and cheese things. Just awesome.
We’re in a big hall and it’s a bit echo-y and not in a good way. We got the AER set up and we’ll be ok but it’s a tough room to get good sound in.
Liza comes up to me before the show and says she has a birthday present for me she says “I know you love toast so I made you this.” She sewed me a sandwich. SEW. It’s so adorable I can’t even tell you. I took a pic tonight, will take one tomorrow. It’s coming with us everywhere. There’s two pieces of bread, a piece of lettuce, swiss and tomatoes. Seriously, she cut them out and sewed them. So sweet, so amazing.
The difference between tonight and last night couldn’t be more drastic. Had a guy who, for the life of me - I can’t remember his name, he has come to 3 shows in the past two months - 2 of my solo shows and now one RATS show. He was wearing a
“Motel Americana” shirt tonight and was asking what other cds we have available that HE DOESN’T ALREADY HAVE. Turns out he has everything, and 2 shirts as well!
We play two sets and it’s great. We get an awesome sing along, Irene actually joins us on stage and everything and OH! I almost forgot. Here in Großenkneten they have a new Music and Arts Culture type club that they have started called MUK. They started it after the ﬁrst show we played here. Our performance got folks involved in bringing more arts and music to their town. This is why we do this. Wow.
So we do some encores, I think we did 5 or 6 encores. They request songs for the encores. It’s great, it’s amazing. We may have been invited to someone’s wedding next year, I’m not sure.
I love Großenkneten.
I’m talking with Maryann and she says to me “When I saw you play in Oldenburg, I am not here anymore, I am in America and I’m on a highway - you take me there.”
You really can’t ask for anymore than that.
TOUR DIARY DAY 37.10
Started today mixing the Rivers of England song that we worked on in the studio. Really wish they were around to be part of the process (as I’m sure they wish as well). Hopefully they like what’s happening with it. I do really enjoy mixing and the producing aspect of what I do - After working with Cubase for a couple of days now I can’t say I’m a fan of that platform. I much prefer my ProTools. I know they all kind of work the same but going from tape 4 tracks to 2" tape to ADAT’s and then ProTools seemed fairly seamless. It made sense. I’m having a difﬁcult time with Cubase’s layout.
It’s a rush from the studio to shower to road for our show tonight in Delmonhorst.
Now Delmonhorst is not far away, it’s only about two towns over but we have an early soundcheck of like 6 pm for our set at 10 pm.
Rock and Roll is all about hurry up and wait.
We get to the White Lion (Yes, they had a poster of the band!) and this is a proper “Rock Club”. There’s smoking inside, a dirty sticky stage and absolutely great atmosphere for live music. Tracy and I look at each other - we know how to rock this room.
Tonight’s lineup is Johnny Thunder (solo acoustic) Flatbilly DeVille (acoustics, upright bass, banjo/suitcase drumkit) and then Riddle & The Stars. Jens has set up this show and has really taken care of us, included in our pay for the evening is dinner and a case of wine. (Because we’re classy). We were supposed to do an Amigo Hayride show last year but it got messed up by scheduling (my fault) so I’m really happy that he still wanted to book us this year.
Some friends show up to the show and it’s a nice hangout beforehand. We’re about halfway done with the second leg of the tour and we’re feeling it a bit, we’re tired. Ben goes out to the car and falls asleep for about an hour. Julian has just ﬁnished his ﬁrst week at Music college and has a lot of music in his head already. Me? I’m enjoying hearing new music and being in a rock club.
Johnny Thunder’s set (not to be confused with Johnny Thunders - grammar is important people) is decent, he has a bunch of his fans here and his ﬁrst song is actually about him “Ich bin Johnny Thunder!” Some of the crowd sing a long at a speciﬁc time. He sings about being punk rock acoustic and I know this because those were words I understood. This is not me making fun of him, it’s me making fun of my lack of German vocabulary.
Flatbilly DeVille is great. Mike, the singer, is from Bakersﬁeld. His dad used to play steel guitar with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. He’s a Panhandle Slim snappy shirt and is A-OK in my book. The upright bass player keeps it tight and rhythm acoustic guitar is good and then they have another dude on banjo/suitcase drumkit. It’s a suitcase with a kick drum pedal attached, a small snare and a splash cymbal. I hope I remembered to take a picture of it. Mike also played slide and mandolin. Really enjoyed their stuff. Funny part during their set was when Johnny Thunder was talking really loudly in front of the stage and got called out on it from the stage by Flatbilly DeVille and followed up by Mike saying “You know, you can’t put your arms around a memory.” And I laughed. And Tracy laughed. And No One Else Laughed.
In the moment it was a great joke on stage, slammed the dude for using the “Johnny Thunder” name and not even knowing the history of his own stage name. It was perfect and tragic.
Now something we’re looking forward to tonight is kind of a feeling of not holding back. A number of our shows have been in environments where you can’t really “go for it” musically speaking. There’s a self imposed limiter and it’s difﬁcult at times because we have a wide dynamic range in our tunes. You play quiet when you need to play quiet and when you need to be loud you have to be able to get loud.
Mike from Flatbilly DeVille has brought an ampliﬁer for me to use tonight and oh what an amp it is. He’s had it for 20 years and he recovered it in leopard print. It’s a Marshall JCM 800, 2x12 with Eminence Speakers in it (!??) and it sounds absolutely fantastic. It made me rethink all of the amps I’ve had in the past few years - that great. Tracy has a nice big bass amp, Julian is on the drums, Ben is plenty loud with the PA and we just rock.
It’s cold outside (5C or 41F), it’s warm inside, it’s full of smoke and not well lit and in a strange twist it feels like it’s the 1990’s when The Gypsy Mechanics used to play places like this all the time. Places like Toad in Cambridge, The Safe or Smithwicks in Lowell, Red Square in Nashua, or even The Rat in Boston. It’s a drinking crowd that’s listening and wants to rock and we go over well.
As we’re being introduced I hear Jens also mention the opening bands and I give a little nod to Flatbilly DeVille’s joke and start singing “Doesn’t pay to try, all the smart boys know why.”* And Tracy shoots me a look like “no, don’t do it.” So I stop.
During our set I decide to be the guy that thanks the opening bands for playing and I say “Let’s hear it for Johnny Thunder and Hillbilly Deluxe!” And now I’m the guy that screws up the band’s name. It’s Flatbilly DeVille. I feel like an ass. I was just looking at their merch and didn’t screw up one part of their name but BOTH parts of their name. What a jackass. This isn’t like the time we played BB Kings in Los Angeles and they treated us like shit and I did a “Thank You House Of Blues” into the microphone. This was an honest mistake. I like Flatbilly DeVille!
Our set is sounding great. I’m a touch on the loud side but I am playing through a Marshall - no it did not go to eleven, I had it on 2. “Running back to you” sounded like it’s supposed to with the full band treatment, “Massachusetts” ﬂowed great, “I may never know” had a terriﬁc groove and everything is clicking. One of the highlights for me is when we get to “Chance”. In this song I am playing mandolin and I’m splitting the signal to the PA and to my pedals/amp. So I play all pretty along with Ben’s part but then when the solo its I’m playing distorted mandolin with delay into a Marshall and it’s glorious.
We ﬁnish up to the sound of “Zugabe! Zugabe!” Which is German for “keep playing”. We rock out an APB with everyone singing along, Tracy sings Jolene and we call it a night.
I hang out with Mike from Flatbilly DeVille and it’s nice. I tell him how horriﬁed I was that no one got his Johnny Thunders joke and he says “He doesn’t know punk rock, I’m 50 - I was at a bar once and had Exene Cervenka fall on top of me drunk!” I laugh and say “I’m not that punk but she sang with us one time.” We laugh and swap stories and make plans to go get what he claims to be “the best pizza in Bremen”. So that will be later on this week.
We get home and we all remember the worst part of tonight - we stink. Yeah, there’s the “after rock n roll sweat thing” but on top of that is the cigarette smoke. Peel it off and put it in the wash and shower before bed.
Our plans to wake up early on Sunday are thwarted by our desire to sleep in. We’re driving to Copenhagen today as we have 3 days off (!!!). We’ve never been to Copenhagen so this is like a mini vacation for me and Tracy. It’s about a 5 hour drive including a ferry! New pics soon.
*This is the ﬁrst line of the Johnny Thunders song “You can’t put your arms around a memory”. I don’t expect everyone to know this song but I do expect everyone using the name Johnny Thunder(s) to know this song.
TOUR DIARY DAY 38.11
We had today “off”. So what did we do? Drove 5 hours north to spend three days in Copenhagen!
Tracy missed the perfect windmill picture and we’ve been looking for another windmill to take a pic of and so far have not found it. We took a ferry across the Baltic Sea and got an amazing recommendation for dinner from a new friend of a friend. (Thanks Gary Young!)
Our Airbnb is pretty cozy and it’s pretty cold outside. Low 40’s but nice. Everything is so green.
For dinner we went to Les Trois Cochons and it’s a place that only has like 3 things on the menu and it’s a 3 course meal.
The appetizer is steak tartare, cured scallops and a smoked salmon thing. I really liked two of the three (not a fan of salmon) and it’s been a while since I’ve had steak tartare me this was excellent.
For dinner I chose the tenderloin and Tracy had the lamb and his was a top 5 all time great meal. I ate all the vegetables and hardly touched the fries! It took us about 2.5 hours to eat and it’s so laid back we didn’t even notice.
Then dessert came and its cremé brulee, ice cream with chocolate sauce and lemon pastry things.
Oh and wine.
I leave you with the pics.
TOUR DIARY DAY 39.11
Woke up at our AirBnB in Copenhagen, it’s a nice little ﬂat in the Fredericksburg area. (It’s spelled berg but autocorrect won’t let me spell it that way) and we go for breakfast in a little nook of a place and order fantastic food. Seriously, the food in Denmark is a thing. It’s different in a good way and unique to them. I don’t know how to describe it any other way. We’re still pretty much full from the night before when we had one of the best meals of my life.
Our plan today is to go to Hamlet’s castle or otherwise known as Kronborg. It’s pretty awesome with a moat and cannons and we take the guided tour from someone who is in authentic garb and explaining everything to us like it’s 1586. That’s the year. Yeah. 2 centuries before America. The history is fascinating. How the King levied a tax on all ships going by and became quite wealthy because of it and how that all stopped in 1857 when a ship from the US refused to pay. (Speculation is that it was one of an elder Trump’s ships that refused to pay the tax!)
After the guided tour you can wander the castle on your own and it’s cool and all but then we meet back up with the tour guide while in the gift shop and just talk to her normal and she gives us some other advice like "well, if you’re already here - you should take the 20 minute ferry over to Sweden. ! ! Tracy has always wanted to go to Sweden and while it won’t be a full Swedish experience we decide to go there, get some food and walk around a bit.
The ferry is right close by and after navigating the parking situation. Oh! Parking here sucks! We were in the parking for the castle and we estimated wrong how long we’d be in there and came out to a parking ticket that is very nearly $100. Puts both of us in a mood - it’s both our fault and that pisses us both off.
But Sweden! We get off the boat and it’s colder here! We joke about tourists in SoCal - you can always see the out of towners by the way they are wearing shorts in January. Well Tracy and I both have two coats on, big scarfs and I have a hat on and we’re friggin’ cold! People are buzzing by with just a light jacket and on a bike.
Out of towners.
It’s nice and we walk around and ﬁnd a restaurant and I notice hamburgers on the menu. Ha! What the hell, I’ll be that guy. I ordered a hamburger in Sweden! And it wasn’t bad. Still a little over cooked but overall pretty decent.
The ride back to Copenhagen is nice, it’s still rainy and cold - it’s dipped under 40 degrees and it’s nice to sit in the car for a bit.
We get back to the ﬂat and there are two other people staying there with us, mother and daughter. The daughter is 16 and has just enrolled in a local cosmetology course so she’s going to be in the city for a few months and we have a really great conversation about all sorts of things.
The daughter is really stuck on “so when you go to the hospital, you have to pay? That’s so wrong!” We explain a bit about the health care industry, Tracy having worked in it for over 20 years now and I worked in it for about a decade. “But why don’t people vote for a system where they don’t have to pay?” This is a good question that we don’t have the answer to.
Then the conversation turns to the debate - they watched it. They watched our Presidential Debate.
Did you know that Denmark still has a Queen and a royal family? Yeah, I didn’t until just the other day. Do you know anything about the Danish political system? I don’t either.
We talk about all sorts of political type things and they know our system and the players going way back. The gist of it comes down to “why can’t the American people see how qualiﬁed Hillary Clinton is and the good she has done?” And “How can anyone be dumb enough to vote for Trump?”
These are also very good questions that we don’t have easy answers to.
TOUR DIARY DAY 40.12
Ok. I was so excited to come to Copenhagen- it’s Scandinavia, it’s north, it’s awesome - it’s freezing!!
Tracy and I ﬁnd a nice place to get some breakfast and we end up staying for over an hour because we don’t want to go back outside.
We do some sight seeing and go to a few shops. Our friend Mona recommended a few places to check out and we make our way around the city looking for them but there is so much construction going on that driving and parking is really a challenge. Traycy downloads three different parking apps so we can pay for parking on the phone but none of them work because our phone number is in the US! Frustrating.
We ﬁnd an open air market going on and wander thru, we’re thinking it might be nice for gifts but we don’t ﬁnd much, Tracy does score a very important hat and i try to ﬁnd gloves but none of the gloves ﬁt my hands.
We read that the Little Mermaid statue is the most disappointing tourist attraction in Copenhagen and we say “Bring it on!” I don’t know what people are expecting - it’s a statue in the ocean of a mermaid. It fulﬁlls all my requirements for just such a thing. The wind is blowing sting here and it’s about 6 or 7 degrees (C) while we are there so our photo op is very quick.
Do we eat now or take a nap? Nap wins and then we head out for dinner.
Tracy found a nice place that was highly recommended and it’s like tapas but they pick what you get. A bunch of little things and it’s fantastic. Everything is 100% organic, they have their own farm, their own cows… a map on the wall showing where everything comes from. Steak tartare is their specialty and it’s great
As we’re sitting there another couple is seated at our table - and we have an amazing conversation. He’s from the U.K., she’s from Florida and they’re married and working on her moving to the U.K. He’s been a teacher and works in
sustainability now. So the restaurant is right up his ally, she is a history major in the British Tudors era.
We laugh and share traveling stories and cover Brexit, elections, healthcare, music, steak tartare, scarfs, Japanese folks music, how the recent hurricane may have effected Jacksonville, Kronberg Castle, otherplaces to eat… we were at dinner for nearly 3 hours
Great time and new (fb) friends. If we’re ever in the U.K. We will look them up and the same if they get to SoCal.
We’re introduced to a new term of Danish Hygge (pronounced hooga ) and we’ve really been feeling it here tonight. It’s hard to explain but easy to feel.
We leave in the morning to head back to Germany as we have a show tomorrow night. Enjoy the pics!
TOUR DIARY DAY 41.13
Early start today, we get driving south by 8:45 am - we have to drive nearly 300 miles south from Copenhagen, Denmark to Bremen, Germany. We’ve decided to not take the ferry (because it’s $93!) and drive the longer way down which has a 18 km long bridge (which has a toll of 35 euro!) but it’s pretty and is obviously cheaper than the ferry.
Doing the conversions gets confusing in the head. We can buy gas with Euro but they can only give change in Danish Kronnes. Our credit cards have decided to not work at any gas stations in Denmark so fortunately we have some euro on us.
It’s a nice ride but long, nearly 6 hours driving and we get back to Bremen and rest for an hour, pick up Ben and head out to our gig in Verden tonight.
Now we love playing in Verden. Verden loves us and we love them. Tonight we’re at a store called Borboletta, they sell jewelry, scarfs, crystals and I’m pretty sure you can get your chakra cleansed here. They are all super nice and they clear out all the space and put in benches and people have been reserving seats for our show, we were in the paper and on the local radio station this week. We have a bunch of familiar faces in the audience, folks singing along and everything.
Because of the size of the place we opt to go without a PA and we just sing and play acoustically (tracy still plugs in her bass) and it sounds great, they are super attentive and listen. There’s one guy watching everything I do on guitar and at the end of a song I reached down and pretended to turn the guitar volume down (guitar is not plugged into anything) and I see him point and laugh. He’s the only one that caught it and I saw him. It’s a small moment but I notice it - just one of those things like, you can’t fake them out - they are on top of it!
We take a break and open the door because even though it’s like 8 degrees outside (41F) it’s hot inside, the windows steaming up and everything. A bunch of folks buy cds at the break, a few people buy TFS cds because they already have the RATS cds and just want more. What a great feeling that is.
Set two is good - I set up my camera and get some video, hopefully it’s attached to this tour diary - and you can hear the folks here. So awesome, so much fun. We ﬁnish up with a sing along and some Johnny Cash and everyone is happy. They want us to promise to come back in 2017 but we don’t know that far ahead yet.
Back at the ﬂat we eat some pizza and wine and decide to break out the Schnapps that Astrid got me for my birthday. It smells a bit like Vicks44D but it tastes excellent.
TOUR DIARY DAY 41.14
I seriously woke up this morning and thought about doing laundry and convinced myself not to go to the laundromat because it was a Saturday and would be really busy. Woke back up at 11 am and realized it was Thursday.
That in a nutshell is what being a touring musician is like.
But today Marty and Petra are visiting (my aunt and uncle) from Schweinfurt (in Bavaria), they drove about 4 hours to get here and are using their vacation time to come hang out with us, go to a show and maybe go to Freimarkt.
What is Freimarkt? Only one of the oldest running fairs in all of Europe. It was ﬁrst started in 1035. That is the freakin’ year! Not only that but it’s only listed as “one of” the oldest running fairs! So we’ll be going to that too.
We had a nice visit with Marty and Petra at our ﬂat and then they headed to their hotel. They brought Ben & Vivien a wedding present and some Fritos and wine for Tracy and I and it was just great to see them.
It’s strange when people visit us at the ﬂat because the artist ﬂat is like this oasis away from the world - it feels like no one knows where we are and we can hide so when anyone from outside the band is here it’s weird. The buzzer for the door goes off and we all look at each other “who knows we’re here?!?” Sometimes there’s a guy that’s a fan of the S&W crew that comes by and brings us homemade jam but we haven’t seen him this time. He buzzes the door and says “It’s Windy, with the jam!” And we get all excited.
Tonight we’re playing a place I cannot pronounce: Der Kuhhirte. It’s a ﬁne dining restaurant and this is their ﬁrst time having music. It’s a nice big stage and Heiko and Christina have come along to help with sound and lights. After a longer soundcheck than normal (more speakers = more problems) we have pretty great sound happening. The room never fully ﬁlls up but people seemed to like it. Our set is a bit more subdued tonight.
Oh, I forgot to tell you about the food! I had the chicken curry and it was really good, not the best ever but deﬁnitely good.
I guess the food update wasn’t that important.
So yeah, we have to ﬁx the set list - Ben switched guitars almost every song. That deﬁnitely slows us down and breaks up the ﬂow. It’s hard though - the songs ﬂowed but it was just a lot of changing. It’s like - we don’t need roadies or anything but if we had a guitar tech that set up our guitars for the next song - that would be huge. Between all the different capo settings, the open tuned guitar songs, the tenor guitar, the mandolin never being in tune… Damn. Every time we put a capo on - the guitar is out of tune. I hate that.
Something new though - we did a cover of the song “The Letter” by the Box Tops and our label/publishing company liked it so much that they are releasing it as a single in a few days. And tonight we remembered how to play it and performed it for the ﬁrst time ever. If you’d like to hear it: https://soundcloud.com/songsandwhispers/sets/s-w-cover
And we’re currently in talks to ﬁgure out when we’re coming back in 2017. It’s so hard to plan a year ahead when you barely know what day today is.
TOUR DIARY DAY 42.15
Finally got laundry done!
This was actually a big accomplishment as it involved getting up early.
Tonight we’re playing in atMusicStar Norderstedt. It’s a ﬁrst for us there and we really have no idea what kind of place it is, we’ve seen some pictures on line but can’t really ﬁgure it out.
We get there and it’s kind of in this strip mall but around the corner…underneath it, connected to an ice cream shop. So we’re a bit skeptical about what we’re walking into but then the door opens up and there’s a proper stage, fantastic sound system, rugs, full lighting rig and cameras everywhere.
We set up for soundcheck, Julian is playing with us again tonight and we didn’t have room in the car for him and his drums so he’s got his cajon and my Porchboard bass pedal thing. Turns out they have a drum kit here so we morph it into a cajon, porchboard and snare drum set up which sounded great in this room. My little ZT Ampliﬁers Lunchbox sounded the best it has all tour and actually I’m going to say that tonight was probably the best sound of the whole tour. I’m assuming out front sounded good too but where I was standing it was the best we’ve had. Wolfgang (soundman/organizer) says we’re really easy to do sound for, I agree but he had it dialed in!
Before we start playing Tracy is given a request list from a new fan, Michael, in the audience who has been listening to TFS online and it’s 7 or 8 songs from our “heart like mine” album. We promise to play one or two of them but tonight is RATS. But how cool is that? As we’re hanging out waiting to play the lighting guy has acoustic guitar out and I can hear he’s doing some drop D modal type stuff so I go get my Keyser short capo and put it on his guitar - he totally freaks out. “What is this??” And seeing a whole new language of guitar chords and shapes open up in front of him is inspiring.
Then I look across the room and there’s a guy wearing the same exact shirt as I am. This is a little odd since I’m wearing a tshirt from the ﬁrst Vienna Americana Festival that we played 2 years ago. I see him and he looks at me and says “Othmar told me to say hello!” His name is Jörg and we have a great talk about how small the world is. (Oh, yeah - Othmar is our friend in Vienna who organized the Festival we played)
We do our two sets and go over pretty well, we ﬁxed the set a bit so there’s a bit more ﬂow and less downtime between songs tuning and swapping guitars. There’s no way to totally avoid it but it’s better.
It’s not a big room and it doesn’t take a lot of people in here to make it look full and it’s a really fantastic crowd of music lovers. Looking at the walls I see pics of Dan Stuart and I see the The Mastersons are playing here soon - this is a music loving space and I really hope to come back.
We ﬁnish our set to the sound of “Zugabe!” So we teach them “APB” and then give them a little Johnny Cash and call it a night.
But that’s just where the music stops - we hang out for another 2.5 hours. The ice cream shop is also a bar and they haven’t been charging us all night. The guy behind the counter is leaving Germany to go live in Winnipeg, Canada in a few weeks and we have a great chat about hockey and Tim Hortons and how cold Winnipeg is going to be. At this point the lighting guy has got his guitar out again and Ben and Vivienne are singing along making up new songs and the bartender has decided we need more drinks. Tracy is up for it and he brings her a really great sipping rum, everyone else is on the beer and the driver (me) has hot chocolate.
Lighting guy (I can’t remember his name!) is talking to Tracy and me and says to Tracy “When you ﬁnally move on from Bobbo, can I have him?” He was a big fan of my guitar playing. It’s very cute and funny. I look at him and say “You would be so miserable!” We all laugh.
At about 1:30 the bartender is trying to get people to leave (I think they closed at midnight) and he is not being very successful at it, he too is drinking rum. I’m trying to get everyone in the car as well so I show him the Cashman trick.
What is the “Cashman Trick” you ask? Well, we used to play this bar in Lowell, MA called Smithwicks and up on the second ﬂoor was, well, it was another bar and the bartender’s name was Cashman. At the end of the night when he wanted everyone to leave he would put on Ethel Merman. Loud. Ethel Merman was loud anyway but you would be in this room and your brain would just click to “I have to get out of this room, now!”
So I pull up “Everything’s coming up roses” on my phone and hand it to him to plug into the stereo.
Works like a charm every time. He gets his phone out and puts it in as a favorite. Tonight we gained new fans, I showed a guitar player a few tricks as well as a bartender. And we’ve sold out of our Riddle & The Stars songbooks again! Win, win, WIN!
TOUR DIARY DAY 43.16
Woke up in Norderstadt today at a nice hotel and I’m going to tell you about breakfast because I had Cocoa Pebbles for breakfast today and they were everything I hoped they’d be. Ok, they may not have been real Cocoa Pebbles but they were still tasty.
We started the day off by driving from Norderstadt to Hamburg (to drop Julian off at his ﬂat) and then on to Bremen (about 2 hours total), meet up with Marty and Petra for what was supposed to be lunch but our get in time for tonight has been changed so we hang out with them for an hour and then we get ready to leave to go to Grossafen. I’m spelling the name wrong but I can’t ﬁnd it’s correct spelling. In any case it’s about 90 minutes away.
I really needed a nap today, pretty sure everyone else got one in the car or at home but I didn’t and it’s making me a little crabby. Well, crabby now. Mostly I was just a bit low energy the rest of the day. I hate being low energy for a gig.
Heiko and Michael are already at the gig getting ready to set up - tonight we’re in a very old church in a small village. How old? 13th century old. (Dig the pics!) and we’re in front of the alter. It’s pretty rad. Heiko brought a bunch of lights that make it look really cool as well. Michael dials in the sound and we’re ready to go.
Now we’re all set up and we have about 40 minutes to ﬁnd a restaurant and eat before so show time and fortunately there is a really amazing restaurant about 1000 feet away from where we are! Vivien has been wanting schnitzel and this place delivers. (See pics)
Tonight has been billed as TFS and RATS so Tracy and I are going to go on as kind of opening for ourselves - we pick 5 songs to go with and we were alright but just alright.
Because of all the bounce back in the church - our monitors have been turned down and it’s working against me. We play a song that I’ve been playing on my solo tour but Tracy hasn’t played that much and there’s a bad note or two in the
beginning and for the most part we were ok but I never really settled in. In our last song I break the G string on my acoustic and I adapt by going barre chords but it kind of sucks. Folks liked it but I’m just annoyed because I wasn’t my best.
A good thing about playing every night is that if you have a bad gig one night - you can redeem it all the next night. This is the only TFS set we are doing for the rest of the time here. So it’s just festering with me.
You know in the movie Purple Rain when Prince ﬁnishes playing “Purple Rain” and he runs off stage, through the hallways and down to his motorcycle because he’s got this pent up frustration? Yeah. That was me.
Then RATS goes on and we have a pretty good set. I’m still in my weird headspace but we play pretty well, few new mistakes tonight but it’s good. I’m wrestling my guitars and when we play “Chance” I take the opportunity to exorcise some demons and I get up on the front pew and stand over everyone while I beat up this poor mandolin. Anyone who plays music and has never wanted to smash a guitar hasn’t played enough shows. It’s like saying ﬁghting doesn’t belong in hockey. If you’re going to do anything with all your emotion and intensity - there should be some bloodshed and splinters.
The mandolin survives to go out of tune another day and we ﬁnish up with “Mexican Home” and get a standing ovation and then we do two encores.
We sell some cds and sign some cds and before we can go home the pastor has invited us over to her house for some drinks. We have a lovely time with the pastor and her husband. Tracy, Ben and Vivien all have whiskey. I have Fritz Orange (soda) as we still have 120 km to drive home.
I’m feeling better but still frustrated with myself. I’m the only one awake at the ﬂat and I really feel like breaking something and we have no shows for two days! ARGH!!
On the drive home we’re going through all these little windy roads and I have Tracy keep track of the speed limit changes on the road and the gps because they are big jumps from 100kmh down to 50kmh in an instant. We’re keeping a good
eye on it and we get off the autobahn and there’s a sign posted of 70kmh, I see it and start slowing down and the ﬂash goes off. The camera is about 20 feet after the speed limit sign. &^%$#@%^()^!!!!!!
And then tonight I get an email from someone whose proﬁle name is Jesica Caspedes offering to sell me votes in that contest we are nominated for “Best Song” in. I play along and ask how much votes costs and what email to send paypal to - If you’re looking to rig an online contest, the going rate is $300 for 9000 votes. (Oh, and “please check the ”gift“ option on PayPal”). Her email address is email@example.com if you want to sign her up for anything.
I’m not saying the other folks used this service - I’m just sharing what is available. It’s pretty sad really. I notiﬁed the contest about it just now and they wrote back immediately and they were kind of stunned. I get the feeling they knew this stuff was going on but had no way of proving it. To their credit they are trying to ﬁgure it out and may get rid of all the voting and pick winners themselves.
What’s weird in my brain about this - If I won this contest and I had paid for the winning votes, I would feel like the biggest fraud. It’s the hollowest victory. It would mean less than nothing.
Don’t get me wrong; I love to cheat but never to win, I cheat just for fun.
TOUR DIARY DAY 44.17
We slept until damn near noon and it didn’t even feel like it.
Today’s tour diary will be mostly food based and missing the best meal of all because we were so hungry we destroyed it in seconds.
After toast and tea and a bunch of nothing we took the tram down to the city center. Here in Bremen is a gigantic festival every year called Freimarkt. (Free Market). There are loads of food kiosks and crafty type things and amusement rides and a shit ton of people.
It’s one of the longest running festivals in Europe having been going on for over 950 years now. Seriously. 950. Who the? What the? For the love of… What the hell was happening 950 years ago? Well, it certainly wasn’t a Renaissance Festival because it would pre date the Renaissance!!
It made us think of what the OC Fair will be like in 900 years and it wasn’t pretty. OC Fair is already serving deep fried butter. This fair had hot wine, potato things on a stick and hand made pastry things…
The part of Freimarkt in the old section of the city is smaller and has more crafty type things to go to and the food is fantastic and we just wandered around for a while trying stuff and getting a few gifts for people (see pics)
And then we went to the larger part of the festival which is behind the Hauptbahnhof (train station). Thousands of people were walking thru the train station to get to the other side and then it was just a sea of people going through. Tracy and I couldn’t take it - it was too many people. It’s overwhelming, shit we didn’t even get a photo!
Then we came home and took a nap. When Ben and Vivien got home we convinced Ben to cook us all dinner. He makes this amazing dish of Salmon, creme fresch, capers and pasta that I really wish I did a cooking show for. It’s out of this world.
Today’s story is in the pictures.
TOUR DIARY DAY 45.18
Super boring day.
We had a meeting at the ofﬁce to go over the coming weeks shows* and we discuss our availability for 2017. And just like that we have 3 shows booked in July of 2017.
Then we came back to the ﬂat, Tracy and Ben took naps and I ﬁxed The action/Intonation on Tracy’s bass and restrung 2 guitars. And then we did the paperwork that goes along with live performances so we get paid from our performing rights organizations.
That’s another thing - at a lot of the venues here, when you ﬁnish playing they have a GEMA form for you to ﬁll out with the songs that you played so we get paid our royalties. There are venues that I’ve played at in the states that refuse to pay these PRO’s (performance rights organizations) and I don’t get that.
So. Here’s the pic. I am wearing my Elvis Costello glasses and ﬁlling in paperwork (on actual paper!!)
Oh and an update on the person trying to get me to buy votes for that contest. The contest changed how people can vote and she is trying to ﬁnd a work around. Ha!! I just keep sending the info to them so they know how people are trying to circumvent their attempts at an honest contest. God damn parasites.
*yes our meetings are just like on Flight of the Conchords.
TOUR DIARY DAY 46.19
It was a two show day.
Up early to leave by 10ish to get to the University as we are playing from 12:30– 12:55. It’s a short set but a good set. We had some familiar faces there, a good crowd and everything!
Even though it’s a short set we still have to set up the whole PA system and we manage to craft a set that requires us to use all 7 instruments we have with us. Seriously, we’d use more if we could ﬁt them in the car.
After that we stop by the S&W ofﬁce and print out more of our songbooks. It’s really cool that these are selling. I took a while and wrote up all the chords to our songs to put in with the lyrics so you can play guitar along with what we’re doing. Our songs aren’t particularly difﬁcult to play but they are easier when you have the chords in front of you.
We chill for a bit before heading to Immanuel Germadkaiadlafelkjs. Ok, I forget the second half of the name of the church. But it’s a pretty old church right in this neighborhood in Bremen. I can’t ﬁgure out what it must’ve looked like before but now it’s got buildings coming right up to it on both sides - like no space between buildings. This church also has a Bösendorfer piano. It was locked last time I was here but we have the key so we can use it tonight. Arne (from S&W) and I go over and unlock the piano and check it out. It’s a really unique sounding piano and the action is different from a Steinway or a Yamaha. It seems to lack an immediate attack but it’s got it’s own thing going on that’s for sure - plus 97 keys!!
We load in all of our gear and start setting up the PA. Jimmy and Chris (tour mates that we’re sharing this show with) serenade us on the piano and guitar while we set everything up.
Arne has brought a bunch of lights with him to make the room all spooky and gothic looking and succeeds.
Chris and Jimmy go on ﬁrst and have a nice set. It’s my ﬁrst time hearing them play and they are super chill. Jimmy does a lot of the same kind of atmospheric guitar playing that I do and then ﬁlled in with fancy bits. They play a couple of songs that are guitar, piano and Ben gets up and sings harmony and those were my favorites.
The church has ﬁlled in a bit with people and a lot of familiar faces again. I’m asked if we’re playing “APB” tonight and I tell them not tonight and they are sad. I explain this is a RATS show and they understand but still request it. This happens sometimes when you play as a couple different entities. At the same time when TFS is playing back in CA we will sometimes get a request for “Cornershop Love” but it’s RATS song and Ben sings it. Tracy and I can’t do it without him.
Tonight is a pretty mellow set and suits the environment nicely. A favorite moment of mine was when we played “Hold Me” - I unplugged my acoustic and Ben got on the piano and we went down and played it that way. Tracy stood next to me (kept her bass plugged in) and gave it a different vibe. The last time I played here I was solo and I did the whole show without a PA and it was nice. With more peoples here on stage we kind of needed it but breaking it down for a song was a nice change.
After the set it’s nice to hang out and talk to everyone. I have a great conversation with Horst and his wife about music and sound. I meet Chris’ parents who are visiting for a couple of days from the states, Petra lives nearby and last time I played here I sang “APB” for her and just so much fun.
Then it’s time to punch the clock and load out the gear.
GEAR GEEK WARNING AHEAD:
Now the PA that we are using is an AER Domino 3. It’s got 4 xlr inputs on top and a bunch of ins/outs/who-done-its in the back. We use this along with 2 satellite fallback amps on either side of the stage. It’s a nice wide sound we get with clear acoustics and vocals but often hard to contain with all the hardwood ﬂoors and concrete and high ceilings. It’s a real Tetris job getting it, the yellow box full of leads and power cords, a merch box, bass amp, ZT Lunchbox amp, 7 guitars and 3 people in a station wagon.
Back at the ﬂat I’m heating up spaghetti bolagnase and we’re drinking wine. Tonight it’s Jens’ wine that we got for playing in Delmonhorst. We’re all wide awake and Chris is teaching us how to play bridge. As a card game I believe Bridge has way too many rules. It’s like a game made up by people who had nothing to do with themselves because Dungeons and Dragons hadn’t been created yet. If there was a way to incorporate at 12 sided die I’m sure they would’ve. After a few glasses of wine I’m done and pretty much fall asleep at the kitchen table.
I’m writing today’s tour diary with the tastiest Berliner ever. It’s pronounced “Behrleener”. pic included. Good morning!
TOUR DIARY DAY 47.20
Woke up a little hung over today. First time in the whole tour. I wasn’t drunk last night just had some wine and then some more wine and then tried to learn how to play bridge.
Remember that joke about “marriage is really just two people arguing over where to eat forever”? That was Tracy and I today. We have a restaurant near the ﬂat called Özlem and it’s ﬁne. It’s good. It’s doner and they have chicken and rice and pizza and the dudes there know us. But at some point you’re like “Ok, enough of this place.” So Tracy got online and started looking for a cafe or someplace we haven’t been before and we start driving.
The late afternoon is an interesting time here in Germany as it’s between lunch and dinner and a lot of places just close for a couple of hours. That’s the time we were in. 3 places we went to just weren’t open at 3:30 pm. So we made a little video of us driving through the backwoods and little streets looking for an open cafe and then ended up back at Özlem eating doner.
Then we came back to the ﬂat and worked on some music. We have a couple of new Leaves on the Wind songs we have yet to record and one that we keep forgetting how to play so we worked on that song and then another song that will be on a new release next year that sounds like a hit song to me. I love playing it and it’s different. Different because it idolizes a female musician. Not like me singing it to Tracy, it’s different. It’s partly about Emmylou Harris, partly about some other folks we know in the Americana music scene and I just really dig it. I love songs that are about music and this falls into that category and I’m excited to share it soon. (I was going to post some video of us playing it but Tracy says it’s not ready yet)
Tonight we’re playing at Zum Faß - a smoky little bar in the heart of the Gröpelinger (the section of Bremen we stay in) We could walk there. We won’t because we have to bring a PA but we could.
It’s great seeing folks come out time and again to see us play. Petra came to see us - she saw us yesterday at the church. Twice in two days and she saw me solo last month! It’s a small crowd which is probably good because this place can’t really handle more than say 15 people in the back room we are playing.
We have made a request that folks not smoke while we are performing and they politely oblige. Our set is a bit more subdued than it needed to be tonight. I’m wishing we brought a little bit of energy to the room, sometimes you need to bring more to get some back. And that isn’t a criticism of the audience - they were all sitting and completely listening to everything we did. We needed to give more I think. And it sucks that I realize that after the fact. Annoyed at myself for missed opportunities like that.
We did try something very new - our song “Tracks” off of the New Coastline album. It was our ﬁrst time trying to play it live. It didn’t go well. At all. Crashed and burned. I hate when that happens. Kept it real that’s for sure.
We ﬁnish up playing and the lighters come out and it’s smokey time in here. Time to go.
TOUR DIARY DAY 48.21
Had a great night sleep but am still tired. I’ve been yawning all day and just wanted to crawl back in bed. Had planned to go do laundry today as the smokey bar last night ruined our clothes but slept too late. Fortunately I still have 1 clean pair of underwear left.
Tomorrow it is.
It’s cold and rainy here and after Tracy and I work on what we’re going to do with our two days off at the end of the tour and scan AirBnB for an hour looking for a place near there - it’s time for lunch. So we make our way down to the city center and go to Arabic. Absolutely the best rollo around. I get the Tandoori chicken and Tracy gets the Asia rollo. The guy looks at me and asks “Spicy?” I say “ein bisschen”. (A little bit) So good.
What else did we do? I think we had tea and then went to our gig. That might have been the whole day!
The gig tonight is in a cinema. We’re actually set up in front of the screen. It’s a nice room and folks can just sit in the cinema seats and listen. There is a concession stand where they can get beer and wine and it’s totally nice.
Next door to the cinema is a restaurant that I don’t know what it’s called but we get fed there. The menu has steak on it. I’m going for it. We all get a glass of wine as well. It’s just the right amount of alcohol for us to loosen up a bit for tonight’s show.
It was a great crowd. Well, I don’t want to oversell it. There were 8 people there but all 8 people loved it. I think we sold 5 cds which percentage wise is awesome and had a decent hat as well. There was someone taking pictures and did a small interview with Ben and a guy named Michael that drove down from Brake and brought greetings from our friend Rebekka! So cool.
And while I technically didn’t break anything tonight - I did have the string cover on the back of the mandolin actually popped off during my solo in “Chance”. Totally threw me when a piece of the mandolin actually ﬂew off. So that’s a new one.
Can really feel the tour winding down. We have three shows left and while I could easily keep going - I deﬁnitely am looking forward to a few days rest.
TOUR DIARY DAY 49.22
In case the star date code on the tour diary is confusing - it’s my 49th day on tour and the 22nd day of the second leg of the tour - being Riddle & The Stars.
Early day today doing laundry at 10 am. IT’s a weird laundromat- which I know is redundant as all laundromats are somewhat strange. Whether they were last decorated during the Nixon administration or weird hole in the wall places - this one that I go to is nearly across the street. They recently did a huge upgrade to all their machines. Washers and dryers are all new but the way you pay is still the old system of going over to a wall and putting the money in there and selecting the number machine you want activated and then going back over to the machine and operating it. That and today I was there for 2 hours. I was the only one in there the whole time. Last time I was there there was one person in there for a few minutes.
But I love laundromats, no really I do. They are always interesting for people watching and always a bit…odd. But with no one in here - it’s odd in a different way. Usually you’re in the laundromat and Jerry Springer is on the TV or the People’s Court or something and a few kids running around - I don’t know it’s just strange that no one is ever here when I am.
After laundry I head over to the S&W recording studio. I convinced Heiko to get new drum heads for the studio kit and now he wants me to put them on and tune them. I meet Alex who somewhat runs the studio when Heiko isn’t and he’s super nice and he’s a drummer as well. We talk music for a few and we set to changing the drum heads - he ﬂips them over and tunes the bottom heads ﬁrst and I really just watch and learn. This guy is good. Tuning drums often feels like trying to hit a moving target. “oh, this side sounds good but it’s thrown off the other side…”. And I learn quite a bit from watching and listening to him. I like learning stuff.
Then me and Heiko go grab some lunch at his place. It’s pumpkin soup and it’s awesome. We have a good conversation about world events - Philippines leaving the U.S. And committing genocide on it’s own people, the creation and sustained support of Israel, how ISIS stepped in the void left in Iraq…
You know - normal things you talk about with the guy who runs your record label.
We talk about other things including another solo tour for me and one for RATS in 2017. It’s really good talk. There’s some other label artists that are going to be working on new albums in 2017 and he would like me to produce some of them. So that’s kind of exciting. Hoping to put stuff together and make it all happen. It may mean more time over seas for me but if I’m working - it’s not bad. Can’t just come here and hang out you know.
Then Tracy and I head to the mall. For real. Tracy discovered this lip stain/gloss combo over here a few years back and it’s like the best ever. Doesn’t come off on me or the tea cup and stays put. She’s done such a good job talking it up that friends place orders with her to bring back this lip stain/gloss. We had to go buy 30 of them today but actually could only get 25 as we cleaned out two stores. “Anything to declare Ms. Byrnes?” “Only 30 lip glosses!” It shouldn’t be an issue but it’s odd.
Tonight we’re doing a private party/house concert thing. Jens has been great to us and he has helped set this on up and it’s in this warehouse for their stage supplies. It’s a theater company and this is where they go to hang out and where they store all their old props. We walk in and see the concrete and the metal ceiling and all kind of groan - this is going to sound like hell.
Where we’re playing is on the second ﬂoor loft area, there’s tables and chairs up there and a stage area they have made for us. We set up the PA and plug everything in and it sounds great. No, like really great. We’re kind of looking around waiting for someone to say it and ﬁnally we’re like “Is it me or does it sound really great in here?” We’re high up enough in the room that it’s lost a lot of it’s big room sound and the wall in front is like the perfect distance away to create a nice slap back on the mics. Weird.
We are all hanging out and chatting - Ben has played a house concert for them before and it’s nice to be in a room full of people that are all there for one reason only and that’s to listen to music. Not that last night wasn’t like this or most of our shows for that matter (well, a few were not) but it’s everyone here whose only reason for being there is to listen to us. And that’s very humbling and gratifying.
Everyone has brought food too, there must be 4 different pasta dishes and they’re all great. Wine, beer, soda, water…
We play our ﬁrst set and it goes over great, we sound good - everything hitting on all cylinders. We play “Mexican Home” and I dedicate it to my Dad as today would’ve been his 70th birthday. I had a nice dream last night with him where he was showing me around Billerica Center and where he used to direct trafﬁc. I kept telling him “Yeah, I know.” And he kept saying “But you have to remember.” And then we got lunch at One Stop Market. It was a nice visit/dream. During our break we sell some cds and chat with folks. We get some nice compliments and folks dig it. I get some nice compliments on how I can get a mandolin to sound like that and it’s all good.
Second set ends with an encore of a request for “Jolene” and then we end. Hanging out with them is really amazing. Petra is running the show here and she’s super sweet and nice. She kind of reminds me of some of my family, like my great aunt Jean or my aunt Joma. She’s way supportive of the arts and is heavily involved in the theater as not just an actor but in a very hands on way as well. We have a great talk and she brings us down stairs to show us all the welcome packages that are stored here for refugees.
Delmonhorst took in many refugees, mostly children without parents. I don’t care what your political stance is - that is heartbreaking and if you can’t get behind helping them then you don’t deserve the air you’re breathing.
In this warehouse shared space they have several hundred of these welcome packages ready to go and ready for the next wave. They also bought loads of tables and chairs and bed things. She told us about a 20 year old refugee that came to their theater group and told his story about how he left Syria when he was 18 and how it took him over 3 months to walk to Germany. And how everywhere he went - he had to deal with the fact that it was illegal for him to be
there. Sleeping on the street and being scared of being robbed and hiding at night and the horrible things he had to endure just to try to start a newer, better life. He’s now in school here studying to be a computer engineer.
Boy, I had it tough when I was 20… living at home, having to mow the lawn…
I point out how amazing it is that the city has stepped up to get all this stuff and welcome the refugees in - when so many will not and she shrugs it off and says “It’s so easy for us here, we have a house, we have a table, we have. Why wouldn’t you want to give back? I don’t need two tables or more chairs, we don’t need more.” I have had limited contact with any refugees myself and yet I have been so moved by the people here and their generosity, patience and willingness to help these people that they don’t know at all. It makes you want to be a better human.
Petra and I have a brief conversation about the US election and she can’t understand Trump’s popularity any more than I can. That is really the consensus among every single person I have met. I haven’t found one Trump supporter outside of the U.S. And it’s so easy for we as Americans to compare him to Hitler but when Germans compare him to Hitler - it’s not just Godwin’s Law in play.
Petra and I hug and we make plans to come back in 2017 and play for them again and I really hope we can put it together.
Outside the gig I talk to my mom on the phone for a few minutes. She’s been busy making her quilts and Christmas tree skirts. I tell her it’s about time, she got on that, she’s been slacking. (While my mom can’t cook - she kicks ass with a sewing machine and her quilts are real works of art). Talking more about traveling and what-not, I think I very nearly have her convinced to visit Europe with me. I really want that to happen.
Back at the ﬂat Ben has promised to make me his salmon, creme fresch pasta. It’s a little after midnight when he starts cooking. We destroy this plate of pasta and since I didn’t have any wine at the gig - I ﬁnish off this bottle of South African merlot and write this blog.
One thing we have noticed -when you have songs that mention how much you like drinking wine and we tell people we like wine - we have been gifted so much wine on this tour, we haven’t had to buy a bottle since the ﬁrst week!
Only two shows left on this tour. I’m starting to get sad.
TOUR DIARY DAY 50.23
Well today didn’t go as planned.
No one really needs the details so I will summarize: Bang on the door from a neighbor saying “Are you in the blue car? Your window is broken.” We knew right away. It was just a race down stairs to see what was gone.*
We tour with 7 guitars, we know how ridiculous that is but it’s what we need to deliver a show properly. Part of our “show” is the different guitars and how we intergrate them into the music. Ben’s tenor guitar is so unique and songs have been written on it that don’t work on regular guitars. That’s just the way it is. An electric guitar sounds different than an acoustic and sometimes you need an electric.
Anyhoo - Heiko came over to help us and we all went to the Police Station together, spent nearly 2 hours in the waiting room and then went through everything with us, taking pics of the car and going over our stolen stuff and reports. So we get out of there around 3 and then have to go to Hertz to exchange the car for one without a broken window but the Hertz in town closes at noon on Saturdays and so we have to go to the airport, drop off one car in the garage, go inside to the rental desk, get a second car, get the car, exit the garage, go back in where we dropped off the other car and get our stuff out of that car… Oh, my god are you still reading this? It was a PROCESS.
I’m bored of the story, you must be.
Tonight we’re in Brake. Yeah, it looks like you’d pronounce it “break” but you’d be wrong. That last ‘e’ isn’t silent. It makes it a kind of a “ah” sound. So Br - short “a” sound then a hard K sound and then “ah”. The venue is Harrier Hoff. Ben played here in July, I played here in September and we’re here in October. We’ve set the stage for a good time.
But ﬁrst - Running late to the gig, pick up a guitar from Heiko for Ben to use…Get to the gig, set up PA stuffs, Ben’s borrowed guitar keeps cutting out…packed room full of people…our food shows up when we’re supposed to start…We scarf down the very good food, play a set, play a second set, they want more songs… we unplug and step in front of the microphones and THEN the show gets really good.
Ben played a new song that’s awesome, I played a new song and we got everyone in the crowd singing along with us. We had like 3 or 4 times through the chorus with everyone singing along with us and no instruments. What a cool feeling. And it’s the ﬁrst time we’ve played that song!
I check my phone at the end of the night and see I have 73 comments or shares and messages all with everyone offering help and guitars, sharing our story, spreading the word on our missing guitars. The world is a wonderfully small place when you have such great friends scattered all around it. Thank you all so so much.
Talking to really nice folk here and there’s one guy who’s been watching me play guitar all night, he comes up to ask what the e-bow is and I show him and he asks about a few different guitar type things. After the show he says to me “I’ve never heard anyone get as many different sounds from an acoustic guitar before.” So I got that going for me, which is nice.
There are some silver lining type things - a couple of the guitars are insured. We won’t be able to get the exact instruments back but we can probably get something close. Our rental car we paid for with a new credit card that Tracy hooked up because it had better travel rewards and beneﬁts and one of them is insurance on rental cars. We read the ﬁne print today and it’s a good thing we switched cars the end of last month because there’s a 30 day clause - saying after 31 days they don’t cover stuff. Today is the 30th day. Woo-hoo!
My mom calls me and she’s worried about us and stolen guitars - my folks bought me a guitar last year (it’s in a safe house in California) and she is being motherly concerned and says “I got a new credit card in the mail this week if you need any money”. I tell her that we’re ok and she tells me that they even sent one in my
Dad’s name. “Well, can we use that one? I mean what are they gonna do right?” She says “oh he’d be so pissed if we ruined his credit score!” And we have a nice half laugh at the idea.
Tomorrow’s show in Bremen is our last show of the tour and thanks to Heiko letting us borrow an acoustic and telecaster and the guys in Flatbilly Deville hooking us up with an acoustic and a tenor guitar - we’re going to be able to do a nice send off gig.
I know that whoever stole our guitars isn’t a musician, this was a smash and grab for quick money. The only thing I can hope for beyond getting them back is that they end up in the hands of some musicians that truly need them.
*Ben and I are both secretly disappointed they didn’t steal our crappy mandolin so we could get a new one!
TOUR DIARY DAY 51.24
We start off today with breakfast at Heiko and Martina’s place. Really great spread of food, tomatoes and mozzarella, meats, eggs, toast…all kinds of stuff. It’s a really nice day out so we all go for a walk over to the ocean. You forget how close it is here in Bremen. Heiko shows us some remnants of the second world war in the form of huge concrete bunker/construction sight where they made U-boats. They couldn’t knock it down so they re-purposed it and built ofﬁces on top of it.
As we walk back we talk a lot about the history of Bremen and this area and our plans for beyond this tour. Songs & Whispers is releasing “Motel Americana” in early 2017. Yes, I’ve been touring it but it hasn’t had a proper release and they are going to promote it and I will have another solo tour in 2017. Heiko also has the idea of me doing some shows in bookstores where I talk about my (as yet unﬁnished) book and how it ties into certain songs as well as me giving some workshops here on guitar playing, songwriting, studio stuff, etc. So a lot on that front. Then RATS will be doing a short tour as well.
It’s a nice relaxing walk and hang out and perfect for this, our last day really, together. We get back to Heiko and Martina’s place and there’s a couple of kids on bikes out in front of their house waiting for Heiko. One of them has a ﬂat tire. Seeing how much they are connected to not just Bremen but also their own neighborhood is inspiring. They don’t have kids but they have somewhat adopted the neighborhood. There has been a number of refugees living in the area - like 8 or 10 people living in a two room ﬂat. And they are grateful for that space but work very hard to get out of it and into their own. This Groplingen section of Bremen is like a micro version of what’s going on all over Europe and it’s eye opening on a daily basis.
Tonight we’re at Club Moments. It’s a bit of a tradition type of show where the last show of the tour is always here. Last month I missed my Moments show because I was booked solo in Chemnitz so Heiko asks me if I would do 3 songs solo tonight between the sets - that sounds cool. I can do that.
Moments is in downtown Bremen and is a nice space. Nice stage, nice club, nice sound.. all that. Julian suggests we eat at the Thai place next door and it’s a solid recommendation. I ﬁnally ﬁnd some coconut chicken curry soup and have some chicken curry and rice.
We’re being helped out tonight by some friends - besides Heiko loaning us his acoustic guitar and his telecaster, our friends in Flatbilly Deville have brought a tenor guitar and another acoustic for us to use. The tenor ends up being strung with different gauge strings and tuned completely different from what Ben is used to so we can’t get it to go (although it is an absolutely beautiful instrument, custom made like a Gibson ES–335 and the other guitar is…I DON’T REMEMBER!! Wow, I’m bad. Anyway, it works great so Ben can have a guitar in his weird Open C tuning and the other one in standard tuning.
Speaking of being helped out - our buddy Doug Schmude has taken it upon himself to start a Go Fund Me page to raise money for us to replace our stolen guitars. (https://www.gofundme.com/2vq9q70). Wow. I can’t believe someone would do that for us.
Chris Rifﬂe opens up the show and he sounds great, it’s really intimate singer/songwriter style and his accompanist Jimi Zhivago pulling notes in on his electric guitar. Ben joins him for a few numbers singing backup and it’s really pretty.
Then I go up and do something completely different with 3 songs from my solo album - Heiko has asked me to do a short set in between as they don’t have any video footage of me solo and will be promoting it for next year. So that’s very cool but also feels a bit strange in a way of “Here’s Bobbo!” I’m happy to do it as I love playing but I don’t know if people were expecting me or just RATS. It’s fun though and brief.
Having these other instruments to use has been incredibly amazing and huge signs of love and compassion folks have for us. I still feel guilty when people tell me they feel sorry for me for having our guitars stolen. I get it. But I’m just annoyed. I am not worthy of the sympathy. I know better than to leave guitars in the car and I still did it. So the guitars we have are ﬁne but they are different enough that they are actually making their unfamiliarity known to Ben and I as
they are just different enough to mess us up a bit. We play and it’s all good but I felt like I never hit that point of…release. We were close but the wave never crested.
Not that it was a “bad” show. It was a good show but I wanted more. I wanted to give more to it and it’s a frustrating energy I’m left with. Before we play the Sea and Ben makes the joke that the people who stole our guitars left the mandolin behind. This mandolin has been frustrating - it won’t stay in tune, it ﬁghts us all the time… and he’s like “they could’ve taken this one and then we could’ve gotten a nicer mandolin!” And as we’re playing The Sea - and on the fourth or ﬁfth strum we hear it go out of tune and he leans over to me “Can I break it?” And I’m like “No, we need it for one more song!” “Then can we break it?” It’s that level of frustration. I play the mandolin in Chance and as I’m doing my solo I break a string and the whole thing goes out of tune, I start searching for a string in tune to ﬁnish the song and I break another string - now none of it’s in tune! Tracy said to me afterward that she thought I was going to smash it.
I didn’t smash the mandolin - I didn’t have the heart to do it. It would be a very “Folk Star” thing to do - smash a mandolin!
We have a bunch of fans here tonight and it’s really great to see them - there’s something really amazing about seeing people wearing your shirt to the gig. I don’t think that ever stops being awesome.
We all say our goodbyes and make plans for 2017, load the car and go home.
But not without a stop at the Heartbreak Hotel - the tradition started by some of the folks at S&W, it’s a dive bar. A super dive bar and we hang out with Mona and Christine and have a nice mellow drink after the show.
On the way home from there we make a quick stop at Ozlum and get some chicken and rice. We’ve been stopping here for years now after gigs, it’s a restaurant that’s walking distance from our ﬂat. A few years ago the guys working here serenaded Tracy when they found out it was our last night here and we were leaving. Tonight I’m in here by myself talking to the “new” guy behind the counter. He’s been here 7 months. By here, I mean Germany. He’s been giving me crap for the past two months because I can’t say “Kein Kohl” with the correct inﬂection in my voice to make it understandable. I show him the video I made the other night
with the folks from Delmonhorst saying it for me. He laughs and he ﬁnally understands me. He moved here from Turkey, speaks Arabic, Turkish, some French, English and German. German is the hardest for him. “Why does there have to be 3 words for ‘the’?” I feel his pain. He’s going to school 3 days a week to learn German. He says he can’t wait to get his German passport (he has to wait 3 years to get it) because then “I’m going to see the world!” He says and I believe him.
TOUR DIARY DAY 52.25
We said goodbyes early this morning. Brought Ben to the Hauptbanhof at 11 and then headed over to the S&W ofﬁce to drop off equipment, sort the leftovers and do a little more planning for 2017.*
Sitting and talking with Heiko can be overwhelming. The dude has got ideas for days! How about this, how about this, have you thought about this… For my SoCal friends; imagine Boris when he is super caffeinated.
We have two days off until we ﬂy back to the U.S. and Tracy has found us a great deal on a place to stay in Castle Stecklenberg - a castle! Ok, so it’s a hotel in a castle but still - CASTLE! I was going to tell the story of the place but I will just take a pic of the story and share it below.
I’m now going to say one of the most pompous things I have probably ever said:
“This is the second nicest castle we’ve ever stayed in.”**
Now I have never written a review of a car before, it’s not really my wheelhouse. (Pun!) I know about guitars and things but no one is asking me to test drive cars or how is the Hearst in that 396 with the dually heads and what-not. But I am now driving my 3rd car in 2 months so I feel I can weigh in on the rental options of Hertz.
The ﬁrst car was a Ford Fiesta. It was small, great on gas, handled well and had comfy enough seats for me to sleep in at rest stops.
Second car was a Ford Focus estate car (station wagon). This car had lots of power, the clutch had a completely different feel than the Fiesta but this car went fast and smooth. Cruising speed on the Autobahn was comfortable at 160 kph. Hell, it was comfortable at 180 kph.
Then we had to get a new car because someone smashed the window on the Focus - Hertz didn’t have any more Focuses so we got a Fiat 500. This is one of the worst “new” cars I’ve ever driven. The seats are uncomfortable - after 2 hours driving I was getting cramps from my leg to my lower back. Tracy can’t get comfortable in the seat either. The shifting feels…plastic-y. Like a toy. It shifts like it’s connected to a tv set for a car racing game. Remember “Out Run” the video game that you sat in at the arcade? That shifted better than this car. And we never got over 130 kph because it just rode “hard” and not at all smooth on these great roads.
First car review done.
Dinner in town is ok. Nothing special tonight other than Tracy singing “Fish heads” while she ate.
This area is really cool and full of history. More to report tomorrow.
*Lots of interesting things in the works!
**#1 was in Italy, I’m looking at you Marina DE Palma!!
TOUR DIARY DAY 53.26
We wake up in this very beautiful castle in the Harz mountain area here in Germany to a wonderful breakfast spread at the hotel. I may or may not have taken a picture of it. Meats, cheeses, eggs, bacon, vegetables, breads, rolls, tomatoes… So much food!
And not a single toaster in sight.
That would cost them a star if it was up to me.
Today we’re heading into…town? There’s sort of a downtown area about 20 minutes away and they have a narrow gauge steam train! It’s like in regular service around the area but we’re taking the touristy “up the mountain” ride.
Riding on a steam train is totally different - I can’t even fully explain why it’s different but it is, the sounds, the smells - the push and pull that you feel of the engine. And if this was in the states they deﬁnitely wouldn’t let me walk between the cars and hang out on the outside platform area between the passenger cars. I even go all the way to the back and hang out in the back of the train hanging over the edge watching the rails go by.
It’s so awesome. I can’t believe Tracy found this. And the weather is 2/3rds awesome for this - it’s cold and rainy and super cloudy/foggy. I love the cold and the rain but the fog is preventing us from seeing most of what is around us. It is so foggy that when we reach the top of the mountain we can’t see the observation building until it’s about 50 feet away from us!
This area was on the west side of the wall during the Cold War and when the wall fell in 1989 - the next day - THE NEXT DAY - 100,000 people climbed the mountain. They grew up being able to see the mountain and never able to climb it and as soon as they could - they all did! It’s the highest mountain in this whole area of Germany.
The trip up takes 4 hours round trip and I loved all of it. Tracy dug it too but she found this for me. It would’ve been better had we been able to see anything from the top of the mountain but I still loved it.
Then we drove around town and found dinner. Tracy won tonight with her goulash and potato dumplings. My schnitzel was ok.
And now we’re back in our castle ready for bed.
It’s weird to not have a gig. But we made up for it by doing an outline for my book, researched a few new song ideas and got 4 emails from Heiko about 2017.
Tracy is watching German tv and trying to ﬁgure out what is going on - American tv shows dubbed into German aren’t funny, I mean - I hope they don’t think Jim Belushi is funny. Why would you bother dubbing that crap?
TOUR DIARY DAY 54.27
Not much to report today.
Left the small town of Stecklenberg after walking around the city center for a while. Spent a long time in an unending antique store that seemed to have been built like the housing in the Harry Potter books - “look, another staircase!” They had a super old concert harpsichord for sale, dual keyboards and sustain pedals! The guy got really excited when I asked about it. Turns out is is for sale for 380,000€. (!!!!)
Drove back to Bremen and did a ﬁnal drop off of stuff at the S&W ofﬁce of publishing live show royalties stuff and pick up of hard drive- 3 of our shows were recorded so I will go thru those soon.
Then we met up with Mike from the band Flatbilly Deville. (See? I get it right in print!) because he has been promising to take us to the best pizza in Bremen.
He wasn’t lying.
We have a great last night hang with Mike Scott, Karen and his daughter Sasha. Eating great pizza and exchanging great stories from the road.
I’m really excited about all the building I have done in the past two months and the people I’ve met. There are amazing people in this world if you look for them.
I’m sad to leave Bremen but it’s time to head home. I promise to be back soon