Friday May 16, 2014 – Dobromierz, Poland.
This is our other long drive of the tour, about 7 1/2 hours plus stops, so it’ll be between 8-9 hours. It’s raining again. It sure feels like May in Seattle.
We are traveling in the van owned by our booking agency here, Delta. The van is bright yellow and appropriately nicknamed the “Chicken.” Behind the wheel is Ewa our tour manager. She is taking great care of us on the road and since Sunday, when we dropped her father of at home, she’s been solely responsible for helping us through everything here. She communicates with everyone here (club owners, promoters, hotel staff, waitstaff, etc) because of the language barriers but also because she’s very responsible and professional.
We’ve offered to help with the driving of the Chicken today but she’s not letting us. She says she feels good. We get to relax and she’s absorbing the stress of increased rainfall and road construction as the drive unfolds.
We arrive at the hotel after the long trek done solely by Ewa and it is now a downpour. This rather rural hotel and restaurant has a crappy parking lot that is nor paved. We pull up to a spot to drop off the bags and Ewa will deal with the check-in in Polish and I will drive the van the final 20 yards to the only appropriate place to park such a large vehicle in the lot.
As we pull up to this main entrance of the hotel/restaurant, the owner is outside and immediately give Ewa shit about pulling over where she did to do the drop-off. He’s spouting sexist remarks about her inability to park the van and he’s completely irrational. This jerk won’t allow us to check-in and we really don’t want to stay here anyway under this sort of ownership.
What stinks is the timing. Ewa’s having to absorb this crap after an exhausting 8+ hours that only got more taxing as it went. She’s the only one speaking Polish so she has to manage this whole affair. Thankfully, a quick call to tonight’s promoter eases the situation. We are told to go to better hotel where we will be welcomed warmly. The only problem is that it’s supposedly about a half-hour away, but it takes more like 45 minutes or an hour due to construction work on nearly the entire route.
We have a few minutes to chill and eat dinner before going to the venue. Ewa’s meal gets totally screwed up and she barely eats it. We don’t have the time or the energy to correct this situation. The hotel is great but the restaurant service sucks and we just got to get out of there.
Thankfully, the night of music will be great. This is where our group can help take off some of the heat from Ewa. We deal with all the particulars – load-in, soundcheck, meeting everyone involved with tonight’s event, setting up and selling merchandise as early as possible, etc. She can rest. This incredibly strong woman has been tested and we know she really doesn’t want to any weaknesses but she is human. She is able to get a brief nap during our set and she is re-energized to deal with the rest of the night as our set comes to a close. She’s a warrior.
Our set is strong … maybe even super-strong but I’m biased. We’re playing another large community-hall in a quieter part of southwest Poland. We get people coming from all of over the area and they are hungry for a rocking show. One couple is seeing us for a second time, coming down from the native Grodkow (about 90 minutes away) where we play almost 2 weeks before.
All of us in GravelRoad are locked in a zone together and ready to play and have fun for this audience. There’s a light show tonight as well. The promoter did a great job of really putting together a fantastic package for this event. He even gives us some cues on what to say to the audience (calling out some places where people are coming from, acknowledging some people in the crowd, etc) in order to get a positive response from them. We interacted with many of the attendees before the show so the vibe is really friendly and familiar. We want to play all night long.
We are going to do one set and it will be a longer-than-usual one. We’ve been pulling from a variety of songs in our catalog all tour and we’re ready to do them all tonight. The hall is arranged with seats in the front 2/3 of the venue and the back third is left for people wanting to stand, dance, sway, and move anyway they want.
This crowd likes our grooviest songs and the rockers. The slower songs provide a nice shift in the flow of the set and give the crowd a chance to catch their breath. They yell and holler during and after songs. We get occasional standing ovations for things like a searing guitar part or a song that has multiple layers and changing dynamics.
Goin’ Down that Road Again is a song they were especially into. It has a pregnant pause halfway through that they loved and it goes into a psychedelic guitar part during which a bunch of folks stood and applauded. I got hoots and hollers when I’d rise from the drum throne and grab cymbals to mark a tight change or crisp ending. Again, Rabbit Run was another song that they loved, screaming as we sonically explode for the last part of the song as Stefan shimmied across the front of the stage after the part where Joe and I get people up and clapping in unison.
After an encore and some words from the promoter (they had a raffle and Stefan picked the winning ticket out of a fishbowl!), we kind of got rushed on stage. People started coming up and wanting pictures. One older gentleman who couldn’t speak any English really wanted to communicate with me. He finally went over to the drums and started to beat out something wildly. Normally, I’d have none of that but this guy was old enough to be our father and wasn’t some drunken frat boy wanting to show off. He looked at me and pointed at my chest saying “Buddy Rich” as if to indicate he thought my playing was comparable. Quite an odd and beautiful compliment in the shared language of music.
We kept getting invited to the bar downstairs of the venue for shots of vodka (vood-kah!) but we wanted to get out of there because our kind caregiver Ewa needed some extra support tonight. Joe quietly ran the breakdown with precision as Stefan and I did some necessary post-performance chatting around the venue. Tonight was a great end to long and weird day.
Saturday May 17 – Gorzow Wlkp
It’s still raining. Ewa’s feeling much better. I can’t say the same for Stefan and I. I slept a few hours, but I’ve been in hibernation compared to Stefan. He reports his bed was so uncomfortable that he opted for the floor where he watched movies on his ipad until morning. Ibuprofen and coffee and staples of this morning’s breakfast.
We make the drive to our final destination in Poland. Thankfully, it is rather uneventful and I get a short nap before we have to go to the venue. Stefan’s not so lucky.
The show is held at the most prominent jazz club in all of Poland. They are celebrating their 50th anniversary next month and the owner has been there for 34 years.
They don’t really do rock music here and blues is about as far as they stray from jazz. We decide to lower our volume and bring the intensity down a notch for the first set. This is good and bad. I think, in the bigger picture of the full night’s music, it makes sense and allows people to warm up to our sound. However, we’re a bit tired and the more chill set is dragging us a bit.
At the break, we gather and plan. We have a more rockin’ set planned for the second half and we allow ourselves the freedom to just let it out. Wise choice. We got feedback – both in terms of more applause and yelling during the set along with kind words after the set – that this was met with appreciation from the crowd … especially the youngest folks.
There’s a sense of joy and relief after the set. This was one show we were a little uncertain about what to expect going into it and we weren’t at top energy. Thankfully, we ate really well before and after the show.
Our tour manager Ewa had given us the heads-up that the pre-show Pierogies (Pyroshki) were amazing here and that the after-show meal would be similarly fantastic. She was right. The chef, also named Ewa, knew her way around the kitchen. We thanked her profusely, hugged her, kissed her, and tried to abscond with her to take back home with us after the second meal, which consisted of an herbed-chicken dish with sautéed mustard seeds and red peppers, plus a great cabbage salad (the best cabbage salad I’ve ever had) and potatoes. It was like having two great home-cooked Polish meals. Heaven.
Some vodka with the owner as he shared stories with us of musical “celebrations” he hosts 4 times a year in Poland with the biggest names in jazz music from around the world. He gave a huge hardback book with much of the club’s history and he used the photos inside to help bridge the language gap. He was great. I felt like we were getting a history lesson that tied back into an era of Soviet-controlled-Poland that we can only imagine. Very cool. (MR)