What we did in the day doesn’t matter. Rob took the train from Stäfa to Flavil with Meret, who came to see him play the last two shows of our tour. Kevin, Keith and I drove to Winterthur to pick up some items we left at Esse bar. We took the back roads through the hills and farms. It was beautiful. But that doesn’t matter. We showed up at the venue way too early. I bought a watch for my son. We had lunch at a Spanish restaurant where no one spoke Spanish and they were all out of tortilla. Kevin ordered chicken nuggets and was served fish and chips without the chips. That doesn’t matter.
What we did after the show doesn’t matter. We returned the drums to Paul and paid him his cut of our hard earned cash. We packed up our gear and got ready to hit the road early for the airport. We slept for maybe five hours and then got on a plane. It’s not important.
What matters is this. We played our final show of a fifteen night tour in the loft of a beautiful old barn-turned-club for a small audience of wonderful, excited, lovely people.
Photo by Meret
We nailed every song, but more importantly we nailed the feeling. That feeling where the band and the audience are one organism breathing, flowing, existing together briefly. It’s the reason we play. The connection. The thing that matters. We played our entire two set show. Beth showed up with friends and sat in with us on a few tunes. Each song Kevin sang, the crowd was right there in the story with him. Every time Rob hit the crash it was a wave washing over all of us. Keith’s harmonies wove around every heart in the club. My guitar sang, allowing me to put into music those things I have never been able to put into words. It was one of those times when everything fits just right. That is what matters. The beauty of a life in music is that we learn to recognize those moments while they are happening. I soaked up every second of last night because I know why I play, and this is it.
Born to Run is the ultimate rock song. At least it is as far as I can tell. It sums up that real, palpable sense of desperation and longing that we have all felt so many times in life, and it does so in less than five minutes. I’ve always considered the song untouchable. The sound is so big, even coming out of a cheap radio. The idea of covering it just seems a bit too over the top, especially for the size venues we play. But last night when we finished our encore and our tour with a version of Born to Run worked out in sound checks, bars and hotel rooms over the past two weeks, it felt just right, because instead of playing it for anyone, we played it with everyone. Everyone sang. Everyone moved. Everyone was present. We, all of us, nailed the feeling. The connection. It was the perfect ending for a perfect ending.
It’s the morning of our last full day in Switzerland. We are staying at Gasthaus Macartney in Stäfa.
We have our own rooms!
Last night we played for our largest audience on the nicest stage of the tour. We had professional sound and lights. It makes a huge difference in our ability to relax into playing. We split the bill with a local group called Singer’s Tale. They were quite good and I spent some time backstage playing tunes with the guitarist and the singer.
We left Austria yesterday morning and made the three hour drive to Paul’s house without incident. We dropped off the PA speakers that we have been lugging around for two weeks. This caused some consternation for Keith because now he needs a new plan for what Rob calls the vanpack. From there it was just forty minutes to Stäfa and the Rossli club. Hotel, showers, soundcheck, dinner.
Tabea Anderfuhren showed up to our show. We first met her in 2005 when she saved us from getting shafted by a club owner using mostly her native ability to speak Swiss German. She sings with Kevin on every tour. Usually she sits in on a few tunes, which is what happened last night. She is definitely more established in the Swiss music scene than she was ten years ago. A Swiss tour without Tabea would be woefully incomplete. After the show we went for a drink with her and her husband Tom.
One more show and then home. I’ve never been out quite this long before. We’re all exhausted but trying to enjoy the moments. We don’t know when or if we will do this again. It’s always amazing to me that I get to play music in this beautiful place.
I’ve never regretted the choice to make music my career. I always tell people that it is a great way to almost pay the bills. It’s meant to be funny but it’s true. Music is not going to make me rich but music connects me with people. People like Rob, Keith, and Kevin who I have the pleasure of playing with nightly. People like Levin and Katharina, the musicians I jammed with last night. People like Veronica and Sven, who just love the music and can be caught singing along to our songs. I’m quite lucky.
That first show in Laupen seems like a decade past. Traveling with Emma in the van is a distant memory. Even the show two nights ago in Innsbruck feels far away. Time is strange on tour.
There will be at least one more blog post but when it shows up depends on too many factors to list here. I do want to report on our last show and maybe sum the whole trip up. In less than 24 hours I’ll be flying home.
What was supposed to be a mellow day got a bit complicated yesterday. Kevin woke up with an inflamed vocal cord. Fortunately we had Veronica. Having no idea how to negotiate medical services in a foreign nation, I called her and she told us to meet her at Innsbruck hospital. We packed up our gear and booked it out of Scharnitz. Thirty minutes later we were in Innsbruck. While Kevin was with the physician with Keith as moral support and Veronica (with the seven month old baby she nannies) negotiating, Rob and I drove over to the school where we were scheduled to do some sort of vague performance/discussion. I borrowed Kevin’s guitar and the teacher we meet found a cajon for Rob. We played some tunes as a duo for about thirty five middle school kids. They were wonderful. We answered questions about music and about Detroit, and then they started asking us to pronounce German words because “it is funny the way Americans talk”. Well, two can play at that game and we made them pronounce the word ” vivid “. Because it is funny the way Austrians talk. We finished with a sing along to Let It Be just as Kevin, Keith, and Veronica arrived.
Veronica really came through for us. We would not have made it to our gigs or our hotels without her, and there is no way we could have gotten Kevin’s throat looked at. She won this tour, hands down, always staying calm and guiding us through difficult times. Being on tour is not vacation, especially this late in the trip. Having someone who knows which way is up makes a huge difference.
After the workshop we were hungry. Unfortunately eating in Innsbruck is apparently illegal between 2 and 6 pm. We walked around for 45 minutes looking for a restaurant that was open, finally finding a Greek place that had no menu. The proprietor sat us down and, after a brief negotiation in which we realized that we had no language overlap (me: Spanish, English. Him: German, Italian) we settled on him speaking Italian and me answering in Spanish. It worked and we ordered our food. It took a long time to arrive but was delicious. We were all quite hungry.
We left the Greek restaurant and walked back to the van that we had left at the school, with permission and a parking pass in the window, to find that it had been ticketed. Oh, Austria, did I mention you are a little bit overzealous with your law and order and fines? We took the ticket and drove to the venue, giving the ticket to our official contact, Helmut. He agreed to deal with the ticket.
Our venue was a black box Theatre built directly underneath the train viaduct. Let’s call it “cozy “. Other businesses using space beneath the viaduct include a dance club called Plan B and a strip club called Bad Girlz. It was a nice place to play and the crowd really appreciated the music.
This beautiful boy enjoyed our show.
We did great with cd sales. After the show we were exhausted but hungry again so Veronica took us to Kaiserstübe, the Fleetwood Diner of Innsbruck. The waiter even judged Rob for ordering a pizza with no cheese. I started to fall apart at the restaurant. I was just so damn exhausted I could not speak. I dropped my fork and Keith moved it with his foot so I could reach it easier. I asked him to leave my fork alone. He said he was just trying to help. I said I know, but I can’t deal with moving objects right now.
We finished our food and conversation with Veronica, dropped her off at her place and went to the hostel where we are staying tonight. Two more shows. I’m looking forward to getting back to Switzerland and wrapping this thing up.
It’s the morning after our 12th show in a row. Three to go and we are done. I’m definitely ready to get back home, back to my kids, and back to my students. Last night we played in a building that survived the invasion of Napoleon.
I guess it was originally a mill back then, but now it is a restaurant and bar. We are in Scharnitz, which is a mountain pass from Germany to Austria. Napoleon had to come through here to get to Innsbruck, which is where we are playing tonight.
For the past few days we have been working out an arrangement of the Bruce Springsteen song Born to Run, which I consider to be the ultimate rock song. It is a tradition to find a new song on the road and learn it while traveling. This one has been tough. Last night we ran it live for the first time. It was pretty rough but there were very few people at the show so we thought it was a good time to try it. We found a few pitfalls but I think we can do it justice at our last three shows.
We’re all exhausted. Everyone is getting along and we have so far not had any major difficulties on this trip. We’ve even made it through customs without having our vehicle searched. Just one more time across the border and we’re good.
Austria. Beautiful land of order and confusion. Beautiful, as in check out the view from my bedroom window this morning. Order, as in we had a random passport check on the freeway and Kevin had to give his birth date, passport number, and detailed information about his education in order to get paid for the workshop we are doing tomorrow. Confusion, as in even our contact, the wonderful Veronica Berchtold, got lost trying to find our hotel (really a three bedroom apartment in the Alps) last night. Switchback roads are the norm here. We (she and I) spent an hour driving around before the part of my brain that can’t separate from my band mates forced me to tell her to take me back to the lumber yard.
The Austrian leg of our tour began with a trip to Fuegen, a tourist town in the Tirol region. The GPS took us to a lumber yard. More like a huge mill, really.
As we drove past, assuming that our venue must be hidden nearby, Keith commented, “I’ve never played a lumberyard.” Well, now he has. Over the years on these tours we have played theaters, bars, schools, shooting clubs, living rooms, garden centers and flower shops. But wherever we play we are welcomed. Except Bonanza. We must not speak of Bonanza.
Right now we are all hanging around our kitchen. Keith is making eggs. The woman who runs this hotel is doing our laundry. We are less than an hour from our show this evening. It’s a good morning.
The middle part of our tour is all long drives. After a seven hour trip up to Lauchhammer, we drove five hours south to Leipheim for a performance at a shooting range. As unhappy as I was with my playing at Real Music Club, I was quite pleased with how I played at Leipheim. The guitar felt like an extension of my mind. It was nice.
Leaving Germany, we had to spend about ten minutes driving through Austria on our way to Thun, Switzerland. Somehow we managed to get a $150 ticket for not having a $10 sticker on our windshield that grants permission to drive in Austria. So that sucked. But soon we were back in Switzerland, headed to Thun, where it turned out we were playing for a ninth grade French class. We played for thirty minutes. It was somewhat strange. The crowd was pretty much what you would expect. Pay was good and we were done by 4:30 so I basically have the night off. And my hotel room has a bathtub! I’ll be catching up on emails and maybe even practicing guitar. Tomorrow we drive five hours to Austria. But after that the drives are shorter.
We are over halfway done with this tour. In fact we have only five dates left. I’m holding up well. We all are. But i think we will all be happy to get back home.
I always wondered how the Swiss get their trees up to those high mountains!
Check out the letter H.
Real Music Club was a trip. I’m not sure if it was a good show or not. The place was packed. There was rock n roll lighting and a fog machine. No, really. We tried to play some mellow tunes but the crowd was crazy for rock. Every time we would play fast and loud they would scream, so we rocked them for an hour and then through two encores. When they heard the first line of My Little Runaway they completely lost it. I actually felt that my playing last night was sub par, which is strange on the road. Usually my best playing happens on tour. So I will be practicing my scales a bit more, making sure I know where all of my G sharps are. Note to students; I will be home in a week. Have you been practicing??
The audience didn’t notice my mediocre guitar skills. They bought a bunch of CDs and were quite happy with the show. It was the day before the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and we spent it in what used to be East Germany. I remember as a kid wondering what it would be like to play music behind the Iron Curtain. Now there is no such thing.
We are off to Leipheim, Germany. Yesterday I got the van up to 170 km/h on the autobahn. But only for a minute. 140 is a comfortable cruising speed. Keith is driving, so I’m the navigator. More later. Check out the previous post for live video from Emma!