3rd EUROPEAN TOUR
- with percussionist Shane Shanahan
I wanted to write more about this tour, but the pace was just too hectic. The first four concerts were at venues I'd already played either solo or with Shane on the last tour, and the last three involved driving 12 hours each way up to the edge of the North Sea and back.
Nov 3 Shane and I flew into Frankfurt because the airfare and car rental was cheaper - also because originally our last gig was scheduled for Germany. No more. So we drive 5 hrs. to stay with Paul and Alice in Mühlehorn, Switzerland on the Wallensee - a deep, narrow lake of pure aquamarine embraced by sheer, snowy cliffs. We pack up sound system and contracts and plot strategy for making an album during our three down days during the tour - all Fridays and Saturdays. Then we crash for a couple of hours, wake in time to have our traditional welcome dinner with Paul and Alice, and then crash again for good.
Nov 4 Thurs Drive 7hrs back to Brussels through Germany and France's Alsace region. nearly manage to pay $200 at a tollbooth by using French francs instead of Belgian. Arrive around 9pm. Meet Al, modern-day reincarnation of Chaucer's saucy innkeeper and have a late dinner at a bistro down the street.
Nov 5 Fr. Töögenblick, Haren (in Brussels), Belgium. Spend the afternoon in Brussels' old town, walking through the Grande Place and environs. Salmon and endive dinner with Roze Marie and Robert before our show. We've traveled all this way to play for ten people. But two of them also drove 7 hours - from Hamburg....
Nov 6 Sleep in after a 4am night with Alain at the hotel bar. Get a late start back to Switzerland. Eat Chinese food in the car for lunch, dinner at a pizza place in Strasbourg near the cathedral. Arrive in Mühlehorn around midnight.
Nov 7 Rehearse 8 hours with Swiss country singer Doris Ackermann for our recording session next weekend.
Nov 8 Mo. Café Balzac, Heidenheim, Germany. Kleines gemütliches Café am Ende der Fußgängerzone. Hier finden regelmäßig Konzerte mit bekannten Künstlern statt. Full house and the sound system works. Great beer. Shane finds out that great beer does not mix with rum and cokes...
Nov. 9 Di. Jazz-Bar, Weggis (near Lucerne) Switzerland. The Hotel Albana is a 4-star hotel on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Treated to a four-course meal, nap for an hour, and play two double sets for Daniel and the crowd at the bar.
Nov 10 Mit. Mahogany-Hall, Bern Switzerland. Famous club presenting jazz-blues-rock-folk for almost thirty years. Small but enthusiastic turnout.
Nov 11 Do. City Pub/Stadt Cafe (Woody's Folk Club), Landeck, Austria. Our great friends Hannes and Sony show us a good time, early and late, late, late, along with Franz, who has learned excellent English since my first trip here in '96 and Kafka, who has designed a stage just for this night's gig. Afterwards, the owner treats us to drinks from a special cask of Laphroaig.
Nov 12 Fr. Chlini Büni, Sumiswald, Switzerland. This tiny farming village near Bern has a sophisticated cultural center in the middle of town, and a polite crowd tries to make heads or tails of us.
Nov 13 & 14. Record an album at the basement studios of Tonspur, in Buchs. Total taping time: 14 hours, 21 minutes.
Nov 15 - Our one day off. We sleep most of the day, do laundry. At dusk, Shane and I visit the hot mineral springs spa at Bad Ragaz, without which we would surely have perished - see below.
Nov 16 Di. Depot 14, Basel, Switzerland 8pm e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regine and Christian have put their hearts into this folk series, in spite of an ungrateful city. Still, it's one of the most memorable nights of the tour. We jam till 2am.
Nov 17 Mi. Safari Beat Club, Chur, Switzerland. Doris performs with us at this underground rock club. So, we rock.
Nov 18 Do. Hotel G, Frauensache, Petneu, Austria. The new women's group in this tiny, conservative town invites us to play for them. We wish them good luck spreading feminism here.
Nov 19 Fr. Sternen/Big Bull, Berneck, Switzerland (San Gallen). See below.
Nov 20 Sa. Sternen, Obstalden, Switzerland. The best.With Doris Ackermann.
See Notes from the Road #1 and #2, which are posted at balladtree.com
Bad Ragaz (from a letter home)
Imagine if you will two overworked folk musicians following yet another set of half-baked directions to a place they're pretty sure can't exist - Bad Ragaz. To an English speaker, even the name bodes no good. After managing to stay on the main road through a town that's been there since Hannibal crossed the Alps, we make a right into a modern hotel complex. It's just 5 o'clock and daylight savings time has still not been invented here yet. In the falling dark, we can make out the otherworldly blue glow of the huge outdoor pool and the dense fog of rising steam from the hot mineral springs that fill it. We pay about $10 each and are directed to the unisex locker room where we change in little carrolls and stow our stuff in lockers around the perimeter. After the mandatory shower, we descend four stairs into the warm pool water and then, with just our heads above water, we pass through the wall of clear plastic flaps that separates us from the outdoors - like the insulating plastic flaps on the refrigerators in some Korean markets.
Outside is a kind of wonderland. Darkness has fallen now, and
the pool water is brightly lit and absolutely clear. It is irregular
in shape, about 100ft
square, and the steam is so thick that in some directions you can't see across it. Rising out of the water are a few dozen heads of bathers and several large, dramatic marble sculptures. The big one near the center has a waterfall crashing down from the top of it. The flow of water is so great that if you stand underneath, it's like getting a massage from an overenthusiastic trainer. Inside this sculpture are a set of jets that periodically create a bubbling current so strong that you have to hang on to avoid being washed out by the tide. On the far side of the pool is a circular lobe with a round sculpture in the middle, forming a kind of ring; when the jets of water come on there, the current whisks you effortlessly around the track. And all around the sides of the pool small jets offer massages for the feet, the back, the sides. There is a twenty minute time limit for this medicinal waterpark - based on the water's temperature, which doesn't seem especially hot (like a nice bath), and mineral content. We stay almost a half-hour, I think. Afterwards, we shower again and are offered huge heated towels and trundle off to the solarium where there are rows of beach chairs that recline like astronaut couches. We lie there drying off (and chilling out) for another half hour before reluctantly returning to the locker room to dress. Fortunately, we are now ravenous and head off for dinner.
Paul is taking eight year old Michael out for pizza after soccer practice in Weesen, a neighboring town (Mühlehorn is to small to have a soccer league - or team - of its own). Alice is working late at the bookstore in Zürich and so father and son take this chance to eat out each week. He has invited us to join them there if we want. However, for some reason the Trattoria he has directed us to is closed tonight. So Shane and I eat alone at the Park Hotel Restaurant, overlooking the Walensee (Paul knew of another pizza place not too far away). The Walensee is a large lake - several miles long and only half a mile wide - and half a mile deep. Dinner's very good - I have spinach/pesto lasagna - though not as good as Paul's cooking. Last night, while we were playing a house concert, he made venison and spätesli, a kind of pasta, in a thick brown savory sauce. I had a plateful of leftovers for lunch earlier today.
Well, after getting back to Paul and Alice's at around 8pm and getting trounced
once again in hall-soccer by Michael, I made the mistake of lying
down. Now it's a little after midnight and it doesn't look as though I'll be able to mail this off 'till morning. But I thought I'd write before turning in again. Tomorrow we head off for Basel, original home, I think, of Einstein. I think I'll wear my new e=mc2 tie, which I got for my birthday and brought just for this occasion.
Well, it's our last morning on the tour - and the full sun has come out for the first time. Last night's gig was a real trip. There was a little confusion (only in my head), since both Friday and Saturday's gigs are at venues called Sternen (Stars). I somehow didn't realize I had the gig info for Friday - and so was counting on reaching Benno, our local friend, by phone beforehand. But he was out all day. We drove to Berneck anyway, figuring we'd see posters or finally reach Benno on the phone - or Paul - but no one was home and there were no posters anywhere. So we waited around in town from 4:30 to 6pm with me walking the streets, poking into shops, restaurants and bars - even a local music school - asking people if they knew of the folk concert I was supposed to be playing while Shane, who wasn't feeling too well, waited and dozed in the car with the engine running. The weather had turned decidedly colder. Finally, Shane suggested I look through my papers again. Sure enough, I had info for the gig. Doh!!! So we called the club and five minutes later Roland, a big gruff looking biker-type drove down to lead us up the mountain. The roads had turned icy and we were a little nervous taking the switchbacks up a steep mountain road until we were several hundred feet above the valley towns. The view was spectacular, like a scene from a movie.
Sternen is a small restaurant bar. In classic old Swiss style, there are cows stalls on the ground floor and the odor is a bit funky to say the least. But upstairs, all you smell is the cigarette smoke. The owners have a Country Western fetish and the room where we played was decorated with cowboy boots, confederate and American flags, a confederate soldier cap, texas longhorns, spurs, bridles and other paraphernalia. Renate, Roland's wife, told me they went on a trip to Nashville in 1991 to buy it all. There was also old-style country music on the CD player and our waitress, Alexandra, dressed in cowboy boots, denim skirt, bolo tie and a black stetson with a chinstrap - she even has a little silver star set in one of her front teeth. She and her fiancé belong to an Americana club called American Dream - they're getting married in May and won a free trip to Miami Beach for their honeymoon.
Shane, who is usually so circumspect, woefully shook his head as we took in every new detail. At a tiny bar right next to the stage (approximately 18 inches from Shane) the Czeck bartender spoke very little German and no English. Just before we started, three mechanics sat down and proceeded to drink and talk through most of our first set. I talked to them a few times during the set and they acknowledged us, looked sheepish, apologized, and then within minutes were talking again. Just before the break, I improvised a ballad about three guys who come into a Swiss bar in New Jersey where the waiters wear liederhosen and green felt caps with feathers in them and deliver schnitzel while yodeling, but only our friends got it before it wafted out into the universe, never to be heard or sung again....