Tour Diary Day 1 - September 10, 2021
Woke up in Cape Cod ended up rocking in Lowell. The first club shows I ever played were in Lowell, MA. The Last Safe and Deposit was a former bank that had been turned into a rock club in the early 90s and was the first bar I think I played. It was hot, smoky and sweaty with people. The bartender was named Karl (and was immortalized in song by The Madcap Laughs to the point that I even remember his wife’s name was Gretchen because she was in the song too). It seemed we played The Safe every other month for like 2 years but that is unlikely.
We had shows that descended into chaos with Morgan crawling across the main beam, I once knocked my head on the brick wall so hard I lost consciousness for about half a verse, we had another show were our drummer never showed and we played the entire 3 hour gig with a drummer pulled out of the audience. That was all before we started at Smithwicks, Evo’s or Brian’s Ivy Hall, Purple Shamrock, Back Room, UnchARTed… (Man, there was the night we accidentally crashed the mob guys having a meeting downstairs at Brian’s Ivy Hall. Two very large dudes came to the elevator doors and made sure we were escorted out quickly.) And all of those were on the same 2 blocks between Market and Middle St.
Tonight, returning to Market St felt a bit like going back but also forward. Warp & Weft is fairly new to the Lowell scene (2018) but that doesn’t mean the folks running it are new to the area. Tracy and I are greeted by Craig who graduated from the same high school as us but a couple years earlier and we start going through the list of who we all know and different things. Shit, we even talked about a friend’s (Paulette’s) love of her Astro Van and how it was still running way past it’s expiration date. Craig has the stage all set up for us, cables, DI’s, mic stands. We just have to plug in and go, our soundcheck takes literally 4 minutes and it sounds great. My overdrive pedal is being weird and so I swap it out (yes, I brought two) and that’s better but in the first song my amp sputters out, makes a few farty noises and then gives up. The first show of the tour and I’ve already killed one pedal and one amp. It, just a speed bump though. Craig helps me out, I re-run guitar cables and bypass the amp.
This means no telecaster tonight. Oh, well. I was using the tele as a bit of a break for my fingers but not now. We have a good crowd here, a bunch of friends came by, we got a sing along going for APB, we got folks chiming in “Bullshit” when we played Charlie on the MTA, we got to play a Melvern Taylor song for Melvern Taylor. I saw a classmate that I haven’t seen in person since 1989. About halfway through the third set I was starting to feel the tired. Three sets is a lot. We played 28 songs tonight. I think we’re ready for the rest of this tour. Thank you, goodnight Lowell.
Tour Diary - Day Two - September 11, 2021
We start the day visiting family for my cousin’s wedding (which is tomorrow) and having a great catch up. My cousin Joanie, who fairly recently moved to SoCal, and I have an in depth conversation about Mexican food and how SoCal Mexican has ruined us from ever attempting eating east coast Mexican food. This was an IN-DEPTH conversation about Mexican food and I loved it. My cousin Amy, bride to be, and I have a nice moment drinking some Barrys tea and then Tracy and I have to get going to our show tonight at The Browncoat Ball. Most readers will remember that we, The Fallen Stars, have done a whole album based on the 14 episodes and movie about the crew of the Firefly, the Joss Whedon creation that is a space western. Fans of this short lived show call themselves “Browncoats” and they are a DEDICATED bunch.
We are, obviously, fans of the show but really stumbled into this whole other fandom because we decided to write some songs about our favorite tv show. This group does tons of charity work and are a global community dedicated to being good, all while having fun. There are Trekkies who love Star Trek and have tribbles for pets, there are folks that wear Tom Brady or Gronkowski game jerseys on Sundays in autumn - fandoms are all the same just with different heroes. Browncoats all sort of follow the lead of Captain Malcom Reynolds, someone who learns the details of a situation and then does the right thing. We arrive early to set up. They’ve let me know ahead of time what PA system we are plugging into and it’s a good size ballroom with an incredibly underpowered PA so I borrow a Fishman “fishstick” and then daisy chain that into their smaller PA and do a good job of filling the room with sound. Then we go up and change into our shiny shindig clothes.
Tracy has custom made her dress to look like the Firefly spaceship, the bottom flares out and she has lights that light up underneath and it’s entirely impressive. It’s pretty much the first thing she has ever sewn for herself and she knocked it out of the park. For the Browncoat Ball she has created a second layer that wraps around and is floor length. I’m wearing a variation of Captain Reynolds with a waistcoat and ascot. We look good. There’s a nice buffet and mingling and folks taking pictures. Tracy comes upon another woman with the same Serenity patch and dress is a variation of the ship theme as well and get this - her lights are better than Tracy’s! This is frustrating in the micro sense and we acknowledge that she wins this round. As we’re hanging out talking to folks I have 3 or 4 conversations that all go something like “I’ve heard the Fallen Stars are really good, are they here yet?” “Uh, yeah, we are.” “You’re the band?!?”
Before we play they have someone doing dance calling and trying to teach a roomful of folks new/old traditional styles of dance. Part of me wants to be part of it for the experience but a stronger part of me decides to just watch as it is just as amusing to enjoy from a distance. We have really enjoyable conversations with the two other couples at our table and have lots of laughs. (I’m not autographing body parts today!) We take the stage and we have a full ballroom listening intently to Every. Word. You wish for audiences like this but it’s been a while for us since we’ve played to a room like this and at first it’s a little off-putting. In Lowell, we had folks listening but it was still a bar and there’s always people at those gigs that are there on their own trip - tonight we have the room’s attention before we even make a sound. We start with the theme and folks are singing along. As we start in on our songs I look around and there are people here singing along. How do they know the words? Playing our third song we jumble a couple words and chords, god dammit. I’m super annoyed at myself. Yeah, these are our songs but we wrote some songs that have some tricky wordplay and chords that if you lose a second, your lost for the rest. We bounce back with the next song and the room is forgiving. We introduce “stronger than steel” with an invitation for folks to waltz on the dance floor while we play. As the song starts a bunch of women in ball gowns all start spinning and swirling in front of us. It truly is a magical site.
Tackling the hardest song of the set “hero of Canton”, where Tracy and I are singing different stories in a call and response manner - we nail it. This song is so complicated that neither Tracy nor I can actually listen to the other singing during the song because the words weave together and then go their own way and the chords twist this way and that and I’m chuffed. Of course I break a string in the middle of a song and I finish up on my Takamine 6 string* and we finish strong and it’s great. We head over to our merch table and we sell out of our cds. We start selling our USB sticks as well. I have to go out to the car and search around for a few more cds, we have 3 more in the car and we sell those too. There’s talk about next year’s Browncoat Ball being in Reno and we may be playing there and the year after about maybe being in Indiana and would we play that? There’s an after party to rival the Foo Fighters after party. There are bottles of stuff going around, shots and libations. I down my fifth bottle of water and we’re regretting not taking them up on the hotel room they offered us. It’s an hour drive back to my mom’s house. We say good night and bid adieu. Stay shiny Browncoats. xo
*I’ve decided I do not like this guitar. The neck is frustratingly narrow compared to my Gibson. The Tak 12 string is great but the 6 string needs more wood.
Tour Diary - Days 3-6 - Sept 12-16
Part of our visit back east was to attend my cousin Amy’s wedding and it was a great one. Just absolutely beautiful. I had never been to Notre Dame Academy in Tyngsboro (even though I had at least one girlfriend from there) I will bitch about Catholic Churches not believing in air conditioning. What’s with that? I started sending pics to my female friends that went to ND to which Julie told me a story about the furniture in the old library and after the wedding I got escorted down to see what she was talking about. Turns out that in the 25 or so years since she was a student here, they changed the furniture. Oh well, I’m always up for an obscure adventure.
The piano player during the service was fantastic and was the same piano player at the reception. I got to talk to her for a minute and we both complained about how out of tune the church piano was! But she was great, even took my request to play “Lara’s theme” from Doctor Zhivago on the baby grand at the reception. It’s great to see family and watching my uncle break out into a choreographed dance with my cousin just put me over the top. I got hit with a strong bit of melancholy missing my Dad and how much he would have loved the day. It was beautiful. Post wedding we’re back at my Mom’s and trying to get some sleep for our flight to Iceland on Monday. Our flight isn’t until later so we try to extend our rental car return by 90 minutes but Avis insists that that will cost us an extra $158. That’s straight up bullshit that we will not abide. We have a nice visit with family for a brunch and Tracy and I run around packing and unpacking. It’s a strange trip having to have clothes for shows, a wedding and a Browncoat Ball. We do not need all these clothes with us in Europe so my Mom is going to box up what we don’t need and mail it back to us in California. Because of the shitholes at Avis we are several hours early for our flight. How early? The ticket and check in for Iceland Air doesn’t even have anyone working at it for another 90 minutes.
At Logan Airport we end up having unusual conversations with strangers and it wasn’t even me starting the strange conversations this time! The first is a small guy from New Jersey that spoke with the gentlest voice. He was so sweet and I felt so bad for him. “Boston has to be the rudest town I’ve ever been to.” He says and then goes on to tell us how he was just hear to drop his daughter off at Berkeley College of Music and he rented a car to help get her situated and kept asking Boston Police where he could park and they were exceptionally rude and nasty to him. He got 3 parking tickets even after moving to where they told him to park. We went out of our way to listen to him and be nice. Dude needed it. Then “I like your Elizabeth Warren sticker” he says motioning to my guitar case. “I feel safe talking to you.” and we learn all about this guy who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 8 years old in 1952 from Germany. He was flying back to Germany to visit friends. He is still in touch with and friends with kids from when he was 8 years old. He talks freely about how he was “One of Adolf’s kids” having been born in 1944 and the terror of the trump years in America and it’s lingering legacy. He’s one of those wise old dudes that you could talk to forever but we part as the ticket booth opens up.
We land in Iceland very early. I think it was like 5 am? Maybe earlier. I forget. The Iceland airport is not close to the city or our hotel. It is somewhat annoying because it is a 45 minute bus or taxi ride into the city but I get it that they built the airport someplace where it wouldn’t bother residents with flights at any time of day. It’s clever and nice for residents of Iceland but somewhat a pain in the ass for travelers as you have to wait for a bus or spring for a pretty costly taxi ride like we do. Our hotel lets us check in early so we are getting nearly an extra day here just because we can go sleep now for a few hours before we go to the Blue Lagoon.
Blue Lagoon? what’s that you ask? 100 degree mineral pool. Something I never thought I’d ever do or see. Tracy is amazing for finding things like this and she even books us dinner reservations at Lava, the restaurant connected to the Blue Lagoon and we feast on some amazing food and drink while looking out over the lagoon. We start with Lagoustine soup which is like lobster bisque but lighter and absolutely delicious. More wine and it’s a perfect Anniversary dinner. We take the bus back to the hotel and sleep for 12 hours. The weather reports say it’s going to rain all day in Reykjavik so we wear our raincoats but it is sunny and beautiful all day. We walk all around downtown, take in a modern art exhibit that is truly modern and truly testing the flexibility of the word “art”. We stop by a coffee shop called Rost and are the only folks there having the perfect timing of being between all rushes, end of summer, before tourists, after tourists - perfect for us. Then we walk over to Fly Over Iceland. It’s a new amusement type of ride like the “Soaring over California.” It’s a fantastic take and then we walk back to the city center, have a glass of wine with an appetizer of fried cauliflower which is way better than you can imagine. We sit watching skateboarders and bicyclists cursing by. Admire some great punk rock folks and a couple of goths in the city center where there is an unofficial skate park. We’ve done a bit of walking so we hitch a taxi back the last 1.5 miles to our hotel. Dinner tonight starts with Reindeer Terrine. It’s delicious as is the Cod and more wine. It’s an early night as we have our alarms set for 3:30 am to catch the 4 am bus to the airport and the 7 am flight to Frankfurt. Bis bald.
Tour Diary Day 7, Sept 17, 2021
We are ahead of schedule today. This is rare. The Marriot in Frankfurt has a breakfast buffet that is for real and super Covid organized. They have disposable gloves for everyone to use around the buffet, everyone is masked and like Stefan would say - this place has everything. It’s a short taxi ride to the Hauptbanhof and we’re early waiting on the 9:42 train to Dortmund. We leisurely check the board and they have listings for every train coming through. Our seats are in car 7, seats 101 and 102 (the quiet seats) and we can see from the board that that car will be up by the C platform. So organized. The miles roll by in a train. Tracy and I watch the new Ted Lasso episode and play cribbage. I love traveling by train. Then it’s off to the Hertz to get our rental for the two weeks and check into our hotel for the evening. Marco, from Wohnzimmer, has booked us both (Tracy and I AND The Odd Birds) a nice little hotel room for the night. You read that right American musicians - the venue put us up for the night. We meet up with the Odd Birds and hear about their adventures getting here - including being fleeced a bit by a car rental company. Bastards. Ron skinning his knee and nearly tore his best pajama pants. Wait, sorry, they weren’t pajama pants and I have to stop giving him a hard time about his choice of pants.
At Wohnzimmer live im Piepenstock we see Marco. Marco is the king (König) of Dortmund. He’s a bear of a man who hugs and loves big. We soundcheck and he feeds us Frikadellen and pretzels and we devour them. The room is small and it doesn’t take many people to make a crowd in here. I notice Thomas is here. He saw Riddle & The Stars play here in 2017 and is wearing his Riddle & The Stars shirt. That is the kind of thing that you see and immediately just feel warm and cozy. Tonight will be good. The Odd Birds go on first and they sound fantastic. I so love how their new album came out and hearing them play those songs live, really for the first time pretty much - the songs really find their home. They get some good hootin and hollerin’ going on during their set. They go over well and I think they are having fun.
Then Tracy and I are setting up and are just about ready to start when Marco pauses us and goes outside and yells at the smokers to come back in because we’re starting. Have you ever heard or seen anything like that before? The bar owner making sure patrons don’t miss the beginning of the show. Crazy, right? Tracy and I play pretty well tonight. The sound is great. Tracy is playing through Marco’s 4x10 Trace Elliot bass amp and a bass that Marco bought in America and brought back to Germany. It was a weird 70’s design, neck through the body like an Aria Pro II and a single humbucker. (I know, guitar geek stuff) And it sounded amazing. I had my second signal running through a Mesa Boogie amp (!!!!) and it sounded great too. What a room! We get a great sing along going, folks are digging it. When I sing Mexican Home the room is completely silent. We finish big with Angelia and then Jolene (with Jen joining Tracy on harmonies) and when we let the chords ring out - three of Dortmund’s finest walk through the door. They see it’s me and Tracy and not even a drummer and kind of talk to Marco for a minute and then leave. We figure this is the end. Marco closes the front door and then the chant of “Zugabe Zugabe!!” (Encore, encore!) Usually when the police show up, that means no more but not here. The police leave and we play an encore and everyone sings along “Mama said it’d be alright.” And it is.
Tour Diary Day 8, Sept 18, 2021
I set my alarm for 6:30 am. I wake up on my own at 6:15 am. That’s just how it is for me when I’m touring. I’m excited by every day and have energy to spare. This is how it feels when you’re doing what you love to be doing. I mean, it’s still not easy but at least when I’m touring I feel like my skill set is aligned with my purpose. Just by me stirring, Tracy wakes up. We are showered and ready for breakfast at the hotel by 7:10 am except this is a weekend and the weekday schedule of breakfast at 6:30 has switched to the weekend hours of 7:30. We load the car and then head to breakfast. We are ahead of schedule. Today we are playing in Verden. The town of horses. The town where our friend Jeannette books us and also about 50 meters away from where my guitar broke 3 years ago. I’m not superstitious, are you? Before we get to Verden we have to make a stop at Niklas’ rehearsal space where we have stashed Tracy’s bass amp, Jaguar bass, my telecaster and Niklas’ Fender blues jr for me to borrow. The ride from Dortmund to Bremen is not bad, I’ve done it loads of times but today the 3 hour drive takes a bit longer with construction and Stau. (Stau is German for “shitty shitty traffic”) I swear, I’ve never gotten to a gig in Verden on time. No matter what time it is, something is going to monkey the wrench and make me late.
Niklas sends me info on how to get into his rehearsal space and I feel like I’m solving an escape room with the instructions of a combination to a locked mail box, a combination for the lock inside the mailbox and the keys in there, the walk thru darkened hallways and then boom, there it is. Easy. We’re supposed to be in Verden for noon time. We left Dortmund at 8 am, Bremen is on the way. We get to Verden at 12:20. I hate being late for shit. We find parking near the Woolworths (yep, there’s a Woolworths here!) and walk across the large pedestrian city center. There’s the Rathaus on one end, Dom Verden on the other end. Loads of shops and folks out enjoying the overcast weather. There’s been a few sprinkles but it looks like it’s going to hold off. Before I can even get to the side of the stage a man in a bright green t-shirt is waving at me and runs up for a hug. It’s Ingolf. A big teddy bear of a dude who is always smiling and laughing. He is ready to video the show and is excited to see us. Then we see Jeanette, Paul, Sonja, Sonja’s mom… It’s so wonderful to see these folks that I’ve only been seeing during my livestreams. Then I see Norbert and Barbara who buy two of my vinyl records and way over tip saying that that is a tip for all my live stream shows! So sweet! Ron and Jen arrive and we all settle in to get ready to play.
Today’s stage is set up in the city center, there’s a large cement “stage” that is several feet off the ground with steps leading up to it. Jeannette arranges a show here once a month and they have a pro sound system, an easy up canopy, chairs set up for the audience - it’s crazy, once a month they wheel in this whole stage set up, put on a show then break it down and drive it away. They love supporting the local music. There is also a 16 year old girl playing today who does wonders with a looping pedal and does a killer cover of the Police’s “every breath you take.” I didn’t catch her name but good looping is hard and she has definitely practiced. As the Odd Birds set up I go and get a couple of cups of tea for us and hearing their voices echo across that vast stoned city center is truly beautiful. It’s a short set as things are running a little bit behind and then Tracy and I take the stage and just play the requests we got. I start to introduce an option of songs “We were thinking of playing either APB…” “APB APB APB!!!” the man in front shouts. Ok, Ingolf, we will play APB for you. BTW - Ingolf is not an easy name to put in that song.
There’s a great catch up with folks after the show. We catch up with….I’m blanking on her name, she used to own Borbetta - a small store that used to be at the far end of the pedestrian walkway where Riddle & The Stars had one of their best house concerts of all time. It’s so good to see her as we haven’t seen her in years. Then Sonja talks to me about the Milow show later this week. I tell her that I’m pretty excited about it and she says she had difficulty getting tickets and then while we were playing she tried to buy tickets to that show and the website said the show was canceled. Huh. How about that. I put a message into my booking guy and he doesn’t know anything about it either. Milow has scrubbed the date from his website as has the venue. No mention of it at all. The site where you buy tickets is still up but won’t let you buy tickets. Eh, these things happen and weirdly, I kind of thought it would happen. I had another show booked that night that I never technically canceled, I was just going to have the Odd Birds play without me and now that’s not even an issue. Weird how just anticipating things falling apart, lets other things stay together. That makes sense in my head.
Post gig I drag Tracy, Jen and Ron to downtown Bremen for an Arabic rollo. I don’t anticipate how exhausted everyone is from all the driving and show and stuff - I tend to just go go GO! Until I crash. Everyone else is crashing in front of me. Today I was too much for them. Sorry. Downtown Bremen is packed with people and…police trucks? They don’t seem to be doing much but they are everywhere. Just another Saturday night in the big city. Ron and Jen go find their AirBnB and Tracy and I head to our hotel.
I’m pretty excited as I booked a place with a pool and remembered to bring my bathing suit and everything. The hotel is super swanky nice and I ask about the pool - it’s out of service because of Covid and suddenly I feel like Daniel Larusso when they look at the pool in the Karate Kid. It’s a Saturday night, we’ve already played today, Tracy is beat so I leave her in the hotel with room service and walk to a laundramat. There’s one that’s only .6 miles away. I have some energy left to burn. I find the laundramat but the hours posted are different from the scribbled sign that says closed and I walk another .6 miles in the other direction and go wash our clothes. On my walk back I realize that I forgot to have dinner. Maybe tomorrow. Watching the clothes go by, watching the clothes go by, watching the clothes go by. Thanks Chrissie Hynde - I never got that song until I toured.
Tour Diary Day 9, Sept 19, 2021
Wow. Where to begin. Again I am wide awake at 6:30 am but I don’t want to go down to breakfast alone so I force myself back to sleep and end up sleeping until 10. I guess I needed the sleep. We’re up and moving about and getting ready. I restring both my guitars for today’s show and we’re out the door before 1 pm. Today we are playing Heike’s Garden Party. I’ve been looking forward to this show for a few years now. Friends of mine have all played her garden but it never worked out timing wise for me. I’ve been to her garden for a party after Breminale a few years ago. I remember tequila and Kyrie, Kiah, Tom and Kaurna Cronin and Todd King of the Tramps and I feel like I might have started a dance party with “groove is in the heart”…
The garden is outside of the city and absolutely adorable and Heike is a big music fan and throws amazing parties and I think she might even still have my mandolin. I’ve been telling Tracy about the garden for a few years now and she’s been annoyed to have missed it in the past. The garden has a large hedge that goes all around and you can’t see into the garden from the street. We park outside and can hear my voice coming from the other side of the hedge. She’s playing my cds. The stage is set with mats down on the grass, a large umbrella overhead, lights wind around the umbrella, there’s snacks of chocolate (Gefüllte Lebkuchenheren) and pizza scones, (!?!) a kettle of tea… Heike greets us with big hugs and it’s like an oasis here. She promises us it won’t rain even though the gray clouds are all overhead.
Petra is here early and gifts us a Hachez chocolate (her grandfather used to work there and she always brings me some) and a bottle of wine. We make plans to open the bottle post gig and drink it together. I start setting up the PA and equipment and the Odd Birds show up. I mean seriously, everywhere we go - they are there too. They are like a bad penny.* And then friends just keep showing up. There’s more Riddle & The Stars t-shirts and smiling friends all around. It’s been two years since I’ve been to Bremen and this feels like a homecoming of sorts. It’s absolutely amazing to me how I feel like I have this whole community of friends and fans on the other side of the world from where I live. I’ve been playing here so many years now that we even talk about clubs we used to play but are gone now. Other bands and performers, everyone knows that I don’t leave my guitars in the car anymore - it really feels like family. Tracy and I do a quick soundcheck and then we set up the Odd Birds and they sound fantastic today. Like really great. I’m loving the blending of their guitars and their vocals just soar on top of them. Everyone digs them and that makes me happy as I was telling Ron and Jennifer that folks would love them.
I don’t remember a ton about our set, it went by so fast for me but I know we played over an hour and I know that our cover songs went from John Prine to AC/DC and that range seems incredibly accurate for us. I look around while we’re playing and watch people singing along. I catch one person crying during a sad song. This is the kind of show that ruins you for playing gigs in the states. Everyone in this garden is listening to every word we sing and singing along and I love them for it. The sing along for APB is off the charts, Jen singing with us for Jolene is incredible. Heiko joining us for Long way to the top is the tops. I look over and see Mona Li singing along with most of the songs and I wish I could’ve figured out a way to bring her on stage to sing with us - she sings with me sometimes when Tracy isn’t with me. After the show I meet a young guy from Afghanistan who has brought along to the show by a friend and has recently taken up the guitar and he’s wondering how long it takes to get good. I tell him that you just have to keep playing and book shows as soon as you get stuff together. He asks how old I was when I started playing and booking shows. I tell him I was 17 when I got my first guitar and I was 17 when I played my first show. He asks “was it good?” I say “no, we were terrible! But we kept playing anyway!” He likes Metallica and we talk about the song “nothing else matters.” Probably the best Metallica song there is.** I could go on and on just about the stories we all shared tonight — there’s now so much shared history among us all. I wish I could bring everyone along to experience this kind of thing but it’s impossible unless I write a book. We open the bottle of wine and clink glasses. We eat the delicious chocolate. We sell cds, records and USB sticks and sign our names on them. We make plans for next year and when nearly everyone is gone - Heike brings out dinner for us. Homemade schnitzel with veggies and sauerkraut and more wine and more conversation. I’m going to go to sleep now and dream of returning next year.
*How’s that Paul? You wanted a little rivalry between bands - that’s the best I can do because really, we adore them.
**Shut it Nick G. It’s the best Metallica song for people who don’t think the band did anything decent after Cliff Burton died.
Tour Diary Day 10, Sept 20, 2021
It’s a leisurely start to the day…sort of. Tracy is flying back to L.A. tomorrow morning and so she has to get a Covid test today to return to the U.S. There’s a Covid testing site that is about a 15 minute walk from us and she makes an appointment for 9 am. They have this process down. She is in the door before 9, out the back door in 5 minutes and emailed the negative results within the half hour. Then we decide to go be tourists for a while. We walk to downtown Bremen, point at the “#MOIN” sign, find ourselves around the corner from the Bremen musicians, there’s a line of folks waiting to touch them - we’ve done that before, this time we stand far away and use forced perspective to make it look like we’re touching them and then we walk down to the Schnoor, which is like the oldest section of Bremen. It has the narrowest street in the city which is like barely wide enough to walk down. We get a couple of little presents for family and then go get absolutely fantastic döner kebab mit Pommes.
After that we’re messaging with Ron and Jen and realize that we’re only about 100 feet away from each other. They are out being tourists today too. It’s nice and relaxing. We opt to take a tram back to the Hauptbanhof and then the tram breaks down and we end up having to walk anyway. We’re getting out steps in today for sure. We do have a show tonight. It’s a quiet house concert get together with Petra and Heinz-Günther. They are part of the Delmonhorst Theater group and I’ve been doing a regular house concert type thing with them for a few years now. In normal times they would open up their warehouse space (where they store all their theater props and have parties) and we would bbq and perform there but tonight is in their house with just a small group of folks and it’s intimate. We don’t even use a PA. Tracy has her bass amp turned way down, I only have my amp on when using the fancy effect sounds. The story telling gets way out of hand and it’s a good time. Two sing alongs, requests and watching them sing along with us - it doesn’t get any better than that. Oh and they also had a buffet of food for us and their guests. I am falling asleep as I type this but believe me it was schön! We make plans for next time, give big loving hugs and say Tschüss.
Tour Diary Day 11, Sept 21, 2021
Early day with a drive to Hamburg airport to drop Tracy off. She’s leaving me in Germany to finish the last two weeks of my tour alone.
I’ve been doing solo touring for a while now and I do really like it but when she’s with me I am much happier of course. Driving away from the airport I’m hit with the loneliness one can only feel when their love is flying away coupled with the guilt of actually still loving what I do for work even though it requires me to be away from her.
This is how we end up with songs like “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” It’s funny, that song is such an AM radio staple and written so beautifully by John Denver* that every musician hears the words and knows this song intimately.**
The drive back from the airport is considerably easier than the drive there except I am having a terrible time with reception for my phone/gps/music. Sometimes I think it’s the car just not recognizing the usb cable, so I switched out cables, still no better. Siri is a bit spotty. These are issues I have not had previous and when playing music from my phone it will play, stop, play stop, play, stop for a while and then start playing again. It takes 30 minutes to hear the first song off of “Rough Mix” and that song is only 4 minutes long.
Back at the hotel I rent a bicycle and ride to the city to get lunch. I can’t say I don’t understand it but it is interesting that when I feel alone I seek out easy comfort food and today that is Burger King. I seem to only eat Burger King when I’m alone and traveling in Europe. I promise not to make a habit of it but it is easy and tastes pretty much the same everywhere so there is that.
I’m playing in Walsrode tonight which is about an hour outside of the city in a quaint little town. There’s a church there that I have played before. The Pastor, Bernd, is a sweetheart of a guy with many, seemingly, conflicting layers to him. First, he’s a pastor, then he’s also a whisky connoisseur with a collection of bottles unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Then he’s also a lover of not just music but progressive metal with an extensive cd collection too.
The town is super quiet and I think I only pass a two cars from the Autobahn to the church. Bernd forwarded me an article in the local paper promoting the show and it’s nearly a full page of the paper about me. I may be small in the big places but I’m big in the little places.
I move a few chairs around to set up the PA and dial in the room. It is not a place for fast songs with fast lyrics. The slow and spacey are going to win the day here. Ron and Jen are wondering about their song “alright now” and if it’s too fast. I advise them that it’s pretty much their only fast song and it will be fine.
Bernd shows up and he shows me the new changes to the church. Hell, anything done within the last 180 years would be new to this church. It was built on the site of the original church that burned down in like 1800 or so and this one was built in about 1825. There’s a big pipe organ and seating up stairs and a pulpit that sits atop a winding spiral staircase. Oh, and the new changes - they installed lights in the floor! They change color from white to red, blue, amber and finally - Green. This is also the only remaining church with a descending angel for baptisms. Bernd explains that it became out of fashion to have these angels and was considered “kitschy” but this church still has it and it hovers right over where we will be performing.
I set up Ron and Jen and get them dialed in and the people start coming and we get a decent crowd intently listening to everything. I wander around the room and they are sounding great from everywhere. They both have great, individual voices but when they blend in harmony - it just fills this little church with a beautifully melodic wash of sound. I’m also secretly happy that I’ve figured out how to EQ Ron’s guitar. It’s a great guitar with a weird body sensor type pickup that has some low/mid rumble to it and with the LR Baggs venue DI I’m able to zero in on it and clean it up.***
Sonja and her mother have both made the drive out for the show and they have brought us gifts of Franzbrötchen and it’s exactly what I need before the show.
This is my first show on this tour without Tracy and I try a couple things in soundcheck that I then completely forget about when I start playing. I was going to do “heading south” with the looper and e-bow. Forgot. Was going to end with “easy chair” and have Ron and Jen join me. Forgot. But I did have a good show. We did a sing along, When I played Mexican Home I unplugged and just played in the room with no amplification and it sounded amazing. I started walking down the aisle and then realized I should stay further away from folks during covid times when I’m singing - just out of politeness. And as I finish singing that song I notice two people wiping tears away. Wow. That song hits me hard too - that’s the power of music right there.
Jen joins me for 2 songs and sings great and it’s a nice impromptu little thing we may have to do more of.
I clearly remember the last time I was here thinking “well, I don’t think I’ll ever make it back here again.” It just seemed so weirdly out of the way and remote that I was happy to have seen it the one time and as I’m finishing up my set I get an encore and I decide to close with The Rolling Stones “no expectations” that features the lyric “I’ve got no expectations to pass through here again.”
Did I mention I stood on a chair for a guitar solo and ran around the church during another one? Oh, yeah. I did that stuff too.
We pack up, sell and sign some cds and it’s a great end to…wait! Bernd has invited us back to his house for a post gig snack and some whisky!
He lives about 100 meters down the road in a house that is literally overflowing with bottles of whisky. He tells me to put some music on the stereo while he makes food. I open the CD player to find MY cd in there and I take it out and put on Kaurna Cronin’s Glass Fool album and just hearing his voice in the room with us makes it feel even cozier.
I’m not much of a whisky drinker (like at all) and I know Tracy is bummed for missing this show as the last time we were here he picked out a bottle from the year she was born for her to try. Tonight he has gotten a new bottle of 18 year old Glenmorangie Scotch Whisky and I have two thimblefuls of it. Then there’s another bottle from Taiwan that is very complex and tasty and he brings out Zupfbrot - tear away bread cooked in the oven and it is amazing too.
We sit and discuss progressive music, progressive politics, progressive church policies - all in all a very progressive night. We end with Armen Anthony Lucassen’s “Lost in the new real” cd playing. If you don’t know it - look it up. It’s a trip.
Bidding Bernd goodnight we promise to return and this is the darkest town I’ve been in, in a long time. We need phone flashlights to see our way back to the cars. The drive isn’t far but I’m glad to have only had a taste of the whisky as I am tired. I have to follow Ron and Jen to the highway as my GPS is not finding any signal for quite a while. That’s disconcerting.
Crawling into bed I contemplate trying to stay awake to write this tour diary, I nearly complete the thought before I fall asleep.
*Absolutely my favorite John Denver song. So many of his songs are about nostalgia and how good things used to be that they drive me crazy. But his songs that are not like that, I love. See also: Calypso.
**Not unlike the song “Lady” by Kenny Rogers. Although less well known, it does capture the desperation of the lonely musician and the loving, supportive wife that he knows he doesn’t deserve.
***Reminder to check in with LRBaggs about that endorsement deal.
Tour Diary Day 12, Sept 22, 2021
This is gonna be a weird one. This is a first - I have to block someone from reading today’s diary.
I slept in today, made it to breakfast by 10 am. Sorted some stuff and had a short meeting with Heiko. Was good. I met him at the warehouse where he has downsized the footprint of the Songs & Whispers stuff to nearly nothing. My crap was some of the last bits he had in there. (and Nico’s telecaster) There’s still a good number of cds and vinyl compilation album “My baby wrote me a postcard” that Riddle & The Stars is on. (So I took 5 copies of that too!)
About 5 years ago we toured over here and I brought an old typewriter case for selling cds in and it’s still mostly filled with Fallen Stars and Riddle & the Stars cds. As well as my soldering iron, harmonica holder, stuff for screen printing t-shirts, stickers, random tools, Ben Riddle’s scarf and gloves…
And a melodica, a pedalboard, some pedals, the lap steel that Roman made me. Jesus, I’m like a pack rat that collects stuff and leaves it behind. What is that called? I don’t know.
I make plans with some friends for later tonight, get some dinner, grab a drink and catch up. There’s a fan of mine that has been messaging me for a while now. I met her at a show a couple years ago and she’s been to a bunch of my shows. She is very nice, albeit a bit intense. I get long private messages from her in my inbox. I know way too much about her private life and previous marriages. I’m generally very polite but short with her because I am not her therapist. I’m just a guy that sings songs that she thinks she knows.
She has been trying to get time with me all week and I haven’t been rude but it’s also not something I’m generally comfortable with. She knows I’m married and nothing has suggested that this is any kind of romantic inclinations. But she has also told me that she had a dream about me being in her English ASL and speaking /singing to her class. And then she asks me to come speak to her English ASL class to which I tell her I am busy that day.
I am continually firm without being mean.
Today she starts messaging me “I know that you have tonight off, where can we meet for drinks?”
I know that my friends will be there so this is safe. We’re going to be hanging out at an outdoor bar, everyone is vaccinated, easy. I tell her we are getting together a bit later than we are, just so my friends and I will have time together.
She shows up 30 minutes earlier than I tell her.
She took over every conversation. She talked over everyone else and went on and on about her previous marriages and how she couldn’t get a U.S. work visa during Covid for her work (she’s a pastry chef) and was generally oblivious to the fact that she talked at me while drowning out everyone else’s conversation to the point where my friends all moved away and left her talking at me. I didn’t say much of anything, there was no space to say anything. None of the conversation involved me.
I used every polite conversational device I know, tried to include others, tried to steer the conversation to other topics, excused myself, tried talking to other friends, nothing worked she talked over them and by the end of the night it was just her talking at me about the minutia of her life. We’re talking days and dates specifics to events and it is draining - it was like I was an unpaid therapist that she thinks she knows intimately because of being a fan of me and my music.
I’m just a singer / songwriter. I’m not equipped to help you with your life, I’ve barely got my own wheels on the road.
I can’t take anymore so I tell everyone that I am leaving. It’s 1.5 miles back to my hotel and I don’t want her to think she can share the cab or hop in or anything so I say I’m walking back to my hotel. Because I’m fairly open about things on FB, she knows where I’m staying. I try to hide away after we say our goodbyes but when I turn the corner she is with Mona and is saying she doesn’t want to walk to the train station alone at 11 pm. So I walk her to the train station, the whole time she is telling me stories about times in her past when guys were hitting on her.
We get to the train station and she says “I can walk you to your hotel, it’s just behind the Hauptbanhof.” Oh yeah, she knows where I’m staying. “But then you will have to walk back alone.” “I don’t mind.” And she walks me to the door of the hotel. I tell her goodnight and she leaves.
I’ve never been sure about much in my life but I’m pretty sure she wanted me to invite her in.
Here’s the thing though - I’m not a famous musician, I’m barely known anywhere. This is uncomfortable. I’ve spent most of my adult life working hard to make fans and connect with an audience and you don’t want to be mean to anyone who is a fan. She completely drained me of all my energy. I’m usually pretty good with boundaries but she didn’t take a single hint and just steamrolled right over every single one I tried to put up and I couldn’t bring myself to be mean but now I know that’s probably the only boundary she would understand.
Shit I didn’t even get to tell you how I tricked Ron and Jennifer into drinking Krabbel die Wand hoch! (Climbing up the walls) or randomly bumping into Niklas Herzog and didn’t even get a picture with Nik, Sam Barnard and Mona Li!! That was the touring band in 2019!!! Jesus I was distracted.
Tour Diary Day 13, September 23, 2021
(Written on my phone in a laundromat in Bremen)
Driving to Kühlingsborn should be my main priority but of course I have other things happening too. Yesterday I picked up a bunch of stuff from the s&w warehouse and I’m making arrangements for where to store this stuff until I return next year.
This is all predicated on the kindness of other people. The community of folks here in Bremen that have become my friends still blows me away. I have regular conversations about it with my other new friends that I have toured with over here. I had to buy a small PA system for shows here and for everything that we have done - a <€300 system has worked great. Is it the best PA system in the world? Hell no. But when all you’re putting through it is acoustic and vocals it doesn’t need a lot. It makes us louder. That’s it. Nothing fancy. You just set it up in a way so you can hear it while you’re performing as well.
It’s a 4 channel pa with two ten inch speakers. The reverb knob is there but it doesn’t do much. I fine tune the acoustic with my DI pedal and set up the mic so that I am not singing right on top of it and violá done. It cost €225. And then 2 mic stands and 4 cables.
But I can’t take it with me on a train and I can’t take it with me on a plane so it needs a home when I’m not here. I ask Heike if it can live at her place and it can also function well for when she has her garden shows - I tell her that anyone can use it and I also talk to Nico Rivers (who is returning next year) and he has interest in borrowing it as well. Maybe he’ll chip in a few bucks to rent it or be a co-owner, maybe not. Whatever.
And I have this typewriter case that I completely forgot about. We brought it here many years ago and it’s full of Fallen Stars cds and Riddle & The Stars cds and a bunch of other stuff. Mona has said I could leave some stuff in her flat so I work hard to compress it all down into this one box so it can just stay in the corner or act as a step stool or something to sit on - seriously, it’s that sturdy a box and heavy. This box is something I hadn’t planned on but I have detailed all the contents and now can figure it into what I do next time.
So the morning is spent just organizing stuff, counting inventory and documenting. I tell myself “this is still rock and roll” and even I don’t believe me.
Mona’s flat is nice and I re-meet her roommate. I drop off the typewriter case and slide it into the corner of her music room and then we go get a bite and have a proper catch up. She shows me her face mask wall where she has it broken down into 7 days and has masks she can wash and always be using a new or fresh mask. It’s a simple organizational things she has done and I feel woefully deficient in this area. This is the new reality, we better adapt. She is not afraid of change. Over lunch we cover world politics as well as her helping me understand some of the details of the current election going on here. She is very involved locally and it’s inspiring. We talk about Angela Merkel and Covid as well as human dynamics during a pandemic and my worldview grows again. We make plans for next tour having some shows where she joins me on stage as well.
We walk back from getting the best pizza I’ve ever had in Germany and I realize that I should have left for Kühlingsborn about an hour ago.
Sometimes you can make up time on the autobahn, sometimes you can’t. I had hoped to be there by 5 but now it will be 6.
It’s alright. I know the set up and the pa sets up quickly and easily. I let Ron and Jen know my new eta and get motoring.
Now for some reason my phone has not been connecting to gps or to a signal while traveling and my leaving is delayed another 5 minutes waiting for enough gps signal to drive. This is frustrating and I must remember to complain to T- Mobile.*
Kühlingsborn is a beachside touristy place. It is beautiful. In summer the beach will be full with folks sunbathing and swimming and hanging out in the covered cabana type chairs that they can rent by the day, week, month but today is not a summer beach day. It’s late September on the Baltic Sea and it’s all flung spray and blown spume and I love it.
Inside Tillman Hahn’s Gasthaus I notice some changes but they aren’t entirely apparent, it’s been two years since I’ve been here and it all looks the same but nicer? Come to find out they used some of their forced closing time to re-do the floors and make small upgrades. Nothing too extravagant because they didn’t know how long they’d be closed for.
Tillman greets me with a big hug and it’s great to see him. We are the first international act to play here since… well since covid started.
We set up in the corner and this room is all hard surfaces and small. We clearly don’t need much volume to be heard. Hell it could nearly be done with no mics but it will sound better with some amplification.
I get the Odd Birds dialed in and they sound great again. You can watch them gaining confidence with each performance. This is the first room we play that isn’t a strict “listening room” but it is still mostly that. There’s one table in particular that seems to not care at all that there is entertainment and that’s fine. Most everyone else is listening.
Tillmann asks me what I want to eat after the show and I’m standing next to where the dishes come out to be served and I point at one that I’m pretty sure is steak with a lemon slice on top of it.
The sound in the room is full without being loud and I think that’s best. I make small adjustments in their first song and it is a little smoother sounding now.
They play a great hour set filled with their country-ish songwriting and some covers and the folks dig them.
We make the transition to my set and something I didn’t notice while setting them up is the weird hollowness of the sound in the corner of this room. It may sound fine out front but it’s weird on stage. Not bad per-se but next time I know that I will set the speakers up differently. Probably directly behind me instead of the cris cross of sound waves that happens right in front of me.
I don’t do any big songs tonight. I keep it mellow. It suits me here tonight and I think it suits the room as well. It’s the first time I haven’t played APB on this run and afterwards I kind of regret that because it is a song that connects me with the audience thru sing along.
After the show Tillmann sets a table for us and brings out our meals. This meal is worth the ride alone. I have a big piece of steak and potatoes that look like they are mashed and then sliced into layers and a collection of root vegetables and it is amazing. Ron has fettuccine and Jen has lamb. Their meals look great too.
Tillmann joins us for dinner and we get more great conversation, we talk world politics as well as about the upcoming German election and it’s really fascinating to learn about things like this on a ground level. I thought I had an extremely basic understanding of some aspects of German politics and I am pleased to find out that I did understand it correctly coming from two different points of view.
Sitting with a chef who clearly knows his shit is also great. We talk about hand making Spätzle and how he makes goulash (60 liters at a time!) and secrets of the onion and seasoning. I mean, how often do you sit with someone and just learn?
What’s that thing about listening more and talking less?
We make our goodbyes and pack up. The wind is really howling now. I run over to take a last look at the sea and the waves are really crashing now. It blows my hood up and the noise of the wind on my hood is powerful. I breathe in the salt air one last time and run back to my car.
There are leaves and branches blown down on the road. I filled the tank on the way here and I’m glad for that forethought as nothing is open on this long stretch thru the dark forests of northern Germany.
I get back to my hotel at 4 am. Sleep comes easy.
*In the moment this seems like a good idea but I of course won’t do it. I’d do it right now if I had enough signal but…
Tour Diary Day 14, September 24, 2021
Today is a short one as it was mostly spent driving.
I wake up late, due to the 4 am get in and am rushing around to get things together before I check out. There’s a laundramat around the corner and I rush there to do a load of stuff - I’m full on going commando and no socks doing laundry. I half ass start thinking - I wonder how many more cds I could pack on tour if I didn’t have to pack underwear? It’s definitely a hypothetical and the economics of more cds vs having underwear really doesn’t balance out in my head.
The laundry takes longer than planned as one of the dryers is not working but I hurry and get back to the hotel at 12:33. I was supposed to be out at 12:30 and now my key won’t work. Hustle it down to the front desk, new key, rush back up…take shower - put on underwear…
It’s all good. I get out of the hotel by 12:55.
And then I drive over to Heike’s to drop off my PA. It’s going to live at her place until…whenever I guess. She tells me that she got compliments on how great our concert sounded and that makes me feel really great. It’s a small, inexpensive system but it can be plenty. It’s not like we were running sequencers through it - it’s just acoustic and vocal. She has made a pot of tea and sitting at her place one can actually feel stress leaving the body. I was rushing around and now I feel like I have extra air in my lungs just from the time spent in her garden. Next year I hope to spend more time here.
It still amazes me that places can’t get the simplest set ups to sound good and yeah, there’s specific venues in the states I’m thinking of. I booked a show for the weekend I get back in H.B. and I figured out that I’m going to bring my own pa and then let them take a line out of that. It’s still amazing when you play a place with your acoustic guitar and vocal and the sound is bad. It is nearly the simplest thing to dial in.
I start texting with my buddy Paul today. He and I may be doing a guitar swap. It’s the best kind of trade, straight across from both of us, my guitar for your guitar. He gets a really great Gibson jumbo J100 and I get his Martin HD28. I’ve never been much of a Martin guy but it is a great guitar. We’ll see. It could be good for both of us - which is, again, the best kind of trade.
After I drop off stuff with Heike I start heading to Berlin but not immediately- again I have no GPS signal and have to pull over to the side of the road and into a shopping area, reboot the phone, turn on airplane mode, turn off airplane mode, turn wifi on and off and finally after 15 minutes I have my directions. I reconsider contacting T-Mobile but I really don’t want to talk to anyone. I just want to drive alone in peace. I bring up the Audible app and Chuck Klosterman’s “I wear the black hat” is my driving companion for the next 4 hours.
Now I am in Berlin. I’m going to meet up with Ron and Jen tomorrow, possibly get a new tattoo, busk in Alexanderplatz and eat some delicious doner kebab from Mustafa’s. Oh and were I am staying is about 100 meters away from the last place Riddle & The Stars played in Berlin. There’s no way they will remember me but I will go there for my morning tea.
Tour Diary Days 15-17, Sept 24-26 (Berlin)
The drive to Berlin from Bremen takes a little longer than planned. I was a bit worn out and so I make a pit stop in a rest area and take a nap. It hasn’t been bad this time, I’ve only napped in rest areas twice this trip.
I’m staying in the Prenzleburg section of Berlin and it’s fantastic. I absolutely love it here. There’s little shops up and down the street selling all manner of things and I sit down and enjoy a drink and just chill for a while. The people watching is fantastic. It’s late September so it’s also boot season and the women walking by in fancy boots could be a parade of their own.
The Airbnb I’m staying in is on the second (read: third) floor of an old apartment building. You walk through the massive front doors, through to the courtyard and into the back building and up those stairs to the third floor. All the doors look the same on every floor so I make a mental note that once I see the door with the Heart shaped doormat, I’m the next flight up.
The flat is small and my room is just that, a bed, a desk and chair, a window and that’s it. Perfect for me. Something I’ve been discovering on this trip is that my back is preferring the less fancy beds. This is about a 4” thick mattress on a wooden frame and it’s super comfortable. One night in Iceland, I got down and slept on the floor because the bed was too soft. I know some of you might say “Oh, that’s because you’re getting older…” No. I’ve always been like this.
My only complaint about this stay is I don’t have access to the kitchen or refrigerator. I would’ve loved to just have a little milk so I could make tea but there’s plenty of places on the street where I can do that.
I meet up with Ron and Jen the next day and I’m showing them some Berlin Wall stuffs and they’re digging it. It’s heavy stuff for sure. I fear I may be appearing a bit jaded and may be rushing through stuff a little bit. I’m trying not to but I may have been. At a small antique store we all browse the windows and I go in and buy a bottle/wine opener that says “Made In GDR” and I think that’s pretty cool. We follow the path where the wall went up along Bernauer Strasse and I show them where the Reconciliation Church used to be and the Wall Museum. It’s a lot of walking but we manage. I look at my Fitbit and I cruise right past 20,000 steps.
Dinner is Indian food and then I have some erdebeer (strawberry) sorbet and it’s super tasty. I don’t remember anything else after that. I believe I fell asleep early. There’s a certain calmness that I feel when in Berlin that I can’t quite describe and I have the best night’s sleep yet. (according to my Fitbit)
Sunday morning and nothing is open. It’s funny, even on a week day, walking around this area it’s hard to find a shop open before 10 to get a cup of anything and even if their hours are posted as being open at 10, it might be 10:15 before they are open. This makes zero people mad. It’s just how it is. I walk a ways down and find an open coffee shop and order a hot tea. He brings me cappuccino. I know there’s a language barrier but the the German word for tea is Tee. He returns with some hot tea and I watch the street in the city and just continue people watching.
I meet up with Ron and Jen again and today we’re tackling Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column.* On our way back to the car we end up on the wrong side of the street. And there’s a marathon happening. And we can’t cross anywhere. We get maze routed up the other side of the Tiergarten and right in front of the Riechstag. I do more history lessons and either they are both great actors or they are legitimately enjoying my non-accredited history lessons.**
I’m really enjoying the walking around and I am logging lots of steps, so many I don’t even notice. I have my thing set to ding when I hit 10,000 and I’m typically hitting that by lunch time. On the walk home this night I pass a store with deluxe baby strollers. I mean DELUXE. Are baby strollers typically 1600 euro? I’m shocked the next day when I see someone with one of them. Then I spot a book store with a great bird calendar that I try to buy for Tracy but they are closed.
Now the marathon has created a new problem. We somehow were able to drive to where we parked but are now on a virtual “island” in the middle of the city with all streets blocked off. It takes us over an hour to drive the 3 miles back to the Prenzleburg which honestly takes a lot out of us. We break and decide to meet up for some Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab later.
Now I have waited in line at Mustafa’s for 40 minutes in the rain before. Today it is not raining but we wait an hour for the best doner kebab anywhere. The woman in front of us is from NYC and is struggling with the menu. There are three items. I go over what’s in the three items many, many times with her. She holds up an American 5 dollar bill. “Do you think they will take this?” She has been in line this entire time with us. “No. I say. “But, it’s American money.” I take the 5 dollar bill from her and give her a 5 Euro note. The kebab is 4.30 each. Ron gives me a 10 euro note, they are sharing one and I give him the US 5 spot back as change. I’m not sure how the conversion rate of all that went. I feel like there’s 70 cents of either European or American currency floating in the ether above Mustafa’s.
It’s another early-ish night. I wander the streets a little bit and just take it all in. It’s Sunday night and it’s suddenly come to life around 10 pm. I’m having a car issue, it’s like a door wasn’t shut all the way and it drained the battery. I stress about it and rush around trying to get in touch with Hertz on a Sunday night. I get up, showered and out the door of the Airbnb by 8 am and motor to the Hertz here in Berlin but the problem seems to have fixed itself. Needless worry.
I go back to the same coffee shop and the Pete Townsend song “street in the city” on a working day is in my head. I have a bit of time before I need to head to Lübeck so I go to Alexanderplatz and busk for a little bit. It’s super mellow and I’m getting in a good headspace until I get lost going back to my car. I hit my 10,000 steps looking for my car.
Tonight Tonfink and Lübeck. Tschuess
*as featured in the movie Wings of Desire, one of my favorite movies of all time. Not to be confused with the American bastardization with Nick Cage. The original is slower and more deliberate in all it’s scenes and is amazing and even though I do like that Goo Goo Dolls song, it can’t save that movie.
**There will be no test and I think they both may have audited this course so it’s just pass/fail at the end of the day.
Tour Diary Day 18, 19. September 27, 28, 2021
In the last episode I talked about losing my car. It’s a thing that happens. One time in Cologne my car was missing for nearly an hour as I walked all over looking for it. That was a case of “car-blindness”* I remember walking along and thinking “this looks familiar” and hitting the lock/unlock button on my keychain only to have the car to my right flash lights. I had been standing right next to it.
I get so spun around looking for my car and carrying my guitar and bag that I finally go up to a cab driver and say “Can you just drive me to Alexanderplatz?” And he looks at me like I have 6 heads. “It’s right there. It’s 300 meters ahead. No, I will not drive you.”
And it’s not that I couldn’t find Alexanderplatz. Alexanderplatz is huge and easy to find. I couldn’t find the underground parking garage that I entered from the other side and I had no idea how to explain that.
So I walk back and make my way back and finally find the garage and I’m just mildly annoyed with myself for not setting a pin on my phone like I normally do now for finding my car.
Checking my mail I have a few updates. I have just received a CDBaby royalty payment for $18.10.*** And I’ve also gotten an email from CDBaby saying that they have too many Gypsy Mechanics cds in stock and I need to send them money so they can send it back. Also: “number of cds in stock: 1.” I choose to be amused by this email but it is one of those…urgh moments.
Now Lübeck is a cute little town. It’s technically an island and very picturesque. I was driving so I didn’t take any pictures** and I’m playing Tonfink. This is, I think, the third time I’ve played here and Carolin is super sweet. She advises that Lübeck is very strict with their Covid restrictions and she checks everyone’s card that comes in. I know that I could not have even gotten into Germany without being vaccinated but she still checks my card and the Odd Birds as well. I’m happy to see my favorite dish is still on the menu, Thai Chicken Curry with vegetables and rice. How is it that this place so far away from Thailand makes the best version of this dish that I have ever had? Makes zero sense but I order it and it’s delicious.
There’s a little bit of rain and it feels good. I stand outside and let the drops hit my head and breathe deep. I’m feeling the end of the tour coming.
The Odd Birds open the show and they’re really coming into their own. The folks are loving their harmonies and songs. I join them at the end of their set for some Gram Parsons tunes and it’s a good finish.
My set goes by in a blur. I see some familiar faces and it’s so incredible that I have fans that will come back 2 years later to see me. When it’s time to play APB I am reminded of the last time I played here and the gentleman gave me an impossible name to fit into the song. So I ask the woman in front of me. Marisol. That’s not terrible but it is also not exactly easy either! We get a good sing along going. Jen joins me for a few songs and we sing Mexican Home with no amplification and it’s beautiful.
We pack up and say goodnight. I won’t see Ron and Jen until we’re all back in California and shockingly we have a gig together in Huntington Beach on October 10.
Carolin has arranged a hostel for me to stay at and gives me the keys, address and instructions. Here’s the address but the entrance is on this street and when you walk up to the door, the hostel door is to the right and my room is number 5.
It takes me a few to find the place as Lübeck has redone their streets to one ways and while the place is .2 miles away on foot, it is over a mile away by driving. I end up leaving the island and circling back on. As I approach the building it looks like a sort of cultural center and I’m somewhat confused then I see the hostel to the right of the main doors and it makes more sense. With hostels like this, you are given your keys early and then the folks that work there go home. So I use my key and am in the reception area of the hostel, I look around and it’s not completely obvious as to where the rooms are so I go through the side door and it opens to a large atrium type area and then I hear the click.
The door has locked behind me.
I try my keys and they do nothing. I walk around the room and there’s a few doors that exit to the street but they are padlocked shut.
Yeah, it’s a little Spinal Tap-ish and I laugh and curse out loud because I’m fucking stuck in an empty atrium, there aren’t even chairs to sit on. Everything is locked up and I can’t escape.
Thankfully I grabbed my phone as I got out of the car. My plan had been just to drop my bag and guitar and then go move the car to a parking area but grabbed it at the last second. But there are no phone numbers posted that I can find. I try calling Carolin on her mobile number but the call won’t go through. I send her an email. Then I bring up the website and call Tonfink directly. Carolin answers. I explain my predicament.
“I will try to call the owner but he may be asleep. I will message you on Instagram.”
And we hang up.
I start looking around the room to see if there’s anything I can lean against or sit on to sleep because I’m probably going to stuck here tonight. I check IG. Nothing. Try my keys again. Check IG. Nothing.
Then I get the message that she is coming with the owner to let me out. My harrowing ordeal only lasts about 30 minutes.
They ask how I got in there and I show them. In the dark of the hostel office you can’t really read the sign that says “emergency exit” which is where I went through. My door to my room is actually outside, to the right of the hostel office door. I had gone to the right of the main door but I needed to go to the right of the Hostel main door.
Yeah, probably my fault but I have never stayed at a hostel that had the room doors on the exterior. It’s almost more of a Mostel. Ha! I made that up. Hotel, Motel make you wanna cry. Every damn day. Thanks Bon Scott.
The Mostel is fine, exceptionally Sparten, I sleep easy and set an alarm to be on the road early. I’m thankful that Douglas Adams always reminds me to bring a towel because there are no towels here.**** My rental car needs to be returned in Bremen by noon, I need to drop off some equipment so I’m not traveling by train with more than I can carry and hopefully see some friends before I leave Bremen.
SLIGHT GUITAR GEEK WARNING SECTION FEEL FREE TO SKIP OVER THE NEXT THREE PARAGRAPHS UNLESS YOU ARE INTERESTED IN GUITAR GEEK STUFF
A staple of my guitar set up has been using a Line 6 M9 pedal. It has delays and reverbs and tremolo that I really like. It works great in the band situations that I’m in as I can send a second signal to that pedal with a volume pedal and blend things in a unique way. I use it when I’m solo as well and while it does work great for this and I have it dialed in pretty easily - it is also cumbersome.***** I like it for how it breaks up the acoustic-ness of my shows so it’s not entirely just a dude with an acoustic - because that can be a bit…much. I get it though, I’m just a dude with an acoustic but I try really hard to not be boring.
Don’t mistake this for me thinking others are boring with just an acoustic. This is entirely self directed. Folks like Glen Hansard can play just acoustic and be amazing and I strive for that kind of stage presence.
All this leads me to rethinking what pedalboard things are needed for solo gigs and how I pretty much had it all together before I left and then at the last second went back to the M9 for “security blanket” reasons. And now I am carrying around an M9 and it’s heavy and big and why this matters is because I now have to take it on a train and it requires me to have it and all my cables and cords in a separate bag and it’s one more than I can carry and it breaks my rule about traveling.
It’s about a two hour drive from Lübeck to Bremen and I get to Niklas’ rehearsal space at 10:30 am and drop off the remainder of guitar gear to leave at his place. I have found another hotel that is a five minute walk to the Hauptbanhof in Bremen. I drop off my bags and realize that I have more stuff than I can carry. More things have to go but I need to return this car. Hertz is only about 2.5 miles away from the hotel and I get there with a newly full tank of gas and make the drop off. I picked up this car in Dortmund and am returning it in Bremen. The guy behind the counter in Bremen sees me and says, “Mr. Byrnes, are you back touring Germany again?” I like the little ponds I swim in.
I contemplate taking a cab back but it’s a beautiful day and it’s only a 45 minute walk so I cue up the music and enjoy my last day in Bremen walking back to the hotel. It’s relaxing and the air is crisp as Robbie Fulks sings about Carolina gals in my ears.
Back at the hotel I check messages. I have some running around to do to see folks before I leave. I check with Mona to see if I can leave some more stuff at her place and she agrees. I have a lap steel guitar that Roman made me and it’s just in a cardboard box, I have no way to get it around. Mona is going to mail it to me back in California. It’s frustrating to have something but no way to carry it with you. There’s some other stuff and she is very sweet to take it in for me. I rush over to say hey to Sara who hasn’t been feeling well and she has apple cake and tea ready for me. The visit is very short as Mona has made me an appointment to get my Bremen tattoo today and she stops by and messages me it’s time to go.
I had planned on getting my Bremen key tattoo a couple years ago but the day I had scheduled it for was the day my car got broken into in Bremen and I was not feeling the love of the city that particular day. Today is a good day though.
Gabriel at Born to Lose tattoo is an interesting guy. Born in Argentina he has also lived in Culver City and Upland, CA but now calls Bremen home. We listen to Thin Lizzy live while he tattoos my arm. Tattoo places are amazing places. While the reputation of them being sleazy in tv and movies is ingrained in our thinking - I have never been someplace that wasn’t just amazingly clean and sterilized and this place is no exception. I leave happy with the Bremen key on my left arm.
Mona and her boyfriend Phillip are waiting for me and we go grab a snack and hang out by the river for a few. I feel almost part of “their” story as they tell me how they re-connected at my show at Sendassal a couple years ago. As they tell me the story the details come back to me and I’m reminded to never underestimate the impact you have on people. I think of times when I may have been short with someone or just been in my own head and how that could’ve been interpreted in the wrong way. I’m glad to have not been that way when I first met Philip. And it’s not that I’m a jerk****** but often we only have a small amount of time to make an impression or be in someone’s life. Make sure it’s the right impression.*******
Then I hop on the tram and ride to Gropelinger. It’s a section of Bremen where I used to stay because that’s where the artist flat was located. And it feels like visiting a childhood home almost. I want to get an ice cream at that place on the corner and Özlum is still basically printing money from their döner shop. I get off the tram, cross the street and there’s Falafel König.
I’m greeted by the owner as I walk in. He asks where I’ve been, how I’ve been, are any of my friends with me?******** FK was a regular hangout for all S&W artists after gigs. We’d meet up there for €2.50 Rollos. Heiko and Martina join me tonight and when I order the owner cuts me off and finishes for me.
Me: “I’ll have a number 3…” Him: “kein gherkin, medium spicy.”
Holy shit. He remembered my order after 2 years.
Heiko, Martina and I sit and have a good last catch up and make some potential plans for 2022. I have ideas of what I want to do and I’m already missing being Bremen even while I’m still here. How did this small city in the north west part of Germany become such a pilgrimage for me?
I take the number 10 tram back to the Hauptbanhof and walk to my hotel. This is the best bed of the tour, the second best shower and the fourth best breakfast buffet. Overall 4 stars.
Time to take the train to Vienna.
*I have self diagnosed as well as discovered this affliction. I don’t really notice any cars. An old Porsche 911 will jump out at me and I love Subaru wagons but pretty much every other car just kind of looks the same to me. I will forget what make my rental car is unless I’m looking at it or looking at the key ring. I once drove a car for nearly a month before I knew it was a Ford.
**This makes me think that more than a roadie on tour, I need a personal driver, ah but then I’d end up paying them all the money. Ok, so that won’t work either.
***Right before I left CA I did get a BMI royalty statement for over $1200. Now that’s real money and almost all of it was for European touring royalties from the end of 2019. It is still so much more profitable to tour in Europe than the U.S. it’s insane.
****I may have modified Douglas Adams’ always bring your towel to “always steal a towel from the nicest hotel you stay at.” Bonus points if you then donate this towel to a lesser establishment.
*****Just like that Seven Mary Three song. It’s ok. You can go look it up. Was all over the radio in 199nevermind.
******No matter what my mother calls me.
*******On the flip side - if I ever met Mitch McConnell I’m pretty sure I would not have the ability to be nice to him.
********This is him asking is Barrett Hoffman is here. Barrett was playing drums with Troy Petty and once he found Falafel König- he ate here 3 meals a day for a couple of weeks. The food is cheap and good.
Tour Diary Day 19, Sept 30, 2021
I’m staying with my friends Roman and Barbara here in Vienna, or Wien if you’re speaking the Deutsch. They are amazing and inspiring people. They both speak 3 languages and move around as if their moves are choreographed, one will pick up a thing and the other will replace it and everything just flows like gears of a clock.
Short Guitar Geek Warning for the next paragraph.
Roman has a wall of guitars here and it’s fun to just pull one of the wall and strum a bit. He recently made a Les Paul Jr guitar and I’m shocked by how large the neck is. It is easily the largest guitar neck I’ve ever played but is still very comfortable. Roman is the same age as me and for guitar players, turning milestone ages means getting milestone guitars. He has pre-ordered his from the small company Iris in Burlington Vermont. Custom made acoustic guitars. I spend some time on their website and they are seriously amazing and I like that they are in Burlington, VT - home of one of my other favorite guitar makers (whose guitars I have never played) - Creston Lea. While there are a bunch of guitars here, I can really appreciate the utilitarian-ness of his collection. There’s guitars for specific projects that he plays in. Nothing seems superfluous. I am trying to get to that point too but it’s harder with a recording studio because you technically need “all.”
Shockingly none of us are hungover today, which is surprising for the amount of wine we consumed last night. Breakfast is tea, toast and eggs. My favorite. And the eggs come from Barbara’s family’s farm too!
Last time I was here I left a Guild twelve string with Roman and it’s been sitting in a closet ever since. He advises that I should change the strings or get a Tetanus shot before playing it because they are some rusty ass strings. So today is spent lazily changing strings on two guitars and then we’re going to get pizza.
Special edition Guitar Geek Warning in the wrong section:
I brought the wrong strings or something for this 12 string, they are so heavy the bridge starts to bubble a little bit and it’s nearly unplayable with these strings on it. I have a go at it and then give up. Maybe if I tune it down a 1/2 step? Nope, then the neck goes wonky. I don’t know about this guitar. It may go away soon.
Barbara is very defensive about pizza. Now that may seem like just an arbitrary statement because we all love pizza but she takes it to the next level in a charming but firm way. A while back I had made pizza at home but didn’t have dough for a crust and I used some frozen garlic naan and it came out great. I had posted on line about my new fusion of Indian and Italian cuisine. Garlic Naan pizza. It made me feel like Wolfgang Puck to come up with this but Barbara was quick to inform me that “that is not pizza.” And I knew what she meant.
A few days ago I had delicious pizza in Bremen with Mona and had made the comment about having the best pizza I’d ever had in Germany. Barbara viewed this as a challenge so today we are going to get her favorite pizza.
This is where my selection of the menu nearly derails this story. Looking at all the options, a calzone sounded like a great idea. Roman and Barbara both get pizza. Now I am going to tell you that it was the best calzone I’ve ever had but I didn’t get pizza. So I can’t say it was the best pizza. I mean, the mozzarella in this calzone was so light and fluffy and the crust was amazing…
It’s semantics I know - I will have to get pizza next time.
It’s a good walk to the pizza place and we stop for ice cream on the way back and then my watch buzzes - I have hit my daily goal of 10,000 steps and we’re still a ways away from their flat. I mention this because I work hard to get to 10,000 steps at home. It seems like life is designed for less physical activity unless you pro-actively seek it out but with Roman and Barbara, I hit my daily step goal by lunch time…just getting lunch. Read into that all that you like about European vs American life but I really love being this active and walking everywhere. At home I walk or ride my bike to the store as much as I can and I still don’t come close to this much activity.
The afternoon is spent just hanging out, playing music and catching up and making plans. They are planning on coming back to the U.S. hopefully in 2023 and Barbara wants to run the LA marathon. I hope this happens too.
Tonight I’m playing a wine bar on the other side of town. We pack up my two guitars and pedals and head out to the tram, it’s two trams and some walking that I don’t mind at all but am hating myself for bringing so much stuff. Shit just weighs you down. I can make this more streamlined next time.
Weinbar is a neat little spot with a great stage in the back room, PA, lights and rows of tables for folks. Soundcheck goes easy and it sounds pretty great with zero fuss.
The stage sits in front of a bookcase full of old books, a grand piano on one side of the stage, small stage monitors that sound great and just set up as a classy listening room.
I’m brought some pumpkin soup with potatoes and it’s delicious. I forget to try wine because I’m about to perform and wine really isn’t great on the voice before singing.
I’m a little slow to start but the folks here are all listening and enjoying the stories. Some of the stories go on a bit extra but everyone is enjoying them. I often forget how important the stories are to the songs, tonight brings that home. There’s details in the lyrics that if you don’t know what’s coming - it may fly right by but having a referential story point cements the song differently. I tell new stories tonight and some that I’ve never told before, hell some of them are brand new stories! You can’t make up getting locked in a hostel.
There’s friends and fans here from the last time I performed in Vienna and you see the faces and it feels… I don’t really know how to describe it. Because these are folks that started as fans but are friends now. I don’t see them except when I’m in Vienna and it’s like being dropped into their world for a moment, catching up, smiling and laughing together and then disappearing. We’re still friends in the virtual world but being in the same space and breathing the same air closes gaps that you didn’t even realize were there. In the simplest terms - it’s awesome.
I plugged my twelve string in during sound check and it sounds ok but nothing inspiring to me. I play my Gibson J30 the whole night and that makes me happy. Does anyone in Vienna want to buy a 12 string Guild? I’ll make you a smoking deal.
I finish up my set with “Truckin’ song” and it goes over pretty well. I miss a couple strums and get silently annoyed with myself for writing a rhythm guitar part that is so fast and difficult to play well and then I get two encores and I think I finish up with “Welfare Cadillac”. It’s such a great night that I float off stage.
We are treated to a ride home from Johanna who has just gotten her license and city driving for a new driver* is definitely difficult but she manages perfectly and not just that but (this is for American readers) she’s driving stick shift. Most cars here are not automatic transmissions and my brain drifts back to being taught how to drive stick shift by my uncle Tommy and how one weekend in high school I “borrowed” his car to get around town when everyone was away** and how driving stick shift took me a long time to get halfway good at and Johanna just tackling it all at once, city driving, stick shift, GPS, tram lines… and it’s just inspiring to see someone take on a new challenge like this.
Tomorrow we’re going out to the country to record Othmar’s radio show and talk about Americana music, where it came from, where it’s going and sing and strum some songs live. He asks me to suggest 3-5 songs for the show. I send him a list of at least 15 songs. I’m also going to have to return this pedal I bought here. I think it heard me complaining about how heavy it was to carry around because the display screen stopped working tonight. This is the second time I’ve plugged it in. If there’s a thing about having the opposite of the “Midas touch” than that is what I have. Anything gold I touch turns to rock.
I’m off to adjust my luggage as I’ll be in the country for 2 days doing shows out there. What do I need and how do I condense even more? Nobody knows.
*Getting a driver’s license here is a lot more work and expense than in the U.S. and many folks go their whole life without ever getting one.
**Statue of limitations make this story ok.
Tour Diary Day 20, September 29, 2021
I woke up and got on a train in Bremen. 9 hours later I was in Vienna.
Roman picked me up at the train station and then we tram and walked back to his place. Barbara was waiting for us with homemade goulash and Spätzle. It was super tasty.
Bottles get opened amd Roman plays DJ.
I don’t recall if we finished the fourth bottle of wine but we don’t have to be up early tomorrow. I know I have to be at sound check by like 6 pm. Should be no problem.
We all take aspirin and drink lots of water before bed because we ain’t amateurs.
Tour Diary Day 20, October 1, 2021
I’m woken up by a cat that swats at my left foot. I wake up and look down at him. He doesn’t say anything. He just wanted to wake me up. Ok, I’m awake now and I make a cup of tea and ease into the day.
We have some vague plans and a couple of errands to run today and it’s low key nice. A great thing about this being the.. I don’t know, 7th time in Vienna, is that I don’t have to do any running around site seeing and Roman and Barbara don’t really have to stress about making sure I see certain things. We’ve done them, we’ve seen the things, and we’re beyond that now. I’m learning more stuffs now than just the touristy stuff and the first layer of a city. I’m not going to pretend to understand intricacies of how everything is but there’s more of a living environment than tourist that I really dig.
The building they live in was built in about 1880 or so and it’s 83 steps up to their floor. It’s American 4th floor but Austrian 3rd floor. When I first came here I remember the stairs as being a bit of a thing. They are a long winding spiral staircase with stairs that are deeper than you think they should be and shallower in height that what feels idea, the perfect combination that makes them not great for double stepping, but now they are not bad at all. I’m not saying I’m used to them, it’s still 83 steps but I’m not phased by it anymore.
We hit a couple shops and get stuff to make lunch. Roman spent time in Santa Barbara, CA for college and so he knows good, proper Mexican food and he doesn’t even bother with Mexican restaurants here in town - he straight up makes his own.
Now if that sounds like an exaggeration it is not. Roman is vegan and was not impressed with the tortilla options locally so he MADE HIS OWN TORTILLA PRESS. That’s right, he makes his own tortillas in a wooden press that he made. He also makes the salsa from garden tomatoes and peppers. He makes Brussel sprouts tacos and they are fantastic.
Oh and I forgot to mention how we stopped at a vegan pizza shop while we were out and had slices that were delicious and just generally have fantastic conversation while hanging out.
Back at the flat, Barbara squeezes some hair conditioner into my empty bottle. A weird side effect of being a long haired rocker again is needing to wash my hair after every show. I’m reminded of when The Gypsy Mechanics were on tour in Canada and we were three days into that run when I realized I had like 5 dreadlocks starting. It took me forever to get those clumps of hair undone.* I don’t want to repeat that.
I am not fussy about my hair conditioner. More volume, shiny hair, treated hair… whatever it is, I’m fine with. This also reminds me of when I was asked last week if the gray in my hair was natural because it looked really good.**There are so many things I don’t understand - if I was dying my hair gray, that would be another thing that would defy explanation.
After delicious brussel sprout taco lunch we drive into the suburbs of Vienna. I forget the name of the town but that’s where Othmar lives but we are picking him up and going the show around the corner.
The road to where Othmar lives is a straight up loop for what seems like sports cars, Roman is a great driver but I feel he thinks he missed his opportunity to be a rally driver, racing across continents. There’s a point where we are on this little windy two lane road and we slow down for a bicyclist and as we go around the bicyclist - just as we get around them we are passed by a Porsche which leaves us in their dust.
We pick up Othmar and head over to the place I’m playing. It’s a small little restaurant that was built into a building that used to be all farm land and farming equipment but now has a bunch of small shops. Their is seating inside, outside but enclosed and then outside. We have the option of where to set up and we choose outside but enclosed.
Tonight’s show is Othmar’s live radio show where he plays music and will be interviewing me and then I will be performing a few songs. He tells me to be prepared to play about 6 songs. EZ-PZ. He has also asked me to suggest 3-5 songs from other folks for him to play in his show.
Here’s where the math goes wonky. I end up suggesting about 15 songs for his show and then I also end up performing about 15 songs!
Othmar is spinning some great music and we hang out and have a bite to eat. We’re in a bit of a small village and they don’t think there’s going to be a big turnout for the night. If there’s one thing I have learned from all my gigging it is - play for the people that are here, not for the people that aren’t here.***
For such a small venue they have a fantastic Bose PA system that sounds incredible, Othmar has brought a small mixer and a lot of music with him and it’s relaxing to sit and listen to good tunes and just chill.
We talk on his show about Americana Music and it’s fun and he knows his stuff. We go back to the Flying Burrito Brothers all the way up to stuff that just came out recently and then I start playing. I play some songs that I haven’t been playing much, it’s a small audience and I eventually unplug and just play in front of them singing au-natural. This is actually my favorite way to perform, no mics, no effects, just me in a room. We remove the distance between and the songs get more…more personal. I even tell the story and lead up to the song “every song that crashes” and I can feel the heaviness of it in the room. I follow it up with “Truckin’ song” to finish up on a less downer. There’s an encore request of “welfare Cadillac” and I teach them all the horn part and we sing it together and I’ve never done a sing along that was the horn part of a song and I absolutely love it. Have to remember that. We also sing along to “queen of the party” and we’re all gonna be alright.
After the show Dylan tells me that seeing me play is like getting a lesson on performing and I’m really touched by that. There is no higher compliment than inspiring others. I try to convince him to take my 12 string when I leave and I can tell he wants to.
Back at Othmar and Hanna’s we finish the night with some local wine and toast, cheese and wonderful conversation. This is the touring I love. This is real life. This isn’t being a tourist, this is learning and connecting on a deeper level. I don’t know what time Hanna says she’s going to bed but I can’t keep my eyes open any longer and Othmar shows me to my bed. I sleep deep. Tomorrow is a cab/train/cab to the venue and we have to be up early to catch it all.
*I didn’t want to be the white dude with dreadlocks because there’s so much that goes along with that - like having to organize drum circles and being really into Phish.
**This was not delivered as punch line or joke. This person was legitimately asking me if I died some of my hair gray because it looked so even and natural. I have no response to this.
***Was something that was said to me after I opened up for Matthew Sweet and he was complaining to the audience about how few people were there and a guy said to me that he enjoyed our show better than Matthew’s for that reason alone - we played to who was there and not to the people that were not.
Tour Diary Day 21, October 2, 2021
I wake up in Wördern at Othmar and Hanna’s house. I’m sleeping downstairs in a day bed that is seriously more comfortable than our bed at home. The windows all look out on their garden and there’s huge 2 meter high sunflowers*. It is about as perfect weather as one could ask for, it’s a dry, crisp, sunny day and they call down to me that breakfast is ready.
“We have Irish tea.”
“I love Irish tea.”
“This is Barrys.”
“I have Barrys tea with me!”
Toast, tea and eggs, a shower and we’re on our way. The cab is waiting outside to take us to the train station where we will take 3 or 4 trains to get from Wordern to Steyr for tonight’s show at Red Rooster.
Steyr was a textile mill city back in the day and when you walk through town there are still the canals and the locks and the building that was obviously the power plant. Two rivers meet in Steyr and it’s unbelievably picturesque.
Sladis, the owner of Red Rooster, picks us up at the train station in his Red Rooster mobile and drives us to his home. I’m showed to the room I will be staying in and the yard is all multi-level with gardens and chairs on the different levels, a fire pit with a sort of cabana type set up and I can’t believe I forgot to take pictures of it but I’m showed to my room and I lay down on the bed and it’s comfortable. Othmar pokes his head in “are you going to take a quick nap?” And the thought hadn’t occurred to me until he said it. “Yes, just a quick one.” And I fall asleep for nearly two hours.
Othmar pokes his head back in, “dinner is ready in 15 minutes.” Sladis and is wife (I don’t know how to spell her name) have made a noodle plate with onions, noodles, ham and other stuff. I ask them what it’s called and they don’t have a name for it so I name it for them: Noodlezeug. (Noodle thing) I’m feeling very clever with my limited Deutsche to start naming things but it is entirely in the manner of how things are named here.
It is delicious.
Sladis drops Othmar and I off down by the river so we can do a little sight seeing before the show and we walk along the river, look at the old churches, look at the high water mark from when the river flooded (it’s impossibly high) and then we cut through these two buildings through what seems like a hidden staircase that connects a lower street with the upper street, then pass the prison and then on to Red Rooster bar.
I think they said the Red Rooster used to be a tobacco shop or something and Sladis opened it up in 2011 after wanting to have a bar for a number of years. The walls are decorated with all sorts of rock and roll memorabilia and stuff. A picture of Frank Zappa has one of his quotes hand written on it “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells that way.” And there is an outdoor stage set up for me with a heat lamp in case it gets cold on stage.
Soundcheck takes about 90 seconds and it sounds great. No monitors but the speakers are close enough that I can hear what I’m doing. I’ve given up the effects and am now just playing acoustic with nothing else.
SHORT GUITAR GEEK WARNING:
It’s weird how it’s taken me a long time to get to a point where others usually start from. Most folks start off just playing acoustic guitar and singing and then move towards effects pedals and electric guitars and more noise but I have been very slow in getting to that point. I think a lot of it may have been self consciously wanting the big other noises to be a thing I could hide behind. Like my voice wasn’t good enough and I could distract with fancy sounds but over the past year I have finally gotten to a place where I don’t entirely hate the sound of my own voice. I mean, I will never be entirely happy with how it sounds but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m ok with it enough to not be internally mean to myself about it.
That said, I still miss some of the weird sounds I can make but my guitar playing alone is pretty good. I’m happy to have a few tricks that I can do without needing any effect pedals, just my hands.
Johannes comes over to see if I need anything. I think he is Syrian but works here at the bar. He has his hair pulled back in a high pony tail and is just a huge smile and a beard all the time. That dude works hard. I tell him I’ll take a cup of tea and he brings me tea and biscuits and I’m enjoying the fall day here in Steyr.
Othmar tells me we’ll start a little after 7 because that’s when the locals are used to music starting and at 7:15 the place starts filling up. I write up a set list of two sets of 9 songs and get ready to play two sets.
Sladis turns on the heat lamp before I start and before I start a group of 10 women sit down right next to the stage. It’s a bachelorette party.
Every musician that is reading this blog knows the dread I’m feeling seeing a bachelorette party sitting down next to me. It’s a no-win. This is her special night out with her friends and you are just the musician on stage that are not going to play anything they can dance to. It’s going to be a drunken “woo-hoo” night, all night and there’s no chance of anyone hearing anything you sing.
That is how it usually goes.
And at first it was a little rough. I mean, folks are listening and it’s going well but the table is a bit loud to my left while I’m playing and most everyone else pretty quiet and listening. I get in front of the stage and do some big strumming and connecting and it’s going really well. I finish my first set and sit down.
Irene, the bride to be, comes over. She is having a blast tonight and is loving the music. is there any chance I could play a love song in the second set for her. Of course I can. We chat for a minute and she has been going around painting one fingernail of as many people as she can at the bar and she asks if she can paint one of my fingernails. Of course she can. The whole group is super sweet and nice.
I get back up to play and I had “To her door” ready to be the second set starter. I can’t sing that. The first line is literally “they got married early, never had much money, then when he got laid off, really hit the skids…” That is not appropriate.
“Mrs What’s His Name” is a love song I wrote for Tracy. I tell them about why I wrote it and how it’s a love song for my wife. They are all on board for this and it goes over great. I gift Irene a cd with that song on it and they are all happy. I keep playing and it’s going really well. When it comes time for “Mexican Home” in the set I very politely ask them if they wouldn’t mind being quieter for this one song as it is the quietest song in the set and very emotional. They all stop talking and listen. At one point I actually see Irene “shhhh” one of her bridesmaids.
I thank them for listening. I play a couple of rockers and they are up dancing. I spontaneously start playing the CC and the Music Factory song “gonna make you sweat” and there is a full on dance party happening. I don’t know what to do with this except break every few times and falsetto sing “EVERYBODY DANCE NOW” and then end it after about two minutes.
That’s a first.
I turn on the rock for a bit at the end and then say goodnight before I’m chanted at with Zugabe! Zugabe! (Encore) and I tell them I’m not sure what to play now as I’ve just played more than 20 songs. Someone yells from the back “Play them again!” And another voice “Start over!”
Well, I’ll be.
That is an absolute first ever. I can’t exactly just start over. That’s just weird but there is a request shouted out from the first set and so I play that and then I play about another 30 minutes before saying goodnight and putting my guitar away.
I have a great conversation with the bachelorette party, some other folks, another woman named Corrina that plays that Austrian version of hammered dulcimer and of course I meet the local weirdo Gerhardt. I know he is the local weirdo because I’m warned about him and told that his nickname is “der Böse” or “Evil one”. He wants to sing “Dead Flowers” with me and I tell him we’ll do it next time, meaning - next time I am here and he is content with that. There are hugs and album sales and autograph signing and it’s all great. I’m invited to sign the brides memory book of the night and there are more pictures and all is good.
Wolfgang is sitting outside with the tented in area with three friends and they say that they’ve never seen a musician work with a bachelorette party like that. I have never had a party like that work out this well either and I have to give at least 50% of the credit to them. They were fun and enjoying what I did and it worked out well.
Johannes has brought me a glass of wine and it’s nice to sit back and enjoy it and talk to folks. I had never heard of Steyr before today and now I will probably be returning.
The world is amazing and wonderful if you let it be.
*That’s right, I said meters.
Tour Diary Day 22, October 3, 2021 (Last Day of Tour)
I guess I didn’t really know how long my tour was but typing Day 22, last day kind of helped me out with the maths.
This morning I wake up in Steyr. Othmar and I were put up for the night by Sladis and his wife Monika. I’m staying in what appears to be a downstairs apartment that they use for musicians that are touring to play their place. I sleep hard. When I wake up Othmar’s bed is already made and blankets folded on the end of the bed. I wander outside and am told breakfast is being made in the house. There is no black tea left in either my bag or their house. Those two cups of tea I had last night was the last of my Barrys. Monika serves me breads and Sladis serves me eggs with onions and peppers while we listen to Kris Kristofferson on the hi-fi. Their collection of vinyl is impressive. When this side of KK ends I wander over and Elvis Costello’s first album is right on top so I put that on. “Now that your picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired and you can have anyone that you ever desired…” Welcome to the working week for sure.
We have some time to kill before we catch our train back to Worden and Sladis shows us around Steyr. His hometown where he grew up. The town sits between two rivers and was a textile mill city during the industrial revolution. The rivers are now beautiful and clean and walking across a bridge you can look down and see straight to the bottom and the 6 or 7 trout just hanging out under the bridge while Trout Fishing in Austria casts his line upstream from them. They are in no danger of being eaten today.
There’s an old narrow gauge train line that we walk down and around and the public garden of fruit trees where all residents are allowed to come and pick what they need. Most trees are donated and have little hang tags on them saying that the Bürgermeister donated it or something.
Then it’s a car ride to the station, 4 different trains and a cab back to Othmar’s where Hanna is waiting with homemade lasagna. We travel in mostly silence as we’re both pretty wiped out but it’s ok. You can really tell when you’re comfortable hanging out with someone when you don’t feel the need to talk to fill up empty space.
(I am typing this as I fly over the Labrador Sea and I’ve just started seeing islands that are the beginning of the Western Hemisphere. I think I see some iceburgs as well and I feel like I’m almost home. I suggested writing this tour diary in true Hemingway style, while drinking and I’ve stayed true to that. I just finished my second glass of wine on this plane. It’s not good wine but it’s not terrible and it does it’s job)
Hanna jokes that it is “Irish Lasagna” after I had told them about my grandmother’s cooking.* It is delicious.
Tonight is my last show and it’s a house concert here at Othmar and Hanna’s. We’ve decided to do it with no PA (my fav) and do two sets, one on the upstairs balcony so we can watch the sunset behind me and then the second set inside and downstairs when it gets a little chilly out. We mingle lazily for a while until all the guests arrive and Othmar nudges me and tells me to start playing.
There are folks here that haven’t heard me play but it’s mostly people that have heard me and heard me like two nights ago. This is both wonderful and daunting as how do you entertain the same people with the same stories and songs twice in three days? I mix up the set a bit and tell different stories some but as you’re playing your mind is racing on how to stay engaging.
It’s a good problem to have for sure but it is something I need to figure out if I’m going to keep improving. You can’t just keep telling the same story even if it is a great story about a 1983 Ford Escort. I had not really thought about this before but it’s almost easier to play to people that don’t know you every night. It’s better to have fans but it’s easier not to.
Toni brings his mandolin with him to the show for me to play. It is a handmade beauty made in the Czech Republic and is a fantastic instrument. I am immediately jealous of his mandolin. I play it for two songs and tell everyone here about Charlie on the MTA. A couple years ago Othmar told me that my song “Millsboro” is one of his favorite songs. Not just favorite songs of mine - but one of his favorite songs, and I’m touched by this. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written and usually in the states when I play it, it never seems to land or find it’s audience and that bums me out. Othmar joins me on harmonica on this song tonight and it’s special. He is a really talented harp player and he has his own band “Schneida” as well. Shit, his harmonica collection alone is impressive.** After the show another songwriter that was there compliments the song and we ponder why a sing would resonate in one country and not another. We don’t have the answer.
Both sets go great and everyone is hanging in listening and it’s everything you wish for as a traveling songwriter. The sun sets behind me. I finish up and then it’s time for some wine and some cd selling. Tonight is two for one night - buy any cd and you get a second one for free. I really don’t want to carry them home. Somehow picking up the older cds in Bremen has left me with more cds than when I arrived.*** This is a good marketing move that I should’ve implemented it sooner.
Barbara is also new to driving but she navigates the 45 ish minute ride from the country back to the city of Vienna easily. It’s about midnight when we get to their place. We have to wake up at 5 am for Roman to take me to the airport but there’s still time for another bottle of wine between the three of us. Barbara brings out some new bread she made with the rye I bought her in Berlin at the reconciliation church.**** We talk of plans and I’m hopeful for more things. Barbara says she’s going to knit me some socks and asks what size I wear, we sit on the floor and measure feet and my feet are the same size as hers, EzPz.
It’s been a good tour this year. Every show has been great. The world has not fully opened up but people are getting out and places are being diligent about making it safe for their patrons. Two nights ago a guy got turned away from my show for not being vaccinated. “Ich bin gesund! Ich bin nichts krank!” (I am healthy, I am not sick) and he had to stay outside. He was very much one of only a couple of people I have encountered in Germany and Austria that was like that.***** And everywhere I go there is exhaustion over the covid deniers and anti-vaxxers. Everyone knows someone that falls into that camp and it’s never surprising who they are based on historically knowing how they think. (Read: it’s never the smart people)
I’m really glad I did this tour. I tried to always make sure my European audiences knew how grateful I was for their coming out and supporting me. And us Americans need to be super welcoming when our country opens up for them to travel here. U.S. citizens can still travel abroad but we are still closed to them even though their covid numbers are better than ours. It is not fair.
The thing that I am consistently blown away by is my network of friends and fans. I really don’t know how I have gotten this lucky to be able to travel the world and be taken in and welcomed into their worlds and learn about their lives. I’m not just playing a show and then leaving, I’m playing a show and staying and learning. I keep learning so much more than if I was just a tourist and my life is so much richer because I decided to start playing the guitar when I was 17 years old. That decision has opened more doors for me than any other. Come in, share a song, let’s learn about our world through music.
Singing for my supper has always paid off.
*My grandmother was a worse cook than my mother but her signature dish that she would make for parties was these two enormous trays of lasagna. And yeah, it was pretty good. I will not besmirch her legacy by saying it was bad but I will say that she once stopped me from sprinkling oregano on my piece of lasagna by saying “No, you’ll make it spicy!” It would have been the only “spice” in this dish.
**While I fingerpick, Othmar blows the harp I’m struck with an idea to record a “traveling album” and have each song be one done with folks I know along the road. Othmar and I do “Millsboro”, Mona sing with me on another, Roman, Sam, Niklas - so many talented folks. I have to think about this some more.
***Not really but it feels that way. You think “my bag is going to get lighter as sell cds” but it never really does. How is my bag still full and heavy?
****When the Berlin Wall was erected there was a church, the “reconciliation church” that was in no-man’s land between the front and back wall. It sat empty for decades as no one could use it. Then in the 1980s it was demolished. In the space where it was, is now a small chapel made out of the remains of the destroyed building and an art exhibit of a field of rye with the idea that “where food grows, hope can grow.” I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea. And they sell small bags of the rye.
*****The other being a taxi driver that was telling us that Covid was fake and I even heard him mention Bill Gates’ name when talking about it. We stopped talking after that.