October 6 – 8, 2015.
It sure is nice to land in Amsterdam with a day to acclimate to the time change and get a little Dutch culture to soften the landing.
We leave Seattle as it is unseasonably warm and beautiful. Amsterdam is dark and rainy but we don’t care. We wander the streets and shops of the city center sleep deprived from our red-eye flight and in a state of bliss. It’s great to be back.
Our show on Thursdays October 8, 2015 at OT 301 in Amsterdam is exactly the way we want to kick off the tour. Our hosts Dawn and Joe take great care of us as we get to release our energy in one of very favorite ways, to play. The crowd is enthusiastic. We got our rocks off.
There’s the possibility that attendance may have been affected a bit by the fact that the doors needed to be closed and the police came just after 9pm as the show of opener T. S. Ling was getting underway. An already-inebriated man was stirring up trouble – stories varied as to whether or not he’d become violent – and while the people inside were safe to enjoy the show, no one else could come in for quite awhile.
What’s more, this is little arts & performance building set away from the main road likely saw some turn their backs at the mere presence of the police. It seemed like it wasn’t until after 11pm when the place got back its usual unusual vibe. The cooking event in a front space and a comedy show upstairs kept the bodies moving around and a cool cheer returned to the building before midnight. It was all-good for us, but I felt for Dawn and Joe who worked so hard to make it all run smoothly only to have bad behavior put a dent in the evening. Ah Amsterdam, we love you. We will be back in a couple of weeks.
October 9 & 10, 2015
From Amsterdam we make the drive along the Autobahn into Germany. We are playing the next two shows in northern Germany. Hamburg will be a club show on the 9th and then we head an hour north to Ahrensburg for a Refugee Benefit show on the 10th. in between, we will get in some studio time in Hamburg on the morning/early afternoon of the Ahrensburg show. Our time in Germany will be power-packed.
Booking is a fascinating thing. We are not a Big Deal in Europe (or elsewhere), but we are fortunate to usually have success getting shows wherever we want to go. We aren’t trying to get rich and we like to play anywhere that we are appreciated. I don’t want it to seem like we have low expectations. Rather, I think we are low maintenance. We want to play the best shows possible with energetic and enthusiastic crowds, regardless of the size.
With this in mind, we had challenges with these two night in terms of booking up to the last minute. It seemed like we had two shows “held” for us in the Netherlands – and even some back-up options too. However, the holds never materialized as confirmed.
We put out some inquiries at the 11th hour through our network of friends and acquaintances. This is when things got interesting. The Hamburg/Ahrensburg opportunities came together quickly once the word got out. We even turned down a more lucrative offer to stay and do another show in Amsterdam to go east into Germany.
The Hamburg show at the Rock-n-Roll Warehouse had no guarantees. We played in a front of an awesome crowd. Now, I don’t wish to mislead with the size. There was something like a 15 or so people there. But they are the best 15 people in Hamburg! They appreciated us more than crowds exponentially larger in some places. I think the owner felt bad that the draw wasn’t bigger. He got Really Drunk (not his norm, per the bartender). No worries for us. This was a last-minute show in a bar that is tucked away off the street away from foot traffic. We play the same no matter the audience size. We had fun and more merchandise was sold than we’d ever expected.
The real treat was our time at Longboard Studio with Sergei and Mo in Hamburg. They put us up after the show and we got started spending some time recording late in the morning of the 10th. They brought in a video crew as we recorded 3 songs (2 new ones and re-recorded an old GR tune that we’d wanted to update now that we are a four-piece). We finished up with a rooftop interview with a local journalist. Everything was very professional and very fun. It seemed like a great experience for all involved. Who knows what will come of it? This is usually the type of event that bears fruit in the months to come. We will see.
After recording, we moved on for the short drive to Ahrensburg. This was an event that we all looked forward to: a benefit show for Syrian Refugees. For those not in the know, the Syrian crisis is a human rights catastrophe of epic proportions. So many people have been driven from their homes to avoid persecution and tortures from an evil and sociopathic regime. We’ve been reading and watching stories from many miles away in the safety of our Seattle homes. I’ve felt so helpless. To get an invitation to play a Refugee Benefit in Germany – the country that has stepped up the most to offer help and support to the migrants – suddenly brought everything a little more in focus. This would undoubtably be the Most Important Show we’d play on this tour. We love playing benefits and being involved in social justice and human rights issues. This was a no-brainer.
We checked in to the festival – Felicitas, the organizer took great care of us. Locals Georg Schroeter and Marc Breitfelder were the conduits. We’d played with them last year at the Eutin Germany Blues Festival and they helped make the connection. They shared the stage with us and made for a warm, family feel.
The festival was smartly laid out with multiple performance sites in a small area of buildings across from the Ahrensburg Castle. Our show was at a wine shop/warehouse. The place was packed for Georg and Marc. We loved the reception that we got from the crowd. We aren’t always sure how our style of music will go over. We have a range of songs and performance styles. We could tell this crowd wanted blues and the room invited us to tone down the volume a bit. But the dynamics were just right. People swayed and swung in the tight spaces of the full room. We had to improvise a bit in the constraints of the small stage space, but the challenges actually made it more intimate and interactive.
For example, Stefan and Kirby couldn’t just reach over to change guitars. They had to leave the stage area. They talked about just staying in one tuning in order to avoid the awkward guitar change. I implored them to go about business as usual and it worked perfectly. I jumped over the drum kit and grabbed the mic in order to explain to the crowd what we were doing, both with regards to the guitar change and our unique sound. I did this twice over the course of our 50 minute set. I was told later by many people how much they liked this! I told stories from Mississippi and it was evident that this festival – focused on Blues, Soul, and Funk music – had perhaps it’s closest connection to American roots music via our performance and tales from the Mississippi delta.
They had some open fires in the central square among the venues. We had a couple of great interactions with Syrian refugees during the peace of the body warming around the fires on this cold autumn evening. We kept hearing refugees and locals say (or ask) “English” to us or around us. One man went into depth about how much he wanted to speak English with us. He talked about how he appreciated the help of the German people, but he still did not feel at home. He is all alone here. His only connection to others is his refugee status. He has no family or real friends here. He spoke about his sister in Lebanon and an uncle in New York. He wants to get to New York. I enjoyed sharing quiet moments of empathy. There’s little I could do except to encourage him to get to New York and that he’d come so far and that his journey was far from over. His hug at the end of our interaction gave me a closeness to a situation that I feel so relatively hopeless about. I love travel, music, and the ability to connect with people. I am humbled by my own good fortune.
It took me a long time to get to sleep that night. The festival gave us a wonderful hotel to stay in. My comfort almost felt unfair. I hope we made an impact. We know we cannot change the world by ourselves, but we hope to contribute to making the world a better place. There’s already enough suffering. As I told the crowd that night, there are two sides of the blues: the low-down sorrow and the opposite, the “jump up” and exaltation as part of the release from suffering. I hope we appreciate both sides.