Two weeks into my tour, I really had to be torn out of Spain. Inside my mind, I was kicking and screaming as I carried all my luggage to the airport. I imagine that’s a common feeling for visitors leaving Spain. It’s such a lovely place to be existing.
I had a 14-hour travel day to wean me off of the tapas, siestas, and the joy of speaking Spanish. I made my way via the DeutscheBahn to a city called Groningen in the northeast part of the Netherlands. This was a one-off gig in the Netherlands before two weeks of shows in Germany, with maybe one night off. It’s not that I wasn’t excited about Germany, it’s just that the pressure was on and the work was beginning. It was my third tour there, so the ‘adventure’ element of it kind of took a backseat to the ‘work’ element.
To be totally honest, I was most nervous about the show in Holland. I really didn’t know much about the gig, and I am not very familiar with the Dutch culture. I found the venue online somehow and started chatting with the owner about a show via e-mail, but I had never met him. He set up a show around my schedule, and he offered me accommodations. It all sounded great, but I had to trust a person I was e-mailing back and forth with, who I had never met before. I had a gut feeling that the people hosting me for this concert would be nice, and that they were.
I was greeted at 10:30pm at the central train station by a tall Dutch man, Jan, with very hip spectacles and a warm smile. He grabbed some of my luggage and took me to his home where Helma, his wife was waiting for me with cheese and bread and a cold beer. As I sat across them at their kitchen table, they smiled at me and said in deliberate and thoughtful English, “We both agree that what you are doing is very brave, traveling alone and doing these shows.” It meant a lot to me, because sometimes it is scary and I don’t feel very brave. But then, as I sat there and ate bread with the most delicious olive spread ever, I thought to myself, “what if I had been too afraid to do this? I wouldn’t have met these wonderful people and witnessed how generous and kind strangers can be.” Of course, it’s important to be smart and safe and careful, but I don’t think the answer is just to say no if it doesn’t feel comfortable all the time. It would have been easier for me to say no, but if I had, I would have missed out on a pretty remarkable experience.
We discussed politics and the United States over the beer and cheese that night, which was fitting because the next day, the day of the show, was September 11th. I was treading lightly in how to approach this, as an American playing a show outside the states. I wanted to honor the anniversary, but I also wanted to be delicate about it. Jan said that there would be a small tribute to mark the date before my set. The show was the opening ceremony of Open Monument Day, a festival where all the monuments in this town were free to the public. They held the concert in a 13th century medieval church in the small town of Godlinze. To commemorate the anniversary of September 11th, there would be an organ player playing American compositions on the church organ, which I thought was really cool. I asked if it would be appropriate for me to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” during my set and they said yes. As a singer, that song is so fun to sing. You kind of have to use your whole body, the way it is written, so I love to do it. When I sang it, everyone in the church stood up and by the end of it, some people were in tears. (Here is a video…the quality is not the best, but it gives an idea.)
I am a little teary-eyed while writing this, it was so moving to me. Here I was in this small town in the Netherlands, and all these people stood up while I sang my country’s national anthem on the anniversary of September 11th. It pretty much knocked me flat, and I was really inspired by it. As much as countries may have differing opinions about things and maybe they don’t always see eye to eye, 9/11 was just as much of a tragedy and a heartbreak to that room full of people as it was to me. It was a special night, and a very memorable gig.
After the Netherlands, I hit the ground running in Germany. Since I have done tours there a few times now, Germany feels familiar. This was good because it was JAM PACKED. I had one night off, traveling to a different city every day. It’s difficult to choose what to recount because it was all so unforgettable and different. I played a show in a small city with a full band of jazz musicians: a drummer, bassist, pianist, electric guitar player, and two backup vocalists. My friend and frequent drummer on tour, Max, set up the band and the show for me, so when I arrived, I basically just jumped into this 7 piece band of people playing my songs note for note like the recording. It fed my soul quite a bit. I don’t often play with a band on tour because it is hard to make that financially feasible at the indie level, so this was a treat for me. We recorded the show, so hopefully I’ll be able to share more of it down the road. In the meantime, you can get a little bit of the feel from it here on my Facebook page.
Since this blog can’t be two weeks long, I will try to summarize the Germany leg of this tour with some highlights: I played at a night flea market with about 200 people in it. I played at a venue owned by Die NotenDealer, a German boy band and they harmonized with me and it was magical. (Proof here.) I played for a classroom full of 8 year olds in Eastern Germany and they were so darn cute. (Proof here.) I played shows at a photo studio, in a beautiful barn, at a jazz club, in the attic of a student building, in a record shop, in a castle. I got to see a big statue of Karl Marx’s head that permeated history of communism in Eastern Germany. I got to see old friends and made some dear new friends. I ate falafel pretty much every night, sometimes twice a day (touring musician’s diet, yummm…). I tried to speak some German and learned that I am not very good at it. And as usual, people were kind, generous and supportive of what I was doing and the music I have made. It was jam-packed and pretty exhausting, but it was rewarding all the while. Next up, ENGLAND.