The Real Adventure: USA Spring Tour 2004
My adventure began with my flight from Frankfurt to Boston, on February 25, 2004. Rik Palieri had organized a national tour, starting in Vermont in Montpelier, with a CD release show.
Picture left: Here we are
singing some of the featured songs from the new Balloon Adventure the English
version of my German project. Our new CD features songs and stories about a
fantasy musical voyage round the world.
Picture center: I bought this banjo in Burlington. On my trip I had my own personal banjo teacher; as we traveled the back roads of America. Rik taught me the basics of the five string banjo.
Picture right: The well-known Blues singer Guy Davis from New York was in Vermont to tape Rik's TV Show called "The Songwriters Notebook". After doing the show Guy spent the evening at Rik and Marianna 's. In the evening we made some music together, trying not to wake up the sleeping dogs.
After our first concerts in Vermont we then drove down the highway to Beacon/NY,
to visit with one of Americas true folk legends Pete Seeger.
Picture left/picture center: We were invited by Pete Seeger, to take part in a musical evening at the Beacon Sloop club. The club is part of the Environmental group called The Clearwater, an organization that Pete helped create in the late 60s. My host, Rik Palieri has been a friend of Pete's for about 30 years, so it was fun to meet one of Rik's early influences and long time friends. After helping Pete and his wife Toshi prepare the salad, we then went down to the Sloop club right on the banks of the mighty Hudson River and helped with the preparations for the evening program. We soon found out that we were in luck and would not only play some music at the club with Pete and his friends , but would also be involved in the making of a film by documentary film producer Jim Brown, who was making a Film about Pete Seeger's life. Jim cameras rolled as we helped Pete split logs, light the fire-place, prepare the food, and welcome guests. Before the room filled up we had the chance to play a few tunes with Pete and his long necked banjo. One of the special moments took place when Rik and I sang a new version of Pete's most famous song "Where have all the flowers gone" Pete was delighted to hear his song sung simultaneously in both German and English. Pete smiled lifted his head into the sky and sang along. This was a magical moment for the film crew and they caught it all on film. Later Pete said in an interview that he wished more young people would realize the simple joys in life like singing together, instead of just basing their life on the idea of money making. After a pot luck meal, an informal Jam came to life, filling the room with wonderful home-made music. Guitars, banjos, and even a little ukulele strummed away on a variety of old and new songs. The camera man jumped all round the room trying to catch the spirit. Then Pete sang a song that even surprised me as it used the melody of an old German Christmas carol. Soon it was way after 10 o'clock in the evening and Pete's wife Toshi was busy cleaning up and stacking away the chairs, while we singers tried to sneak in a few last verses to the song from black blues singer Lead belly "The Midnight Special". As the film team packed up, I realized that this was a historical evening and an important highlight of our 4000 mile route. But then, it was only the beginning of our American adventure.
Picture right: The largest guitar of the world in Bristol Tennessee, which contains a museum. Pictured on the Left is Rik's Truck-Camper Apache. For the rest of the trip this would be our home on wheels!
|Pete Seeger's old log cabin||The Radio interview in the Caskills with Rick Nestler||In the Smoky Mt with Lindy & Victor|
We left Beacon with our friend Rick Nestler and followed him back to his home in the Catskill Mountains to perform at a radio show. The next morning. Rick has been another of Rik's pals for many years from the days, when they both sang as part of the Hudson River Sloop Singers with Guy Davis and Pete. Rick now led a jug band with his wife Donna called the Dirty Stay out All Night Jug Band. It was fun to join Rick and his friends in the tiny water -powered radio station that was powered by a near bye waterfall. Inside the station the room was crammed with guitars and musicians all waiting their turn to sing a few songs during this live Open mike radio program. In some ways it seemed more like a doctors office waiting room than a radio station, as everyone waited to go on the air, but once we all squeezed into the tiny studio it was worth the wait. Another fun thing about this day was meeting all the different musicians who came to play for free. Rik was really surprised when he found out that the bearded fellow waiting beside him was a very well known song writer named Jack Hardy. Well you just never know who you are going to meet up with when you are on the road. Sadly we could not hang out at the station to hear Jack perform as we had to hit the road for our next show at The Mine Street Coffee House in New Brunswick NJ. The night was another packed house !
And then it was an early morning wake up for our first long day on the road all the way down to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. By the time we reached the North Carolina state line, the sun was going down and it lit up the mountains with an eerie bright glow. The roads here are so twisted that our truck weaved back and forth as we crossed over the high mountains. At last we arrived to meet with Rik's pals "Lindy" and "Victor". They shared a nice house up a mountain side and invited us to spend the night. Even though we were tired from our trip after dinner we brought out our instruments and played a concert just for them. Victor who had lived in Germany and spoke German, treated us just like family, and lit the fire place and put down a few mattresses where we could bed down for the night. In the morning, Victor fixed up a Southern Home cook breakfast complete with grits, brisket and gravy. After this Gut-busting breakfast we loaded up 'Apache" and rode out to the music city of the USA Nashville.
Picture left and center: Our first goal was to play at the legendary Bluebird Café. To take part in the Songwriters open mike night. Hours before the café opened, a long line of singers waited. When the door was opened, we went in, wrote our names along with the other 64 hopeful singers, knowing that only 20 of us would be allowed to sing that night. We all waited hoped and dreamed. Then when names were read out, I found out that we were some of the lucky ones! Perhaps it was useful that I wrote "Germany" on the note. For my one song, I sang my new song the "Cell Phone killer" (Handykiller). As I sang my song, the audience cracked up with laughter at the funny lyrics and wildly applauded loudly after the song. As I sang under the blue birds neon light, I felt like it was a dream, but it was real, for now I could say that Yes I had played in Nashville!
Picture right: In the center of the city, I found the old buildings more interesting than the modern buildings. On the left of long-drawn-out brick buildings is old Grand Ole Opry, concert hall, known as "The Church of Country Music". Back when Country-western music was born it's radio signal was so powerful that it reached all across the nation. As the Grand Old Opry's radio station became famous, more and more musicians came down from the hills of Appalachia to record and play country music. The sound of Country soon inspired a legion of fans that reached around the world. A whole industry sprang up around the center of the city. As more and more flocked into Music City the stars of Country music needed more songs. Soon thousands of songwriters flocked into the tiny streets of Music Row. One of the most famous streets is immortalized by the song 16. Avenue. That goes " So God Bless the Boys that makes the noise on 16th avenue. ". The song tells of the road that was once filled up with the small music publishers and production companies. It was the street where dreams came true. Sadly today, largely because of the Internet and MP3s, many of the old companies had to close their doors or were bought up by the larger companies. An insider told us that once there were 600 publishers and today there are only 40! Think of that the next time you burn a CD from your computer. Our host in Nashville was Bruce Michael Miller and his family. Bruce is an up coming song writer who is starting to get his songs known in this hard luck town. Bruce's wife Patricia is now working for a music publishing house called the "Writer's Zone". While we were in town she gave us a tour of what the publishing world is like. Inside the little building there was a few offices of the song writers, plus a recording room, a conference room for plugging the songs and a writer's room complete with guitars and a few cases of beer.
|On Music Row, In Nashville||Rik & Wilfried with Bruce & his son Forest||In the Song Writer's Room|
Not far from Music row, is the shop of "Manuel", the famed star
fashion designer. He is the man who first dressed Johnny Cash in Black and while
working along with Hollywood's famous designer "Nudie" put the
glitter in the Rhinestone Cowboys. There is hardly a famous artist in Nashville,
which was not fitted out by Manuel.
Picture left: Rik is trying on a custom jacket flag jacket (made for Kid Rock), while his buddy Susan (A very great song writer) is having fun in a red cowgirl "Manuel"coat. While in town Rik managed to get an interview with Manuel for his TV show: "Songwriters Notebook ".Rik did the interview while I did the camera work.
Picture center: Manuel and Wilfried Mengs. After 3 days in Nashville the road called. And we headed south.
Picture right: Manuel's "state jacket" for the state of Maine.
Picture left: On highway 61, The Blues is with you and boy you
can feel it down this old road. The sun burns hot, everything is sharp and
slowed down, the road and the air are cotton-candy sticky, and the old cotton
fields, seem to drag on endlessly from the side of the road. Man, now you are
really in Mississippi!In this area the people grew up and around the Blues and
you can really feel it on this road.
Picture center: We visited the Blues museum in Clarksdale. Inside you find Pictures of the old plantation, of the production of the cotton in the land where Cotton was king. And beside them photos of the hard working, black faces, working the land in the days of slavery. You can also see the smiling faces of the Afro-Americans when they were not working; Dancing to beat of the banjo an original African instrument. Then later photos of hope, Photos of proud black faces playing music, dressed to the nines, just feeling Fine as wine in summertime!" Along with the photos are the stories of the music and the legends. Like the story of BB Kings famous guitar "Lucille". The story says BB played in a club, with big furnace in the center, which heated the area. As he played two men began to suddenly fight. Standing near the furnace, which fell over set the room in a blaze of fire. When the fire broke out everyone ran for their lives. Suddenly B.B. King noticed that he had forgotten his guitar. He went straight into the flames and saved his beloved Lucille. BB found out after the fire, that the two men were fighting over a woman, who was called Lucille. He named his guitar after that gal, to remind him never to do a fool thing like running into a fire again!
Picture right: Here I am in Baton Rouge Louisiana. With Folk DJ Taylor Caffery. Taylor did a fine hour long interview with us, treated us to a meal of Crab meat and even let us camp out in the radio station. He put a big sign on the door: "Gypsies camping in the parking lot, don't worry they played here last night, and we'll be gone with the morning light."
It was getting hot, even
though the sun was not even up yet. But when it came and popped up over the
swamps, it lit the road with a pink bright light that just seem to lay sleeping
on the horizon. We followed it all the way down to New Orleans. We snaked
our way around the Mississippi river and drove straight into the old French
Quarter. These old houses decked out with the fancy iron fencing and hanging
balconies originated back from the time, when Louisiana was French colony.
Traveling through the multicolored roads with the one-story houses and work of
the balcony of fine filigreed iron, one feels like they might be in Marseilles
or even Italy. The people of the so called "Big Easy" are merry, and
cheerful like they are all living in some kind of never -never party land.
Even at 9AM the streets are already filled with happy tourist toting along
cameras, taking snapshots of the horse pulled carriages that line the street in
front of the famous Café Dumont.
Picture right: Benyas and strong coffee are one of the tourist rituals. Even in the morning, jazz music is piping in from the restaurants, tourists stands, and from the balconies of the old hotels in the city that never sleeps.
Picture center: An Old paddle wheeled steamer waiting on the Mississippi.
|Breakfast in New Orleans||Crawfish for lunch||The Alamo|
Friday night. We searched for a
Cajun dance hall. We drove all the way to Mamou the worlds capital of the Cajun
Music. But it was lent, and we did not find any live music. But we did see acres
of moon lit crawfish fields and also saw plenty of little crawfish bakes. The
crawfish (like tiny Lobsters) were running and they were in season. We had a big
batch right in Morgan City and they were TASTY!
Picture left: From Fred's Lounge in Mamou the birth place of Cajun music. After Mamou we headed west out to Texas to see the Alamo and play a few shows in the old adobe town of Marfa.
Picture center: In the community radio station of the artist city of Marfa Texas, we met activist/ cartoonist Gary Oliver. We performed a Show on Monday evening at Marfa's community radio station.
Picture right: Then went did a Live Jam session with other musicians. Long live Marfa FREE Radio!
Picture left: School concert in
Presidio at the Mexican border. With over 350 kids, we let our
"Balloon Adventure" fly again!!
Picture center: "Home, home on the Range." The silence of the prairie.
Picture right: Seeing the transformations of the landscape are sometimes hard to describe. With each mile, the landscape became ever more fascinating. We drove over a hill and it opened up into a large valley. Then we drove by another valley, over a large mountain range and found that a still larger valley opened up before us... Naked rock and sand, covered with shrubs, Canyon cliffs, with our truck just squeezing bye. It is almost indescribable for those who have not seen this kind of land, you sometimes can't find the correct words to explain it , except to say that it is Gods Country.
Picture left: Looking beyond the
usual tourist attractions of Arizona, one could really recognize some of the
true old relics of the old American west in the gun slinger town of Tombstone.
The weather was hot. We rumbled with our cowboy boots on the wood planks of the
sidewalks past the old "Bird Cage Theater" past old saloons and shops
that stood back in the days when miners, sheriffs, cowboys, desperados, and
outlaws walked these very streets. We went to into the old Courthouse which now
is a museum... Built From stone, it lies a block outside of the main street. In
this old building was a museum and to my surprise a fantastic exhibition to The
German Western writer Karl May. It was very informative for Rik. He finally
understood, from where we Germans get our romantic fascination to the cowboy
culture and the American West. The life history of May was presented with a
large display of his life and the characters, which he created. Our last
stop was in Phoenix Arizona
Picture center/picture right: Phoenix from the sand arisen, approx. 3 million inhabitants, live in this enormous valley.
Picture left: A Full House
at the theatre of the Glandale LIBRARY. Like in all of our shows, there was no
real plan or set list for the concert, but there was always many surprises and
fun in store when we played. Our off the cuff Folk mix of making music on the
different instruments and combining the cultures of Germany and America always
brought us lots of good applause and helped us to sell many a CD.
Picture center: Open air Banjo workshop in the "Encanto Park." This park was the venue of the 15th. Phoenix Folk Heritage Festival. This festival features the roots of American Folk music. It is also one of the few true folk festivals left in the country where everyone is a star everyone feels a part of the event.
Picture right: Bernd Haeber and Wilfried Mengs, the supervisors of the DAFT route (German American Folk saenger- treffen), before an artificial lake with island in the center of Encanto park".
After the festival the end of our magical journey had been reached. 4300 miles driven, 30 eventful days, with many new insights to this large and diverse land. On my long plane ride home I sat back and reflected and meditated on our big adventure.
|Rik & Wilfried having fun with the old Hillbilly Switcharoo!|