Tour Diary, Sept 9, 2023
Today I have to start with a short little bit about yesterday’s travels. It is part bragging, part a warning, part a “you probably shouldn’t do it like this” and finally a part of more bragging.
I took five trains yesterday, one of which I had a ticket for.
My first train from Mechelen to Brussels, Belgium was fine. It was on time at 5:58 am and I got there fine but from there it all went to hell. I was supposed to take another train to Cologne and then transfers and end up in Bremen at noon but that train was canceled AND it was too early to even talk to anyone at the International office of Deutsche Bahn and all other options I found going that way had me getting to Bremen after 6 pm and I had a show to get to in Verden at 7 pm ~ so it was time to improvise.
Using 3-4 different travel apps and the map on my phone I was able to figure out other trains and schedules going different places that could eventually get me to Bremen. One of these trains was a connector between Belgium cities and this was the only time I was stopped by a conductor. I showed him my ticket.
“This is not that train.”
“I know. My train was canceled.”
“But this isn’t even the same train line. This is Belgium, your ticket is with Deutsche Bahn.”
“I know. I’m trying to figure it out.”
“…<he studies my face for a second> …alright.”*
Now this train, I looked it up, was about a 5 euro ticket. I could’ve bought it right then if I needed to but I was waiting to see if I *had* to. I had already bought tickets to get somewhere. Might as well see how far I could go without spending more money.
And it turns out I could get all the way to Bremen and by a little after 3 pm.
There was one other conductor that woke me up just outside of Düsseldorf:
“Is that your bicycle?”
“Is that your bicycle?”
I start getting out my ticket for a different train and he walks away.
I don’t recommend traveling without a ticket because you can get fined if caught, I’m just saying it is possible. And technically I *DID* have a ticket, it was just a different ticket.
Heike picks me up at the back of the Hauptbanhof in Bremen and we drive to her garden house where I will play next weekend.
While traveling I was reading a thing about how in the olden days musicians had wealthy benefactors who would fund the arts and keep things going, like King George bankrolling Handel. And we don’t really have that sort of thing anymore but what musicians like me have is fans who are also fans that make what I do possible.
Heike is a great supporter of the arts and musicians that come to Bremen. I know about a half dozen others that she lets stay at her house, she has house concerts with and when I showed up yesterday she was ready with a TOASTED FLUFFERNUTTER AND BARRYS TEA for me.
I mention this because she is not some wealthy king or queen. She is just someone that LOVES music and loves supporting how she can and without friends/fans/patrons of the arts like this - I, and many others, wouldn’t be able to sustain what we do.
So thank you Heike.
I have so many folks that book me, put me up, feed me - all in exchange for this music thing that I do - all over the world. As I sit in this beautifully green garden typing this there is a real sense of - Wow. How did I get here? How am I this lucky? It’s a great feeling.
And what’s really strange to think - If I had become a bigger deal, like selling out big concerts and huge amounts of whatever type of monetary success you can think of - I don’t know if I would have these other connections, these other friendships, these other, simpler and pure experiences.
I still strive for more but I think I’m already successful.
I look out the back window of my bedroom at Heike’s and a large spider guards the window from mosquitos and he’s apparently eating very well. The bed is firm and soft and I fall asleep easily.
Waking up, it’s time to go to the show. Heike is driving tonight to Bootshaus Verden (thank you Jeanette Atherton!), a sort of club house/boat house/ pub on the side of the river in Verden. I played here last year with Tracy and it was a fun night. It’s just in the side room with the windows open and I’m already sweating before I start and I’m also still wearing yesterday’s clothes. I chose sleep over a shower and I feel the need to apologize to everyone I meet as I’m pretty sure I can smell myself.
Heike already has my PA in the car. Nico and Emily were using it the past few days and I think they need it again this week, I have to check. I love the fact that I bought this little inexpensive PA a couple years ago and now it kind of lives with Heike and whoever needs it can just use it.
As I’m setting up, Niklas and Alina show up and they have my telecaster and pedals and big black box full of weird stuff I leave behind.** They are both musicians and good ones too. I met Niklas when he was drumming with Kaurna Cronin and then the next year I worked with him on a recording session with Si Hudson and @sam bernard on bass. Then the next year Sam and Niklas were playing with me at some shows and festival gigs.
A couple of years ago, or maybe just one year ago, I have no idea when - Alina, Niklas and…(I forget his name) came to the U.S. and we played a show together in San Francisco together and they used some of our equipment while there. And the global music community keeps growing. Alina sings beautifully and I really dig the music they are creating together.
Where was I? I guess I was setting up but also chatting with folks there. Kevin shows up and then Sonja. More fantastic friend/fans. And then it’s time to perform.
I’ve been starting my sets with Glad as it’s just such an inviting first line to sing “sure am glad to be alive…” but I think I have to figure out something else, it has such a long guitar intro thing - I’d like to jump right in quicker. I’m going to work on this. But the show has a pretty natural ebb and flow to it. I had my setlist but I think because I spent the whole day improvising my way across two countries (Jazz Traveling?) that I just go with where the spirit moves me and it feels good.
In between sets I’m having a good conversation with Niklas and Alina about performing and crowds and what-not. This venue has two rooms, one with people listening and one with people drinking and talking and the talking room obviously has no idea how loud they are but it’s spilling into the second room and Alina asks me how I deal with that and honestly, it’s way much less than what you typically get at a bar gig in the U.S. so I tell her that and how you just try to play to the people that are listening. The struggle is real no matter where you go.***
Before I start my second set I ask Alina if she wants to play a song.
“But this is your gig.”
“Uh, huh. Do you want to play a song?”
She sings a beautiful song and I look over and Sonja is crying. The power of music is amazing. The music is folk/country inspired and right up my alley.
I turn it back on and having all the windows open here has let in some nice air from outside but also has let in some gigantic hornets and I find myself getting distracted at times and it’s my own fault because I opened the damn windows!
I unplug for a couple of songs and have even been doing some acoustic mandolin songs - since I have a mandolin with me and played my telecaster for a couple as well. I’m finding a nice balance of music and songs. I’m going to bring in some more new songs this week.
The bartender has gone around with the hat and there is more money in there than I thought would be and when I talk to folks outside - they were really enjoying it but didn’t want to come inside. Understandable on this hot, sticky night to stay outside where it’s cooler.
It’s a quiet drive back to Bremen as I am tapped out. Less than 3 hours of sleep, 9 hours of train travel, 2 hours of performance, I’m ready for bed.
Nico and Emily have left me a cut-out of a piece of toast on my pillow and Heike put a marshmallow on top of it. Thanks for the love.
*Essentially using a Dennys coupon at IHOP.
**Seriously, it is a crazy collection of things that I really need to sort out. Besides a bunch of my previous cds for selling there is also a beard trimmer, a set of wood files for guitar fixing, a Focusrite Solo audio interface, rolls of Velcro for pedalboards, a squeegee for screen printing shirts, Ben Riddle’s scarf, some Riddle & The Stars posters…
***Alina tells me how she gets people requesting “country roads” and folks have to understand how demoralizing it is to songwriters to always get asked to play covers. If you’re at a gig where the performer is playing covers, that’s fine. But if you’re seeing someone perform originals and asking them to play covers - it feels as if you’re trying to make their performance about you. There are cover bands, and that’s their thing and there are original bands and that’s their thing. One of the things I like about not being a cover band is when I do play a cover, it’s up to me to make it my own, and my style. It’s also interesting that in different countries it’s different songs that are always requested - Ireland and Germany, “Country Roads”, England/UK it’s “Wonderwall” and in the U.S. it’s still “Wagon Wheel”.