2015 European Tour Blog Part I
PART 1: APRIL 22 TO MAY 1 2015
"There is nothing quite like sitting at an outdoor café, spending an hour or two over a cup of coffee or a beer. Or both, as has been known to happen."
John is right! And that is one of the many joys of touring Europe. If you have read our previous blogs about our tours of Europe, you can see the progress we have made. Our first tour consisted of about 8 shows in the Netherlands, and it was just John and me with a Dutch drummer. Then we brought our ol' buddy Chris Leighton along to play drums with us on the next one. This last tour consisted of 19 shows and four of us Americans in the Netherlands, Germany and Poland. While a lot of people may think touring Europe is Shangri-La, it is actually a lot of work. You have to slowly build your audience just like in the US. After five tours in four years, we are reaping the benefits of our hard work. (And a few hours at the cafés!)
We have established bases of operation- one at a friend's house in Vriezenveen, Netherlands and another at the Tonehunter headquarters in Cologne. After all these tours we have become great friends with Anko and Helga Lammers and Ralf and Kristin Reichen.
Ralf & Kristin Reichen
I was very pleased to take my wife Michelle with me before the tour started to do some sightseeing and "Amsterdamage" then meet our European friends.
So, let's get started.
Returning for this tour, we had Carl Martin on drums, and Eric Robert on keyboards, and of course John Kessler on bass guitar. It was Eric's second tour with us, and Carl's third. So we all knew the process, and this was by far the smoothest running tour so far. Also we had the best weather of any tour we've done over there. It is easy to overlook that most of the places we play are WAY north of Seattle and the Canadian boarder. Some of the towns we visited are as far north as mid Hudson Bay in Canada. So even if you are there in May, it certainly doesn't mean you will get much sunshine or temperatures above 68°. We had a lot of 65°-70° weather with ample sunshine.
I was fortunate to come a week early with Michelle, so I was quite adjusted to the time change when the guys arrived from Seattle on April 22. After a long flight and nine hour time change plus a two hour train ride from Amsterdam's Schipole airport, the boys set up their gear for a quick rehearsal. Running on 'fumes', we worked through a bunch of new songs for the sets and everyone did their homework- the new songs were ready for prime time.
As is the ritual, we headed into Almelo for a quick dinner at the Shamrock, where we usually have salmon. We had to settle for fish 'n' chips though, because they were out... However, Carl and I got started on the great European beer, Eric joined us with some 0.0 (non-alcoholic) and John stuck to "water with gas."
Our first gig was in Roermond (pronounced roo-monde), about a 2 hour drive to the south. The place was called Den Heiligen Cornelius, and we had a nice Thursday night gig there to kick off the tour. We played there about a year ago at another venue, so we saw some familiar faces.
We spent the next day in Roermond hanging out with our friend Ron Pennings- if you are on Facebook, he's the guy behind the Hit-Tracks Top 100 list. Our songs "Red Line" made it to #1 a few months back, and he gave me a nice framed picture of the chart position!
Ron took us for a walk around the city centrum where we spent some time sightseeing and hanging out at cafés...
"So much of life in Europe happens outdoors. The design of their cities enables this. In the countries we traveled (The Netherlands, Germany and Poland), generally speaking, each city or town has a Centrum or Central District where cars are not allowed. Shops and restaurants line the streets and cafes spill out from the restaurants with tables and umbrellas. Some smaller towns might have only one main street or square, but in the larger cities it's totally possible to get lost in mazes of curving streets, tiny alleys and plazas."-John
The next day we drove to Sint-Michielsgestel, a town we know well having played there twice before. They have a nice stage and lighting system and there's always a great turnout. This time we stayed at a bed-and-breakfast just outside of town, where Eric had a good time feeding their horse.
The next morning after some scrambled eggs (we are lucky when we can get them), we drove down south to Heerlen in Limburg. Yeah, that's where the Limburg cheese comes from originally. We hit our accommodations first: another bed-and-breakfast place a few miles down the road. The southern part of the Netherlands is wedged between Germany and Belgium, and has a much different feel than the rest of the country. More rolling hills and meadows. Our gig that night was at the Openlucht Theater- a small amphitheater in a park. The event was put together by our old friends Skinny and Gabi Bertram who we first met at the Blues Garage in Geleen. That night was particularly fun because the stage was much larger than the clubs we had been playing, and the extra legroom helped us all cut loose! I have to say we prefer the bigger stages...
Our B'n'B was funny. It had a shower that had no contour to the floor, and the thing was about 10 sq. ft, so the whole floor was pretty much 'flooded' if you used it. Only one of us did... The other funny thing was that the bathroom was LOUD because the whole place was concrete and cinderblock, so anything you did in there was extremely amplified. (Oh the joys of close proximity!) The next morning we had the traditional 'cold cuts' and bread breakfast, and this time with some raw prosciutto-lookin' stuff.
We are lucky to return to many of the Dutch venues every year- we start to get to know our way around the town and which hotels and restaurants are the best to hit. So going back to Oss was a blast. We play a little club there called The Machinist. Franscha Brands and her sister Pamela run the place and always makes us feel welcome. There's a music store in the city center and a few great cafés.
"But there is nothing quite like sitting at an outdoor café, spending an hour or two over a cup of coffee or a beer. Or both, as has been known to happen. And you are never alone, likely you'll be in an area with several cafes to choose from, and so there will be dozens if not hundreds of other people having a coffee or a beer, or both."
One thing that the Netherlands have over the US: more clothing options for men! In lots of these little towns and villages there are several mens clothing stores that put the US offerings to shame (unless you live in a big city). Eric and I were always on the hunt for cool new shirts for our gigs. The next day, Monday, was King's day- a big celebration marking the birth of King Willem-Alexander, and everyone wears orange in observance!
We headed back south to Helmond to play on King's Day, and we set aside the all-black uniforms for orange! It was a rowdy night, with people celebrating all throughout the day- I'm sure the country drained several million gallons of beer. At our gig that night was an old buddy from Seattle who had a day off from his European tour- Mr. Johnny Smokes! After our sets he and his mates took the stage and played a few killer Seattle grunge tunes for us!
The next two days we had no shows, so we drove back to Vriezenveen to do some laundry and get some R&R. The pacing on this tour turned out very well; we didn't have many long drives between gigs (in the Netherlands you can't drive more than 3 hours and still be in the country), and we had time to rest after a stretch of 5 or 6 shows in a row. We got to sleep in and spend the days hanging in the city center of Almelo at the cafés. We persuaded Anko and Helga to let us take them out to dinner to thanks them for the countless meals they fix for us at their place.
The next leg of the tour included shows in Germany, so we drove due south to a small town called Epstein, and had one of my favorite experiences of the tour! We were following our GPS (the only way to go in the EU), and ended up at a train station scratching our heads. Uh, this is the venue?
Well it turns out it was indeed the venue- inside the old train station. Oddly enough it was one of the coolest gigs we played on the whole tour. It reminded me of Jazz Alley in Seattle where everyone sits down and watches intently. We got a big introduction and the crowd was on their feet in the little packed club before we even played a note. Some of them had traveled hundreds of miles to come see us. Incredible! We were smushed onto a tiny little stage and gave it everything we had. I announced an old song- "This is the title track from our first CD..." and some dude in the front row yelled "YES!" and sang along with every word of Left For Dead. The crowd bought our t-shirts and CDs like they were the last ones on earth, and we signed autographs for over an hour.
From the train station we saw a huge old castle on the other side of town, and knew we had to go check it out. So the next morning we headed straight there and took the tour. There was a big German dude giving some friends a tour in English so we followed along. This was the oldest castle we had ever seen- constructed in the 1300's complete with lookout tower and embrasures for defending archers. It had a tower in which one convicted of a crime would be lowered into for 30 days with minimal food and water!
NEXT UP: ARMENIAN POP SINGERS AND BICYCLES