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NEW ADVENTURES

New Adventures cover

TWO DOLLAR BASH

"TWO DOLLAR BASH"

Release in Germany:
Friday, 17-09-2007


TWO DOLLAR BASH

"ON THE ROAD"

Release in UK:
Monday, 10-09-2007


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TOURDIARIES

+ Matt de Harp’s Canada/USA tour diary 2007
+ Mark Mulholland's roundup USA tour 2005

+ Matt de Harp’s Canada/USA tour diary 2007

Toronto to Texas and Back -Tour Diaries Canada and USA, March/April 2007

Contents:
Thursday, March 1st - Arrival in Toronto
Friday, March 2nd - The Oshawa Experience
Saturday, March 3rd - Lights and Thrills in Wakefield
Sunday, March 4th - Arrival in Montreal.
Monday, March 5th - Cold As Hell
Tuesday, March 6th - At the Divan Orange
Wednesday, March 7th - The Irish Gentleman
Thursday, March 8th - Showdown on College Street
Friday, March 9th- London, Ontario
Saturday, March 10th - Border Drive: The Road to Chicago
Sunday, March 11th - Chicago!!!
Monday, March 12th and Tuesday, March 13th - The Road to Texas
Wednesday, March 14th - Meeting in Fort Worth
Thursday March 15th until Tues March 20th- - South By Wang-Dang
Wednesday, March 21st - Lafayette, Louisiana -
Thursday March 22nd until Saturday March 24th - Visit to Sharla in Florida
Sunday March 25th – Gold Rush Town
Monday March 26th Athens, Georgia and Eight-Track Gorilla
Tuesday March 27th - The Red Light Café Scam
Wednesday March 28th - Dalton's Life
Thursday March 29th - Richmond: Meeting David and the Greek
Friday March 30th - Sean Condron and Brooklyn
Saturday March 31st - Billy from Philly
Sunday April 1st - Rainy Sunday in Soho
Monday April 2nd and Tuesday April 3rd - The long way home

Thursday, March 1st
Arrival in Toronto

I’ve never seen so much slush and melted snow! These puddles are so big you could go snorkeling in them. In fact, I almost did.

So far we did not see much of Toronto. I’m using a moment of quiet after breakfast to send the first news and catch up on the booking business on my little laptop. We don’t have an adaptor so it should run out of batteries soon. Mark has gone outside to investigate (brave man... watch those puddles!).

The flight was exhausting, we landed late because of a snow storm (they have them quite a bit over here). Then we couldn’t get an internet connection to find out about our rented car info and the phone lines were down because of the snow storm. I finally had to persuade the local Sheraton Hotel to let us use their shiny office computer and that sorted things out. They must have sensed that we would end up sleeping in their plush lobby if they didn't help a bit. We would have, too...

We arrived in downtown Toronto a few hours later, to find that it was impossible to park for free: the snow-plow might scratch your car in the morning, or maybe just plow it away! So we had to leave the car in a private parking, like everyone else seems to do here: only 20 dollars a night. 14 Euros. Bargain.

On the good side: they have great pancakes and it’s sunny today and they’re playing Chuck Berry, The Beatles and The Supremes in the hotel lounge. Can’t be that bad...


Friday, March 2nd
The Oshawa Experience

Reaching Oshawa (pop. 4700) didn't prove very difficult: about 45 min east of Toronto, the little community looks like a typical middle-class suburban town.

Take everything you saw or heard about a poor, no-way-out hole-in-the-ground factory town. Multiply this by a hundred, add a good few fat girls in jogging pants and a couple of working-class psychopaths, et voila! Oshawa in a nutshell. All this amongst grey skies, even grayer concrete blocks, an icy wind and not much else. There is a small stage at the end of the "Atria", the bar where we are playing, just in front of the greasy kitchen. They make a mean chilli there, by the way. A couple of plastic buckets next to the stage are slowly filling with melting snow dropping ever-so-slowly from the ceiling.

We get to the bar relatively early. Dino, the boss, is nice enough: "make yourselves at home" he says, then walks off clutching an open whisky bottle. Back outside, the shops are depressingly cheap and unimaginative wares are scattered in their windows like broken toys, covered with dust. Of course we made instant friends with the local jakeys and other crack heads. They could tell we were novelty...

The show was quite fun but surreal: half the band had almost lost their voices. We had no monitors, so could not really hear what we sounded like. We were opening for 2 Death Metal bands. Hilarious.
And: EVERYONE fucking LOVED US. There you go.

After the show the soundman called a friend's mother who set us up with a cheap motel room that looked like something straight out of a road movie. Joe and Craig had to be smuggled in after the good woman had gone, 'cause we only had enough cash to pay for 3 of us. I kept expecting drunken rednecks or local police yobbos to burst in, then run us out of town covered with tar and feathers.

That didn't happen. Next morning we got out of there before it could.


Saturday, March 3rd
Lights and Thrills in Wakefield

There’s a wave of relief and elation washing over us as we pull in the little town of Wakefield: liquor houses and general stores, it looks like a postcard from 1856, if you don't count the cars and electric wires, of course. We discover we are playing in the local saloon, aptly named „The Black Sheep“, or „Mouton Noir“ in Quebecois. After our visit of the depths of human despair in Oshawa, this feels like a second youth. As soon as we push the doors of the place, we can feel the goodness of it.

The upstairs room is the Dream Backstage: a very comfy living room with nice rugs on wooden floors. We instantly sink into the couch and find the Simpsons Channel. Aaauurgh, feels goood.

We’re openers for a benefit show organized by some of the heavyweights of the local scene. A guy called Jim introduces himself to us as a singer-songwriter from Ottawa. We play a short set of 10 songs and get a good response: handshakes and back-slapping as we walk off-stage, all good this time... to the bar we go, and get to meet a few of the local crew.

The rest of the evening unfolds with a nice pop-rock band and Jim doing his thing: nicely crafted love songs with melodic and introspective overtones. Tony and I are whisked away to a bar next door before the end of the third song. There we meet the local boys and girls who are enchanted by Tony’s rough Glaswegian slur. A very fine evening all in all: we soon scrape our way back to the Black Sheep across the frozen parking lot and crawl in our big double beds upstairs. Mmmh.

Good night, Wakefield, glad to meet you.


Sunday, March 4th
Arrival in Montreal.

I get woken out of a deep sleep in my big feathered bed in the Black Sheep. The boys are ready! In fact, Tony is impatient to repeat the diner experience: cheese and ham and sausages, yarh! On the road! Hurry!

We do find a diner after a short drive. It sits in the bowels of a Quebecois industrial town. We get some amused stares and not a few chuckles from the local lads as we walk through the front door. Big mamas clutching coffee mugs are elbowing their way through the crowd, grumbling in 300-year old French. We soon find a room upstairs and eat our fill. On the menu, the hamburgers become „hambourgeois“ and sour cream „sure crème“...

We arrive in Montreal a couple of hours later, after driving through rolling fields of snow listening to Dylan. We get kind of misled looking for our friend Sean’s place and have to ask for directions. Everyone seems to kinda know where we need to go, but we don’t understand a word they’re saying. Eventually we do get to Sean’s street, though. He’s standing outside with a snow-shovel, having cleared a parking place for us, playing with his dog.
He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the cold. Would make sense, since he grew up in a small town much further north and used to hang out drinking in the woods by -30C as a teenager. Good Lord. Soon we’re gathered in the kitchen holding warm mugs of tea and sucking on beers. We end the evening walking downtown to one of his sessions with his bluegrass band in a small bar which name escapes me just now. I don't remember much of that evening, so we must have had a good time...

Monday, March 5th
Cold As Hell

Vikings believed Hell was an icy place, peopled by the souls of the damned howling in the snowy wind for eternity. Canada in the winter is a lot like that.

I must say I woke up in high spirits, though, and incredibly early: 8 o'clock!... of course, I’m still jet-lagged. Well, never mind. I proceeded to clear the kitchen-table of all the empty beer bottles from last night. Good thing we got a cab back from the bar... we walked all the way there, through the snow and in the icy wind, I could not have faced walking back the same way again.

Sean's girlfriend Orit is letting us use her flat, a real Ali-Baba's cavern, full of books and pencils and blankets and tea-bags and stuff (she works as a Hebrew teacher downtown).
Their neighborhood was apparently cobbled together in 2 weeks, back in the late 1800´s when all the Irish came over to work in construction sites. As a result, it’s still really cheap but wiring and plumbing are in a terrible condition, and nothing is really straight: you can put anything by the kitchen sink and watch it as it rolls towards the floor. New gravity laws!

I kinda got lost on the way back from a walk downtown, although I knew the general direction of Sean’s place and finally found it without much trouble. The wind had abated somewhat and I found myself sifting through snow drifts and along a frozen canal. It felt like something out of „The Deer Hunter“, all this industrial desolation combined with the still beauty of fresh-fallen snow. Crows cried overhead. I was feeling light-headed and almost elated by the cold, maybe I was already starting to freeze to death. They say it’s absolutely painless, you just fall asleep with a dumb smile on your face.

Well, not me. Made it home, eventually.


Tuesday, March 6th
At the Divan Orange

As it was -44 Celsius , we spent the day huddled in Sean’s kitchen, listening to his seemingly interminable flow of stories and anecdotes, smoking his tobacco and eating vegetable stew made by Tony. We also used the day to catch up on e-mails and do a bit of laundry.
As the evening approached we left our housewife duties and got a ride to the venue, the Divan Orange (Orange Sofa), a cute bar-restaurant in the French-speaking quarter, rue St-Laurent, home of some of the best Jewish Delis in the world.
We entered the premises just in time to witness the tail-end of an album release for a local band, and realized the bar was absolutely packed with young trendy Quebecois students. 20 minutes later they were all gone. We proceeded to sound-check to an empty bar.
Sean’s band also played that night and sounded great. There really weren't that many people, mostly local musicians coming to check us out. It was the coldest March night in more than 20 years, which might have played a part.

As a consolation we hoofed it to the late-night diner around the corner with Sean's sister Shannon and gorged shamelessly on local specialties like „poutine“: basically, a bunch of French fries covered with melted cheese and smothered in gravy. In Shannon’s words: „bad news in a bowl“.
Then we had to face ice-frost shock treatment again to get a cab home.
Dixit Craig: „This is not a country, it’s a giant fucking freezer“.


Wednesday, March 7th
The Irish Gentleman

Our drive to Toronto is pretty mellow. Sun is shining, Sean is talking non-stop, running commentaries on each song Joe chooses to play on the car’s stereo. Music is a bit like politics: it can make new enemies out of old friends in seconds if you don’t watch out..
Tonight we play in Allen’s, a big wooden Irish pub on the outside of town, next to one of the biggest bridges I have ever seen.
No sooner do we cross the pub's threshold than we become engaged in conversation with John, the bar’s owner and an absolute sweetheart to boot.
He treats us like royalty. I have rarely encountered such genuine kindness and concern in a human being, much less in a bar owner.
I gratefully and respectfully drink the pint of cider he hands me.
Despite some minor technical difficulties (not enough microphones, etc), we soon launch into our set. The music is getting tighter every day, despite our fatigue and our husky sick-people voices. Right after the show a woman barges in: this is Andrea, a seasoned local promoter who heard of us through a mutual friend, but arrives too late for the gig. She’s surrounded by two or three radio guys, they've all been partying and are in great spirits. I got a feeling Andrea could become a new friend. We take her phone number and head back home, to the same overheated and over-priced backpacker’s hostel as the last time. Same 20 dollar parking fee. But they've got pancakes for breakfast.
With maple syrup.
And hot chocolate.


Thursday, March 8th
Showdown on College Street

All right, today is the Big Day. We're performing our showcase for CMW. I wake up in a sweat, nothing nerve-related, though: this room is so over-heated, Tony says it's "like sleeping in a Calcutta sickroom".

It is early afternoon when we walk to the Grand Hotel York to get our festival passes, which we'll end up not using, but hey, what the hell, at least we got freebees: a bottle of water, a can of Red Bull and a free copy of Public Enemy’s latest album (their singer Chuck D is the keynote speaker this year). We have a brief walk through the varied stands: digital technologies and on-line radios, and a conference room with great speeches like: "Music On Air: Is Your Song Ready For Radio-Play?" (I hope not, seeing the crap they're playing on radios worldwide) or "Millions Of Dollar dedicated To Music Not Being Used: How To Get Your Share" (damn good question, I had been wondering as well).

Sean's dad had invited us back to his place for an afternoon roast. Nice guy, he works as a care-taker in one of the richest areas in Toronto. Got ourselves a prime parking spot behind his apartment block and sat down in the living-room watching hockey and drinking root-beer while he regaled us with stories about his childhood up north in New-Foundland and Labrador, then we sat around the kitchen table and devoured one of the best roasts I've ever tasted, complete with boiled carrots, spuds and cauliflower.

We hurry out of Terry's place to make it on time at the venue for 6.30: that's the official sound check time. Of course there are 3 other bands before us and they're running late and the technical gear is kinda crap, but what the heck, there's a cheap Chinese fast food joint around the corner: 2 dollar beers for 2 Dollar Bash, sounds good enough for Tony and me.

The show turns out great, although we'll learn later there was some kind of Awards Ceremony on the same night, so none of the ill-famed Promoters and Producers showed up. Even if they had, they're quite busy "networking" most of the time. It didn't matter to us, though, because we played an absolutely rocking set and gathered great vibes from all the other bands.

I swear if we ever get back to Canada (and especially Montreal), we'll be well connected: we must have met most of the local folk scene on that night.
Only next time 'round, let's come back in the summer, eh?


Friday, March 9th
London, Ontario

After hanging out most of the afternoon in the hostel lobby (we had to vacate the room at 11 am) and meeting Andrea for a good-bye pint of Guinness at some very up market Irish bar downtown, we finally get on the road about 5pm. London, here we come...

Dan, the drummer in with Sean's band back in Montreal, mentioned the fact he grew up near there. According to him, London is quite snobbish and "filled with trophy wives and their gorgeous daughters". Well, at least that was reassuring, I mean we weren't gonna land in a hole like Oshawa, right?...
WRONG.
This is Oshawa after they dropped the bomb. Our venue, the "Round Tower", is right across the street from a heavy-metal club. Next to a massive Irish bar. In the lobby of a derelict apartment block. There's a night guard half-asleep under the harsh neon lights. A few black leather sofas and a glass coffee table with a big orange sign that reads: "No Loitering".

Wow, this should be fun. I get the feeling the only "trophy wives" we gonna see here are probably stuffed on the mantelpiece, coming down with bad cases of divorce and quayludes addiction. Should be great, yep.

Well, it doesn't turn out that bad after all. the barman is a youngish guy who seems genuinely pleased to see us. He's a piano player himself, he says. Within minutes we're sitting with a pint in front of us and the sound system is blasting "Changes" by David Bowie. I start to relax a bit. As long as they keep bringing the beers in and playing good stuff, I think I can handle this...
And the fact is, they do. They even bring a couple of pizzas to feed us. Only worry: we're the only people in the bar, staff of one and local drunk notwithstanding. And we're still kind of sick and absolutely exhausted.
Eventually we end up playing at around 11.30 pm, groggy from lack of sleep. The locals start pouring in: a skinny young black guy with a sharp wit, a little girl in a white t-shirt with a sweet smile and ample bosom, a bearded young guy with a Peruvian woolly hat (who buys a cd by the way), a completely boozed-up lady with a pointy bonnet who reminds me of a leprechaun with chronic depression (might she have been one of the "trophy wives", once upon a time?) and a bespectacled gentleman, who, even though he's very drunk, really insists on singing along. Out of key, of course.
"A Small Quality Crowd", says the girl. They love us so much they don't want to let us go. They ask for a number by The Band as an encore... Joe pulls out a breath-taking version of "The Weight". The little crowd goes absolutely mental: they scream, they howl, they (almost) cry with delight. No, really. After the show we crawl to our hotel. We only have a couple of hours of sleep ahead of us before we have to get up: wake-up call at 6 am, it's gonna be a long way to the border.

We pray to whatever gods we have they'll let us in.


Saturday, March 10th
Border Drive: The Road to Chicago

We clamber out of bed on a cold and foggy London morning. Outside, the streets look like a stage set for a post-apocalyptic horror film. It’s 7 in the morning and the coffee down at reception is nowhere near strong enough. Luckily the corner shop is open: we stuff ourselves with samosas and empanadas on the sidewalk, while a few birds chirp about, hoping to catch our crumbs. Thus revivified, we hit the road.

The country roads toward the border are quite spooky as well, what with the omnipresent fog covering the rolling fields still white with snow. The end of the world... and we’re plowing through it.
After what feels like an interminable time, the fog lifts abruptly to reveal a long stretch of road flowing towards the horizon, streaming majestically through bare woods and wild oats. Craig is at the wheel and can’t resist the thrill: before we know it, we are rushing along at the alarming speed of 154 km per hour.
At least that’s what we learn from the Highway Patrol cop who’s just arrested us.
This guy is alone with his uniform and he’s got his psychological terror-technique down to a T.: within 30 seconds of stern admonishing, he’s got us all humbled and eager to cooperate with his sorry fascist ass. At least that’s the impression we give him and he obviously loves it.
Once he is sure he had made his point, he walks back to his car, lets us wait around a good while and came back to hand Craig a 350 $ fine. Thank you, Sir. Have a nice day too.

The arrival at the border is pretty spectacular: we’re queuing along a massive bridge spread across the waters between two opposite shores of a majestic lake. Beyond the iron railings, the horizon spreads silver. As we’re stuck in the traffic waiting to pass customs, I spot a sticker on the railings. It reads: „Fat Bastard World Tour“. Whoever these guys were, they must have been stuck in traffic here, too. Hope they let them through. Hope they let us through.

And as it turns out, the customs check-in is quite an anticlimax in its lack of thoroughness. Some old guy basically stamps our passports with very few questions and a very easy-going attitude. Tony reckons we got lucky: this guy was in his fifties, probably not very eager to bust terrorists at this point. More like: he’s looking forward to his doughnuts and coffee break. Good for us. Craig is having to wait a little longer: he’s the only one with a green card, so, of course, he arouses suspicion... Go figure.
So we hang outside smoking roll-ups. They don’t have roll-ups over here, so we catch a few suspicious glances there, too.

And that was that. We got through. Now where’s a good American burger joint?


Sunday, March 11th
Chicago!!!

We rolled into Chicago last evening as the sun was setting on the city skyline. Massive glass towers glinting in gold and amber. Freeways stretching out in all directions. Down in south Chicago, the home-boys cruise around in their big SUVs, staring at the lads lined-up for a long-awaited piss-stop against a picket-fence.

Joe’s friend Anna met us at a recording studio she’s working at downtown, then took us to a place called Wonderbar, a little drinking hole where we played yet another show. Our friend Benjamin Ezra made the effort to come up from Lafayette, Indiana, to hang out with us. He’s a very young and talented singer-songwriter and he’s about 7 feet tall. Bastard.
After the show we all got back to Anna’s digs. She lives in this amazing apartment with another room-mate who works as an archivist for Playboy magazine. The flat also happens to be situated in the gay part of town: as we pull in the parking lot, we bump into a few of the neighbors, one their way to a night out. One of them is all decked-out in gold-plated evening dress, surgically enhanced breasts and blonde wig. He’s announcing he’s Anna Nicole Smith but just got his breasts reduced. Very friendly chap.
Back at the flat there’s a bit of a party but I crash out pretty soon, too exhausted from the drive and a persistent cold.

Next day we’re all more or less refreshed. I’m still kinda sick but two glasses of white laced with pain-killers soon take care of that. Ben Ezra has got to catch his train back home sometime in the afternoon, so Joe and I decide to walk him downtown and take the L-train to the Millennium Park. The L-train is similar to the S-Bahn, but much more ancient and beautiful, especially the stations: they still have the old metal framework and wooden boards from the old days. Quite amazing it’s still in such great working order.
We drop Ben off at the Chicago Union Station, a beautiful building built in the early 1900´s which looks more like a museum than a train station. A vestige of the days when America still did its traveling by trains. Days long gone, obviously: the grand old room resonates emptily with our foot steps. We’re the only people here today.

On our little walk we did spot an Irish bar and, since today is a day off, we figure it would be good to try and blag a gig somewhere, maybe pass the hat and make a few bucks extra. The pub owner is pretty open to the idea, since it’s almost St Patrick’s day and they have the Parade downtown (which we missed, by the way). So we agree to be there at 7 pm and do a few sets.
I bop by a Mexican burrito joint for a bite to eat. Great cheap food, I could live on this stuff... At the next table, three teenage Latino girls are hanging out, trying to decide which movie they want to catch for the evening. Only after I see one of them sensually kissing her chubby friend’s shoulder, while the other one moons with pleasure, do I remember that this is, after all, the gay neighborhood. Yippee.

The pub is packed with very loud Irish Americans by the time we get there. It’s a real struggle to hear ourselves above the shouts and hysterical laughter, never mind being heard by anybody else, but eventually the God of Traveling Musicians prevails: it so happens that the boss is there with all his family. He’s absolutely massive, with shoulders the width of a small pick-up truck and hands the size of my whole head. He’s of Irish descent. He’s drunk. And he loves country music.
As usual in these situations, Joe is the man for the job: he pulls out a heart-rending version of „Little Wine Drinker Me“ by Merle Haggard. The old boy gets so into it he starts singing along, almost crying with emotion. When the song comes to an end and the uproarious applause subsides, he proudly struts up to our tip jar and sticks in a 100 dollar bill.
His generous gesture saves our asses financially. From then on, it’s just more songs and more Guinness, quickly turning into shots of whisky. I must admit these people’s hospitality is going to literally kill us if it goes on like this much longer. Not that I’m complaining, though.
I wonder if that burrito place is still open, by the way...


Monday, March 12th
Tuesday, March 13th
The Road to Texas

We had planned to leave Chicago in the early hours of the morning, but Big Billy’s generosity last night had a lasting negative effect: namely too much whisky equals very little motivation to get out of bed.

After much fumbling around and a few aspirins, followed by tearful goodbyes (Anna and her friends are some of the coolest people we know), we manage to get on the road around midday. In front of us, an 18-hours drive awaits.
We first thought of doing it in 2 goes, stopping overnight around Memphis, that’s kind of half-way, but we quickly decide otherwise. We won’t be able to arrive in Memphis early enough to improvise a session and get cash, we can’t really afford a motel, so there’s only one option left: we drive through the night until we’re tired enough to stop or until we get to Austin.

As it turns out it takes us 21 hours to get there. Craig, Mark and myself relay each-other through the night. Driving through thick fog, with the roar of the huge semi-trucks and shit country radio for the only company, we plow on. Soon the early morning silvery light illuminates tender green grass and roadside churches. We’re in Texas!

We roll into Austin about 9 am. It’s spring over here! Birds chirping everywhere. Birds you don’t see anywhere else too: blue jays and blue martins and whatnot. You can feel the humidity and fragrance in the air.

We soon find our way to Katz’s on 5th street, Austin’s famous Jewish deli, open all hours and serving huge portions of gorgeous bagels and other delicacies: hash browns and pastrami sandwiches, sweet potato pancakes and enormous home salads, with iced tea of course. So we gorge on this gargantuan breakfast, then phone our Austin contact, Bill Bunch.
Okay, to conjure up the possibility of the existence on this planet of someone like Bill Bunch I am going to have to ask you to momentarily suspend your natural disbelief in the goodness of the human heart and accept this simple fact: Bill Bunch is perfect goodness. There’s no way around it. We’ve tried, in the subsequent week we spent with the guy, to find some sort of natural flaw in his immaculate personality but came to the same staggering conclusion: the man is sheer goodwill incarnate, that’s all there is to it.
He instantly took us to his house, sat us in the backyard, went to the store to buy tacos and beers, dropped a lump of marijuana the size of my fist and a pipe on the table and declared in his slow Texas drawl: „no, you boys get all settled in and make yourselves at home, y´hear? So don’t worry about nothing, now, and feel free to use the shower and all“. Saint Bill of Austin.

We spend most of the afternoon sleeping. In the evening we get to go to our first tex-mex cantina. The burritos in Chicago really pale in comparison: tamales, guacamole, nachos with black beans and chicken soup, Mexican „Modello“ beers with lemon and rich red wine. We get to meet Kay over diner. She’s another person who totally supported us in Austin, she seems to know the whole town and loves what we do, so she’s on a mission: get us to play and get heard as much as humanly possible. Turns out she’ll do just that, as will become apparent in the following week or so. She’s also the opposite of Bill: where Bill is really mellow and understated in his manners, Kay is full-on to bursting point: she fills up the room, laughs louder, drinks faster and swears better than most Texas honchos you’ll ever meet.

If these two are gonna be our guardian angels, it’s gonna be one hell of a trip to heaven.


Wednesday, March 14th
Meeting in Fort Worth

We try to get an early start today. We’ve been told to be at the Aardvark in Fort Worth at 6 pm for sound check, and it’s a 6 hour-drive, so we attempt to be on the road at noon and, of course, fail miserably. Because, of course, we have to meet everyone for SXSW registration downtown first. Of course, Mark is staying at Kay’s with his wife Corinne (who flew in to hang out with us last night) and Craig, while the rest of us are at Bill’s. Of course, the town is crawling with traffic (there are about 3000 bands who came to Austin for the same reason we did) and no-one in the registration center seems to have a clue about what’s going on or where to get our passes, little wristbands, etc.
So, of course, we’re about one-and-a-half hours late. But now we’re wearing ridiculously bright plastic wristbands, which we won’t end-up needing anyway.

We’re finally on our way to Fort Worth, home of TCU, “Texas Christian University“, where every teenage girl weighs more than your mother, and every one of her boyfriends' accumulated IQs are still lower than those of your favorite pets. Fort Worth, whose name invokes images of cavalrymen trapped by ferocious Sioux warriors under a blistering heat, but which doesn’t quite come up to these romantic (and frankly quite stupid) expectations in the raw light of day... Not quite. We arrive at the club almost on time and it turns out it doesn’t matter after all, since the sound guy doesn’t show up until 8 pm. The kid who opens the door tells us all this info in two or three grunts. He looks like a cross between a retarded farm-hand with freckles and Gimlet the Dwarf with a baseball shirt. He also sports an impressive scar across the whole left side of his neck. Knife fight? Car crash? Did he end up chewing glass to impress his boyfriend? Endless possibilities exist.
Good thing old Bill Bunch came along. He promptly emerges from the Taco joint next door with his arms charged with food and huge frozen glass cups filled with a dark brew, which I suspect must be... beer! You guessed it.
We are expecting another Bill, actually. Bill Hangley, Jr. played on The Bash’s second album and has in fact been playing with us since the early Prague days, back in the early 90´s. Doesn’t seem so far away. He doesn’t seem that changed. And he’s still one of the smartest people and best songwriters I know. By the time he shows up another childhood friend of the other Bill (Bunch, who grew up in Arlington, close to here) is also showing up: back-slapping and endless reminiscing ensue. We all feel pretty good.
An hour later, as we’re witnessing the first band we’re sharing the night with start its set, we immediately realize there’s been a big mistake: these are all high-school kids! I mean, how the fuck did they get in without an ID? I mean, shit, they’re gonna listen to one of our songs and think it’s part of The Heritage Museum Medicine Show or something. They’ll think we’re dinosaurs.
Yeah, they probably will. Well, fuck it, we’re here now, might as well have some fun. I make my way to the bar and grab a tequila on ice. That’s better...

The first band is impressively boring so we wait outside for the second band. There are 4 bands on tonight, which is a pretty silly way to book a small town club during spring-break on a Wednesday night, if you ask me. But hey, nobody did ask me, so I guess I’ll shut up, just wait for my turn and hang in there.

Wait a minute.
These new kids are actually really good.
They all seem to be Latino kids, probably of Mexican origin. The bass-player and drummer appear to be brothers. The front kid carries a bright red telecaster almost as big as he is. He was probably the kind of kid everyone was making fun of at school, before they realized this skinny muchacho could fucking rock. And he does. The songs are pretty messy and loosely arranged but it’s obvious the kid has got IT. Hard to describe what IT is, but even harder to ignore. This one is lost to normal day-to-day existence, you can already tell by the way he cradles his huge guitar and throws his head backwards with his eyes closed when he hits a high note: he is lost to Rock n Roll. Good for him.

Our set turns out pretty okay, although most of the teenies leave the room halfway through. They came to cheer for their mates, not us old farts. The band who’s waiting to play after us is quite impressed, though. They’re called Machine Gun Hand. They’re absolutely great. One of the coolest sounds I’ve heard in a long time.
They start playing to 4 or 5 people, end up playing to their tour-manager and the bar staff.
And us.

But even we have to go. Bill has found us a local folk bar where we end the evening jamming around the table and drinking Guinness. Eventually, his friend J.-Nile takes us back to his house where he introduces us to his collection of small dogs and a few classic anti-Bush theories. So it ends up nicely after all, we’re quite content with our little trip and our new-found friends.


Thursday March 15th until Tues March 20th
South By Wang-Dang


These five days are more or less lost in a blur, but to give you an idea of how we occupy ourselves: we wake up, then queue-up for the shower (it´s like one big hungover family), then get about our day: mostly we get taken out by Bill to eat in some amazing tex-mex place, then spend the afternoons and evenings playing shows, most of them spontaneously arranged by Kay in one small bar or other. She seems to know half the town.
Among some of the places we ate at, the most memorable is certainly Loca Maria, a freakish cantina set on a parking lot near South First, across from a huge pharmacy supermarket. They have a great gospel band performing on Sunday afternoons, about 8 to 10 local musicians joining forces to belt it out for The Lord. It doesn´t come across as a religious service per se though, especially since most of South Austin is peopled by long-haired freaks that look more like Grateful Dead fans than good church-going citizens, but the spirit remains the same: everyone waving arms, hollering and jumping about to big fat rythm n´blues beats backed by chugging electric guitars and powerful harmonies, makes your hair stand on end, if you´re not already busy devouring some of Loca Maria´s fantastic food. Tacos and blues for the Lord; they could teach regular old churches a few things.

A definite highlight of our stay in Austin was Rocky Eriksson´s benefit show at Threadgills, home of the once-legendary Armadillo Headquarters. It seems that after a number of years being locked-up in mental hospitals and forced to undergo electro-shock treatment, the legendary Texas singer from the13th-Floor Elevators is finally able to enjoy his freedom and take to the stage with the same haunted fury that made his fame back in the days. Tony, Mark and especially Joe were absolutely blown away, seeing and hearing him in the flesh: they told me that some of their best memories were of psychedelic experiences listening to his albums back when they were teenagers . T-shakes, Mark and Corinne were stuck outside, watching over the fence, but Rocky´s little brother (who also happens to be his legal guardian) opened the side door and let them in after a few songs. Rocky wailed through all his greatest songs for more than an hour. His guitar player must have been in his early fifties but was pulling some of the most manic faces I´ve ever seen while unleashing some ferociously blistering riffs. "A great moment of rock n` roll history", said Tony afterwards. I hadn't seen Joe smile that much in a while.

We did get to see some other pretty cool bands: local guitar and fiddle whizz Erik Hokonen playing
Flipnotics Bar on our first night in town and especially our good buddy Rusty Miller and his band Jackpot, who smothered us with cold beers and beautiful sounds on a sunny afternoon in the
backyard of a clothes store on North 25th. Glorious.

Big T also got to meet one of his idols, the great Gary P. Nunn himself, playing live at Jovita´s, another excellent tex-mex joint on the south side. Very relaxed guy, must be in his mid-sixties, still
sports the old 10-gallon Stetson and wears snakeskin boots. The works. We caught him leaning against his pick-up truck chugging beers and talking to a few friends after his show; says he´s looking for hands to work on his ranch, so anyone interested can contact us, we´ll send 'em on to ol´Gary P.

But we mostly had our own playing to do, especially since Kay kept firing up new connections for gigs every single day: this being SXSW, we just had to play and be heard as much as possible. And play we did. Three gigs a day for 5 days, I won´t trudge through each one of them because I don´t want to bore anyone and I can´t remember them all, but here is what comes to mind: a good few Irish bars in and around Pecan Street (the famous 6th Street, musical spine of the city), a hippy tavern in South Austin (and one of the only pictures we have from the tour, our camera decided to die on the first day. Oh, well...), the parking lot of a rock n roll bar by the university, even a soup kitchen (Tony´s favorite)!. Our SXSW slot was scheduled for March 17th (St Patrick´s Day), in Jovita´s again, an absolute blinder: we had two beautiful latina girls in full flamenco regalia
dancing on "Ghost Town", a classic number by Jimmy Wayne Bozeman and one of the strongest songs in our repertoire (check out more about Jim´s work with his band The Lazy Pigs at canneryrowrecords.com). The patron saint of the irish himself couldn´t have done better, I reckon.

Nevertheless my favorite gig of ours took place at Bill Bunch´s house the next night. Bill had
participated in a documentary movie called „The Unforeseen“, about a local struggle with real-estate developers to save the famous Barton Springs, the biggest natural source of pure water in the region and home of many endangered species (the developers won, by the way). The aftershow party took place at his house. There we got together with Bill Hangley and his girl Cheshire, Rusty Miller (see above) and a few more of the local heads and proceeded to plow through our common repertoire: about 4 hours worth of tunes, almost without a break. We also got to play a few of Townes Van Zandt´s songs for some folks who truly love the man´s music, amongst which some of the people responsible for the amazing „Be Here To Love Me“documentary: one couldn´t dream of a better audience.

The last day in Austin started like any other. Tony was sitting in the backyard nursing one of Doctor Bunch´s Hot Weather Cocktails (white rum with pineapple on ice, amazing), scratching his head about how we were ever gonna repay Bill and Kay and all these other folks for all their help and kindness. The thing with these Texas people is that they won´t accept any thank-yous or food or gifts or even money for their hospitality, so much so it's almost frustrating. So eventually T and Joe came up with the perfect gift: they wrote a song (which you can hear on our myspace
site, by the way). The best thing about this, outside of the fact the tune practically wrote itself, was that the band was invited to play a few tunes the same night on a local pirate radio ("KAOS Fm"): since we were gonna have to interrupt Bill and Kay´s goodbye barbecue party to do the show, might as well play the thing on air. Mark hadn't heard the tune yet, but that never stopped us before. We knew he´s get it in a flash anyways, after all it was only three chords...
So it came to be that the first original song Two Dollar Bash had written in Texas was first heard by Bill Bunch and Kay Gourley, genuine Austinites, along with a choice of fine friends, while everyone was cracking cold Modellos open and munching on chicken wings...
It happened out in Kay´s backyard on Tuesday, March 20th, year of our Lord 2007.
In North Austin, Travis County.

------------------------------------------------------


Wednesday, March 21st
Lafayette, Louisiana

The ride from Austin is absolutely glorious. The sun is shining and we’re still high from all the good vibes we got in Texas. We’re driving between walls of solid green as soon as we reach Louisiana, sometimes across massive bridges literally built across the swamps: the trees are poking out of the silvery waters where the muskrat and the alligator lay. Meanwhile Bill Hicks is ranting away on our stereo: the contrast between his caustic wit and the peaceful beauty outside is unsettling, but it makes for a fun ride at least.

We reach Lafayette in late afternoon. Looks like a nice enough town. We find the Blue Moon easily enough: it’s a cool little wooden shack built as a music space just on the side of a youth hostel. We get greeted with warmth by the young woman who works there and a few of the guests, among which a New-Orleans guitar player who’s just recovering from a crippling hand infection and an older Cuban gentleman who makes his living working odd jobs to support his "art": wooden puzzles carved in heart shapes. I retire to the car to finish all the crawfish with hot dip Bill Bunch left us before we left, along with his favorite ice box (he filled up our gas tank without us knowing as well). The rest of the lads hang around drinking cold beers. Touching base again.

The show turns out to be quite disappointing, unfortunately. Perhaps exhaustion following the Austin onslaught or maybe the wrong audience, hard to tell: they seem to hold back a bit, it’s always hard to say why and sad to behold. People prove quite friendly and communicative after the show, though. I even get to meet my first Cajun guys, a couple of very drunk guys from Bayou Mamou, not far apparently. Their brand of French is quite understandable but miles apart from any other jargon I’ve come across so far. They take me across the street to another bar, along with a Belgian girl who works as a French teacher in the local high school: I don’t know if she’s any good at teaching, but boy, she sure can drink! She’s putting the rum away like it’s apple juice, while some rock band kills any attempt at intelligent communication. Suits me fine: I don’t feel like talking much (for once) and they’re pretty good (although they had a terrible name I can’t remember) and the guitar player sports the wildest afro I have ever seen. Thing must be about 4 feet wide, a wonder he gets through doors without getting caught. The place is nicely decorated, looks like a 18th century Creole whore-house, with big heart-shaped golden mirrors, scarves and pearl necklaces hanging in grapes everywhere (the last apparently a mardi-gras tradition). Soon everyone is absolutely plastered, the party slowly patters out while I watch on in an exhausted but happy daze. We made it to Jimmy Wayne’s home state. Tomorrow we drive on to Tallahassee, FL. Home state of Sharla June and The Mayhaws.


Thursday March 22nd until Saturday March 24th
Visit to Sharla in Florida

We had planned to play in Pensacola the day after the Blue Moon gig, but there had been some trouble with the booking and we found ourselves without a gig, so on the spur of the moment our friend Sharla arranged us a session in an Irish bar in her hometown of Tallahassee, Florida.
More than 9 hours drive and three states later, we pulled in front of the said place. The boss met us on the door step and showed himself to be a true gentleman: we were gonna be provided with anything needed, he was just eager for us to start. Sharla showed up shortly afterwards: she hasn’t changed that much since the days we used to play the streets of Prague together (that’s about 15 years ago now). Same energetic countenance, same beaming smile and cheeky smirk, she just cleaned up her act a lot. No more booze and unhealthy food. Seems to work for her.
The gig came about providentially, so we couldn’t really moan about the punters seemingly having confused "civilized conversation" and "shouting match", or the TV being on for the whole of our show. After all we were going to get wined and maybe dined and even paid, we were in Tallahassee with our old friend and there was nothing much to complain about the weather: "tropical, bordering on sweltering" would be the words that come to mind.

After an evening of reminiscing and tale-swapping, we had most of the next day to enjoy the beauty and peace of Sharla’s house. Tony and Craig were doing their best to follow Scottish football by any means available (and no matter what the results), Joe was out wandering the streets in search of an internet cafe and some postcards, Mark was at the fruit market with Sharla and I was standing on my head in the zen-like garden. Later in the afternoon, Sharla introduced us to southern food and what was to become a culinary obsession for the rest of our trip: collard greens. God, I’d kill for some right now...
The evening saw us in the Warehouse (an actual old wooden warehouse turned music venue) sharing the stage with Sharla’s band The Mayhaws: drums, double bass and mandolin backing Sharla’s fantastic voice and some of the best acoustic music we’ve heard on the tour.

The next day was spent just as leisurely: we went for a boat ride on the river where they filmed the early Tarzan flicks and Creature Of The Black Lagoon back in the fifties, saw some alligators and a bunch of multicolored swamp birds. Gators don’t seem as fierce as one would first assume, they mostly float about in a daze or lie digesting in the sun. I guess it wouldn’t be much fun to run into them at feeding time, though.
The river is the biggest source of clean water in the area, but is endangered by... local promoters and real estate developers polluting freely, you guessed it. Of course the locals are outraged and fighting to save the spring, but guess who’s winning?
...
You guessed it.

We spent the evening in the small town of Havana (nothing to do with its groovy Cuban counterpart) eating more delicious southern food and ended up jamming with the Mayhaws in an old biker’s yard. Craig even got to meet an ex-lobbyist who drives a Jaguar with "PANTHER" number plates and keeps two big white tigers in captivity at her ranch, but that’s a story we’ll tell some other time.


Sunday March 25th,
Gold Rush Town

As it turns out, the little town of Dahlonega used to provide most of the gold in the Atlanta area back in the old days. The name is said to be of Native-American origin, although to us it sounded more like Irish.
Well, after the pioneers killed all the Injuns and used up all the gold, the place turned into a tourist theme-park for the week-end bikers and older tourists. Not in too bad taste, mind you: they restored the town center in a quaint, old world kind of way which is more reminiscent of a film set for a TV-series than the utter tackiness of, say, Disneyworld. And there seems to be a whole lot for nature lovers around, too: the town is up in the hills north of Atlanta, I guess an ideal spot to break away for the week-end.

We’re playing in the Crimson Moon, a coffee shop and restaurant manned mostly by students. Beautiful old wooden building, we even have our little artist quarters and the use of the old-style balcony on the first floor, with a diving view of the town square and its scented candle and souvenir shops. The place boasts other posters of singer-songwriters on tour. A serious music joint, then.
We’re extremely lucky to be provided with an incredible soundman tonight, and the show is, although not incredibly well attended, one of the best of the tour, music-wise. Later on Tony and myself will even be blessed by being able to witness the flight of a big white owl as she swishes past our balcony on main street, now that the streets have emptied and quietened. Bedtime seems to come around half past eleven around here, which is pretty damn soon for the likes of us. It’s Sunday in family-prone Dahlonega, and the only place still open, conveniently placed around the corner, claims to brew its own beers, even stuff like Belgian stout and Guinness. At least that’s what they claim, but for the record: we beg to disagree. The beverages we got sold there is quite interesting tasting as long as you don’t think it’s supposed to be beer. "What about a shot at he bar?" we think as we’re mournfully munching on micro waved pizza (better than the beer): "No liquor license, sorry..." Even our attempts to purchase real beers as carry-away get frustrated: it’s Sunday in Dahlonega, not possible to have fun, sorry.
Healthy town, this.
I guess there’s only bedtime left.


Monday March 26th,
Athens, Georgia and Eight-Track Gorilla

We pull in downtown Athens on a gloriously hot spring day, in front of the Flicker bar, our venue for the night. After downing some cold beers and ditching our stuff, we’re back on the scorching streets and immediately get hassled for loose change by one of the local homies. His hit-up line was great, though: "Hey man, got a couple bucks for me, man? Gotta get some cash so I can find me a nice girl and take her out". Can’t say no to that, bro. He thanked us and gave us a silly hip-hop flyer, which we promptly chucked away.

As we were wandering around the city center, past shady cafés full of students and the university park, we suddenly bumped into the very person who sorted us out with our show at the Flicker: Kenny is an old friend of Joe. He’s also a popular local performer who goes by the name of Eight-Track Gorilla (he does wear an actual gorilla mask).
Today though he’s on his day off and tramps slowly, almost melancholically, down the streets of his hometown. He’s a very mellow person and a true music lover and our passport to getting to enjoy Athens, as it quickly becomes obvious. After a quick stop at a nearby taco stand and a cup of coffee, we end up spending the rest of the afternoon drinking cold beers in Kenny’s favorite watering hole, the name of which escapes me. They had cold beers and free peanuts and a great juke-box (out of order, unfortunately) and it was nice and cool in the shade. Bizarrely, right in the middle of it all, stood a gigantic TV screen showing "Robots", the sci-fi flick from Asimov. Will Smith starring almost credibly. Call me nerd if you want, but it’s exactly what I needed after so many days on the road. When I have enough cash I’ll build this bar in my living room, I think.

The gig at Flicker was great, we were sharing the bill with a local act, some sexy southern gal with a knack for funny songs ("sorry to be rude but I can’t eat this food, I’m a Vegan") and her beardy guitar-playing boyfriend backing her up. Really cool and quirky stuff, loads of people came and the night went into some serious careening from then on. Feeling strangely refreshed, we walked the streets speaking with phony German accents to people even drunker than we were (they believed we were actually Germans!), played a battle against acoustics in the nave of an enormously echoey bar and eventually ended up jamming behind closed doors in a seriously chic Italian restaurant, drinking beer and fine wines until dawn .

I always knew Athens was the cradle of all things civilized...


Tuesday March 27th,
The Red Light Café Scam

We wake up feeling horribly dehydrated and sticky (it’s called the Mother Of All Hangovers) in the middle of Kenny’s living room. Built by Kenny’s dad, a well-known architect and town planner in the early 60´s, the house is nestled in the middle of the wooded hills overlooking the southern part of town and is reminiscent of something in Le Corbusier’s style, all sharp angles, big spaces and lots of glass and wood. Unfortunately it has also been left without major repairs since its creator passed away, and is now being drilled through on all sides by carpenter bees: massive buzzing creatures, they don’t sting people but just drill through wood like you and me would carve through cheese. Too much work for Kenny to keep up with. He’s got enough on his hands taking care of his old mother, an absolutely charming old lady who’d love to show us all her scrapbooks.

After shaking our sorry hides into action, we decide to move out for a bit of grub. Led by 8-Track we land in a place that made history by inspiring the name of one of REM´s most famous albums: Weaver D´s "Automatic for the People". The place is really small, a little house on the banks of a river by an old concrete bridge, about 5 tables and a small kitchen occupied by a big black woman and The Man Weaver himself. "Communicate!" he announces as we near the till to order. Does sweet iced-tea come for free? "Automatic". O-okay... Good, then. This fabulous joint serves the best southern home cooking this side of Georgia: catfish and fried chicken with green beans or rice, squash or sweet potatoes and the unavoidable and delicious collard greens. Soon stuffed to bursting point , we give our warm thanks to Kenny and get on the road towards our next gig.

We’re supposed to meet up with the Mayhaws again tonight, they booked a gig for both of our bands in a place on the outskirts of Atlanta. I hear this town is massively spread out, so maybe it´s better if we don’t enter the center after all, we might not make it out. As it is, the road there takes forever, what with the town's devilish urban sprawl and the road works all over the place. We still manage to get there amongst the first, though and it seems to mean we’ll play first as well, which turns out to be unfortunate since the show starts at 8 pm. We play to a small (but dedicated) audience once again. Actually I’m so tired after last night I’m glad to finish playing early and being able to relax afterwards.
Our Navajo friend Bobbie from Tucson, Arizona, has made the effort to come all the way to see us and she’s brought a couple of friends with her, so we all sit around after the show listening to Sharla and the others and have a pretty decent evening, up until the point where we find out that none of the bands will get paid.
It seems that, although about 35 people showed up for the evening, there are not enough takings to pay everyone. Seems like the bar staff (one baffled 17 year old kid) will take a cut first, then the sound guy, then the doorman, then the house dog, then the cops, the neighbors... then the bands. So there´s nothing whatsoever left for the bands. Why am I not surprised? This is the typical bullshit most bands have to run across from time to time(unless you’re Elton John of course, but who wants to be Elton John? I mean, really).
Luckily after a round with the hat, a few cds sold and a generous donation from Bobbie’s friend Jackie (a Dwight Yoakam fan, a widow and a very cool lady) the band ends up breaking even. At least we should have enough for breakfast, some beers and a tank of gas.
That’s all we need, really. The rest of the evening is spend at two of Sharla’s friends' house, two girls who just got married recently and live in a beautiful house out in the burbs somewhere. They’ve decorated their garden with Mardi Gras-style pearl necklaces and little bits and bobs, all done with great taste (a chair with the words "Routine killed the dinosaurs!" in the backyard, by the hammock). They like to keep a bottle of ice-cold vodka in their refrigerator. Great people in great homes seem to be a constant on this trip. A nice way to end the day.


Wednesday March 28th,
Dalton’s Life

We got a final breakfast with Sharla and the others in an area called Five Points, place called the Vortex. Their menu warns difficult customers that whingeing is frowned upon and side orders shall not be discussed: if it ain’t on the menu, they ain´t got it and that´s that. Refreshingly rude, even though it’s obviously also a smart business ploy.
After the meal comes time for goodbyes. It’s been good to see Sharla again and meet her band, it's hard to have to go but we’ll stay in touch and try to be back ASAP. Gonna miss ´em collard greens, though...

It starts raining almost as soon as we enter the state of North Carolina. The road to Asheville winds through hills and forests which are almost autumn shades of brown and yellow. Wait a minute, we’re still in March, right? Seems like we’ve been through all the seasons in these last few weeks.
This is the foot of the Appalachian mountains, home of some of the old songs that have been inspiring this band and tons of others as well, from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley... This is where the famous hillbillies were born, West Virginia lies a little ways north. Much good music comes from around here. We’ll have to give all that a miss, though. We’re not here to search for the old music roots, not this time at least: we’re here to see our friend Dalton, who played banjo with us in Prague (both in the Oul´ Bog Warriors and in the band of Jakeys), wrote some amazing songs which we still cover today and just recently closely escaped death after being catapulted from the top of a tree onto a concrete driveway while working as a tree surgeon. To make a long story short: a few broken ribs, a punctured lung and a pulverized shoulder later, Dalton is still alive and he’s still playing his banjo. Pretty damn good, too.

He meets us downtown at "Bobo’s", the small art gallery where he booked us to play this evening. I was half-expecting to see him hobbling along on crutches, but he’s driving his old car like nothing happened! After a quick welcome drink we quickly head back to his "family mansion", a small cottage a few minutes drive away, right across the street from a homeless center. Nothing in his life has really changed that much since I last met him in 1997, except the family doesn’t live in the Czech Republic anymore, his older daughter is now a teenager, his youngest (who I never met before) is now a 6 year-old bundle of good vibes and even his Polish wife Dora seems happy to see us bums. Apart from that, the house is the usual charming chaos filled with animals (a small dog and a few snakes, mostly) that I think everyone expected. Dora has rustled up a stew so everyone sits down to eat and chat away, while the snakes hiss, the kids giggle and the dog bounces.

The gig is more of a pretext to get to jam with Dalt´one more time but quite a few folks walk in as the night unfolds. This town seems to have been a magnet for all sorts of long-haired youth since the late 60´s, which tends to encourage progressive attitudes to live music in general. Combine it with the fact it’s a university town and you get the idea. That made for a really good crowd, not counting the drunken asshole that kept trying to play the kazoo on top of everyone (Craig had to make it finally VERY clear to this fellow that his participation was NOT needed). Back at the gaff the night ends as it started, except this time Dora brings out three different kinds of Slivovice (Czech-Polish equivalent of moonshine) she insists on us trying. Ouch.

Needless to say, I hit the sack pretty soon afterwards.


Thursday, March 29th
Richmond: Meeting David and the Greek

So we managed to leave Dalton and his folks behind, although he was tempted to meet us up in New-York, at least that’s what he told his wife. She just replied he couldn’t leave because she had to go to work and who was gonna take the little one to school, mmh? That seemed to calm him down. We used the lull in the conversation to jump in the car before he could change his mind.

Richmond City looming ahead. First let me say this to all the smokers in America: you people ought to move to Virginia. Being one of the prime tobacco producers in the world since times immemorial, this state is the home of some of the most powerful tobacco industry lobbyists. As a result, cigs are about 3 and 1/2 dollars a pack and you can smoke everywhere, woo-hee! Finally we can poison ourselves in peace! I mean, tobacco is bad enough for you without adding to it the stress of being treated like a leper and the related guilt feelings of shoving your smoke in your neighbor’s lungs. That shit will give you an ulcer before the tobacco does you in, that’s a fact.

We’re sharing a gig with David Judson Clemmons tonight, a Richmond-born musician who’s been living in Berlin for a while. We met him a few times already and it’s a nice feeling to share a stage with a familiar face. The place we’re playing in is a Deli with a music room out back. The boss is of Greek origin and proud of it too. He gives us some wise advice: "In life, if you really want something, you just get back up on your feet when you’re down and keep at it. Me, I was out of business several times but I kept on trying till I got all this up and running. I never gave up. I didn’t want the others to be able to say that the Greek couldn’t do it!". He leaves us with the run of the place, although his bartender keeps a cold eye on our tab (wise man, that).
Dave shows up as we’re setting up. He volunteers to play the first set, which suits us fine. He´s brought along his girlfriend, his mom and most of his childhood buddies. They fill up about half the room: looks like we got ourselves a crowd. A few more people trickle in as the show plods on and we end up having quite a good time and making some good contacts as well.

After he gig we end up crashing at one of Dave´s fans and good friends, a nice big lad who works printing t-shirts, living alone with his dog in a small house close to city limits and loves to play his drum set at 7 in the morning while blasting new metal on the radio, as we will discover next morning.
The weariness of the road is being felt most at those times, you see...

Friday March 30th
Sean Condron and Brooklyn


Pulling in New York we feel the old familiar exhilaration: it's our second tour of the US and this town has always symbolized the last stretch, the gate out and back home. But it's also the Mother of All Towns, the background of our childhood TV series, the starting set-up for modern urban lore. It's always gonna be bigger, harder, dirtier, cooler, tougher, sexier and more overwhelming than anywhere else on the globe, because it's fucking New York. I know it sounds like a cliché, but anyone in his right mind who's ever been there will know what I mean (if you don't, then moving to a kibbutz, far away from healthy normal folks, might be advisable for you).

Brooklyn is the home of our good friend Sean Condron, musician extraordinaire and ex-guitarist and singer of Impure Thoughts, an earlier (and louder) incarnation of Two Dollar Bash. Another figure from the Prague days who never would be quite the same again afterwards, Sean moved away from Europe to help taking care of his old mom, with himself the only surviving member of his Irish American family. He's a great guitar player who decided to pick up the banjo one day. So he locked himself up in his room for 5 whole months, made a pact with the devil and came out playing a storm. When he's not playing in one of his numerous bands, he tours schools and teaches the history of American folk music to kids. Check him out on www.seancondron.com.
Anyway this awesome character leads a humble life on the outer reaches of the now quite fashionable Williamsburg neighborhood. He escaped the yuppification of his apartment block only because he lives in the Latino part of the barrio. There’s a Dominican cokehead fixing cars on the curb in front of his house and kids running everywhere shouting at each-other in Spanish. As soon as I start to park the car I'm being honked at vengefully... but that's New York, eh?

Sean has organized a couple of gigs today. First we have to do a short acoustic set in Café Barbès, close to 6th ave. After a quick bite around the corner (pizza slice!) we open for a local trio, tea-chest bass included. I don't come across these things very often, but it seems everyone playing them seems to have their own secrets of design and construction. Considering the simplicity of the concept (take broomstick, tie string and fix to center of hollow case/tub, go "twang!"), the variations seem to be infinite. Very good band: the level of musicality in this town is, like everything else here, tenfold what you'd expect. As a French café is always full of French people drinking wine and talking nonsense anywhere on the planet, I got to meet a few of my fellow countrymen in Barbès as well. Even more surprising, they turned out to be members of a Musette and Swing orchestra who some of us jammed with on July 14th a few years back in Berlin! Small world. We had to run to the next show but promised we'd catch up later. We never did, of course: too many things to do.

Hank's, the pub we played at in the evening, was owned by an Irishman who came to NY more than 20 years back: the place is a good old rock’n’roll boozer with cold Papst Blue Ribbon, a well endowed waitress with a fearless look and a pool table we had to move out of the way to clear the stage. Sound check was a bit stressful since nothing seemed to really work properly (a typical pub, I told you), but with the Irishman’s friendly help we got it all up and running only 1 hour late from the advertised program. Nobody seemed to mind, though, except maybe the lead singer from the band billed after us, who made it clear his fans were eagerly expecting his set, so hurry up please, thank you. T's wise diagnosis of the character was: "He suffers from short-arse syndrome". Indeed, the guy must have been about 5 feet 4, so it's a distinct possibility. We escaped from Short Arse for a while and hung out outside smoking tabs, talking to long lost friends (mostly Dalton's sis who came up with her boyfriend and our good buddy Jagger) and waited for the highlight of the evening. By the time Sean's set finally came up, most of the band had already gone off or had fallen asleep in the car (drunken and tired arse syndrome). Sean had decided to pick up the electric guitar again for the first time in a couple of years.
The band had apparently only had 2 rehearsals.
They ripped the place apart.
Bastards.


Saturday March 30th
Billy from Philly

We wake up all hunched up on Sean's floor and packed like sardines: today we drive down to Philadelphia to meet Bill Hangley again and play in one of our favorite bars, the Mermaid Inn. The Mermaid is one of the oldest bars in Philadelphia and indeed in America, dating back to the days of the 1776 Revolution. Story goes there is still an old mosaic of a mermaid on the floor, today hidden underneath wooden boards. It's owned by an indomitable lady who will refuse to give you a free drink until you start playing your set, but that’s only because she truly loves music. It's also Bill Hangley’s local hang-out. He's arranged us a show there, together with his own band and also David Clemmons, who came up from Richmond for the occasion. Sean came down as well and soon the place starts filling up with punters: they all came for the music tonight and we don't want to disappoint them. Once again we get the help of a professional sound guy, a Vietnam vet and music lover who brought his own P.A. for all of us to use.
David does a first short set, then it’s our turn, then Bill, backed by an amazing double-bass player and Sean on the banjo, delivers a mind-blowing collection of his originals. We end up the evening with the traditional acoustic free-for-all.
So tonight has kept its promises: everyone musically shined in their own right for the people in the Mermaid as well as for each-other. And got plastered and had a good time in the process!
After the show I decide to walk back to Bill's house, a mere 5 minutes. He goes: "First on the left, then straight ahead for about 1 mile. If you hear gunshots you’ve gone too far".
I forgot how things are in North-American towns, sometimes...


April 1st
Rainy Sunday in Soho

Actually we probably weren't in Soho, but it definitely was raining that day. This is it, this the end of our tour, the anti-climax, everyone is exhausted, it’s pissing rain and we only get one free drink. And it’s Sunday and you can’t find booze anywhere. For information: if you want to buy anything other than beer be prepared for a real walk-about, not only on Sunday but any old day. The stores here need a special license even to sell wine. That sucks, as you can imagine. Especially on a day like today.
We've arranged a show at the prestigious Sidewalk Café, self-proclaimed "Home Of Antifolk", whatever that means. We get to nurse our one drink and wait for our turn to play for 3 tables on this Sunday night, while outside it pisses rain even harder. Tony claims he "tore up something inside his chest" during the last few days. He seems to be in a lot of pain. Somehow and despite these adverse conditions, we manage to pull a pretty good show. In the audience sit yet another couple of friends, who happened to score a gig here on the same night as us by complete coincidence: these are Eamonn Dowd from the Irish band The Racketeers (who are also on our label, Cannery Row Records – www.theracketeers.com) and his lovely Swedish wife Asa. They bring a bit of warmth and friendship to an otherwise cold and gray New York Sunday. Eamonn plays a really good solo set, and soon he and Mark are engaged in an animated discussion before we manage to eventually drag him back to the car. He seems to be the only one left of us with enough energy for yet another party.
Glad to crawl back to Sean's, glad the Anti-Folk did not equate with anti-climax after all.

Monday April 2nd and Tuesday April 3rd
The long way home

We decided to take time to enjoy NY for one more day, especially since the weather had turned for the better again. Joe and I took a long walk through Lower East Side, absorbing the sounds and sights of the streets on this, our last day in New York. We also wanted to change a handful of Canadian notes to splash out on some trinkets for family and friends. You know: postcards, the odd t-shirt... I remember witnessing a great brass band playing on one of the main squares. About 6 or 7 black dudes dressed like homeboys but sounding like a mix of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Grand Master Flash. All with wind instruments and drums. Funny how people keep re-energizing modern music by digging further and further into their past: I swear these guys were tapping into the Dixieland brass band's sound. Is this the sound of the future or a last hiccup of the past? I'll leave it for music journalists to decide. I reckon these guys don't care as long as they're keeping their heads out of the water and getting to live a little bit of their dream. It's already a lot. Not many people can boast to have achieved that much. Real musicians might not look so hip or be well-adjusted, but mostly they keep trying, I've seen it on this tour and I respect them for it.

We drive off late at night towards Canada: we figured it might be better to drive through the night than to crash out in the airport (not literally of course). The drive is a dark blur, cut with dotted white lines. Come morning we've crossed the border and are headed to visit Niagara Falls. Of course it's a bit tacky and disappointing, but it's just another bunch of info to save in the hard-drives of what's left of our brains after this 5-weeks odyssey. We manage to catch some sleep in a parking lot off the freeway just outside the airport. Craig gets nervous on the plane, so he's already packing in bottles of beer. Later on he'll get a bottle of whiskey at the Duty Free to top it up. He partakes of it freely and passes it around and the 7-hour flight becomes all the more bearable.

Finally we take our leave at Glasgow airport. I am sitting in the bus with Mark reflecting on this whole thing:
No-one died.
The car didn't break down (although the camera did!).
No-one tried to strangle each-other.
Our livers still seem to function.
We got to meet a bunch of old friends again.
Made a bunch of new ones. Saw all kinds of great and terrible things.
We're still talking to each-other.
We got us a few new songs.
Didn't cost us a penny.

Well...
I guess we're doing all right.

Matt DeHarp



+ Mark's roundup USA tour 2005

The whole crazy notion of a trip to the US started when Mat sent a CD to Bob Everhart, president of the National Traditional Country Music Association, and a few months later we received a copy of "Tradition", the association's newspaper, with a very favourable review of the album, and an invitation to come and play at their annual festival in Missouri Valley, Iowa, finishing with the words "come see us Two Dollar Bash, we have a stage with your name on it, but not much money"

It seemed like a great opportunity, but clearly there were not going to be any plane tickets in the post. No-one in the band ever having had any gainful employment other than music further complicated the matter. We managed to organise some grants, which didn't cover the whole cost of the trip, but provided a sufficient part of it to make the whole thing start to seem possible. We figured that it would be feasible if we could get a series of other gigs along with the festival. We spent weeks doing Google searches such as "music venues Chicago", narrowing down the results to places that did similar music to ours, checking out other bands tour dates and grilling all American musicians we knew or met for any good tips. We sent out thousands of e-mails with links to our website (www.twodollarbash.net), where there are mp3s, photos and info, and waited for replies. The response was surprisingly good: after some frantic internet activity, we had 11 gigs in 14 days, as well as the original festival.

It all seemed a little surreal as we headed for the airport in Berlin on a sunny Monday morning at the end of August, somewhat bleary from the gig the night before. After a bumpy landing in Atlanta due to the tail end of Hurricane Katrina, and a few nervous moments at Immigration (officially, we were just on holiday), we took a plane to Omaha, Nebraska, where we were met by a charming lady called Nancy Wills, and taken to the Missouri Valley National Old-time Country and Bluegrass Festival, where her husband Tom showed us to our tents. Just like in an old country song, we went to sleep to the sound of freight trains thundering by and blasting their horns on the Union Pacific Railway what seemed like about 20 yards away. Tom and Nancy are relations of the late, great Bob Wills, and throughout our stay they looked after us wonderfully.

The festival was in the fairgrounds on the edge of a small town. There were 10 different stages, craft stalls, burger stands, a teepee village, lots of camper vans, and American flags everywhere. It certainly wasn't a young crowd. As we passed the time of day with one old fellow over breakfast, one of us said, "look's like it's going to be a nice day" After a pause, he replied, "Any day this side of the grass is a nice day" Everywhere you looked, people were playing music, on and off stage: a lady from Belfast yodelling, an old girl standing under a tree playing banjo, people wheeling round double basses and an old style country band who must have had a collective age of 350 singing "I'll walk across Texas with you". And it wasn't even 9 a.m.

We played our first set in the afternoon to a very warm reception. Everyone was genuinely friendly and interested, and intrigued as to how a Scottish/Irish/French band based in Germany came to be playing original music that is mostly in a traditional American folk style. The festival was completely alcohol free, which necessitated a few discreet visits to the conveniently located gas station down the road.

In all we played 8 sets on various different stages in the two days we were there, as well as an impromptu jam with a harmonica player which quickly expanded as all kinds of musicians who happened to be passing joined in - guitars, double bass, washtub bass, banjos, mandolins, Appalachian dulcimer, until there were at least 20 people playing and singing along. After each set we had a queue of people who wanted to buy CDs, and invariably wanted them signed. Before we left, the organiser, Bob Everhart, persuaded us to play one last set on the main stage, and afterwards presented us with an award declaring us to be a "Rising Legend of Country Music"

There isn't space here to go into too much detail about the rest of the tour, but the venues were certainly varied: an Irish bar in Chicago; a psychobilly festival in a punk club in Indianapolis; a folk club in Chicago; a student cafe in Lafayette, Indiana; an impromptu gig in a Cajun restaurant in Lafayette; a great music club and bar in Cleveland; an upscale coffee house in an affluent suburb of Pittsburgh; a crazy venue in the hills of West Virginia; a 250 year old bar in Philadelphia; a rock club in Arlington and two pretty cool pubs in Brooklyn. Everywhere we went the reception was great, and everyone was overwhelmingly friendly and hospitable, whether elderly old-time music fan, young professional or tattooed punk rocker.

Eventually after more than 3000 miles, we gave the car back and took the plane home. I was pleasantly surprised when they played the whole album of "American Beauty" by the Grateful Dead on the in-flight radio. The sun was coming up over the clouds as I listened to "Trucking" - "what a long strange trip it's been".

Indeed.