This article is the fifth in a series of posts explaining how to bring your music on the road and get to travel with it. Read the series’ introduction , Post#1 , Post # 2 , Post #3 , Post #4, Post #5 and Post #6.
After a few posts explaining and suggesting how to get out and play your music travelling the world, I decided it is time to bring up a real example: The Blues Against Youth. This one-man band comes from Rome, Italy, although upon hearing you may think it is some piece of lost blues from Mississippi… nevertheless, it is a perfect example of how an independent musician has overcome its national boundaries and brought his music to a wider audience by, obviously, touring and travelling.
I asked Gianni -the guitarist and one man drummer – a few questions regarding the management of life on the road, wishing they may be useful and inspiring for others looking to expand their musical activities to the next level.
Do you think your dream of playing music around the world has fully realized?
Tough question In the last two/three years I have been to many European countries. I like to play my music wherever there are people willing to hear it. “Playing my music around the world” is not exactly the main goal, as there are places I would like to go to, and others that do not appeal to me at all.
How do you manage to spend so much time playing music on the road?
Behind these long tours there is a massive booking work which is mainly conducted by myself without the aid of any agent. I have to write many emails and make infinite phone calls, and I get through a lot of stress trying to create a geographically logical route… however, once the tour is scheduled and I’m in the car ready to go, I just do it and feel free.
Do you think you can travel in the traditional sense of the term -seeing places and experiencing different cultures – as a touring musician?
Many times I don’t get the chance to see much of the cities I play, and it’s a pity; when other times it happens, I enjoy it very much. Anyways, by talking with people I meet on the road, sharing time with them, visiting their houses, their bars and knowing their friends I can usually have very mind-opening experiences. I realized that there are many ways of living, and mine constitutes only one of the many limited points of view. This confuses me at times, but by the end of my tours I feel much better.
How did you start getting shows outside of your home country?
I started by emailing people, telling them about my music and waiting for answers. It took a while to get a real response.
Is the logistic organization of your travels hard?
For me, the logistic organization is the most important thing. If everything is set at best, I get stressed out less. I generally travel on my own, and if something unexpected happens (which is usually a bummer), I have to make something up. By being well organized, it is easier to overcome such situations.
How are you received in the communities/cities/countries you visit?
It depends on where I go and what people I meet. In general I am received pretty warmly. I like when there’s some “love” behind any organization. I like to taste local food and drinks, to know about traditions concerning what I eat or drink. I like when there’s a cultural exchange. It also happens to play in colder environments, but luckily much fewer times. When it happens I get an instant feeling, and I get the blues. This may sound bad but on the other hand gets me in the right mood to write new songs.
(CP> I’m preparing for my next trip overseas, so this month I decided to share a trip I took in 2010, as part of the Mongol Rally. If you’re looking for an irreverent race that is challenging, yet incredibly fun, check it out.)
Cost/day: ~$40/day (food / gas)
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
I’m fairly sure that we are the strangest thing anyone has seen lately. Three chaps, who haven’t showered in weeks, in an obnoxiously fluorescent ambulance being held together by duct tape, driving through the Gobi Desert.
“Wait – you’re moving where?”
CP: “South Dakota”
“Why would you ever move there?”
Cost/day: ~$30/day (food / gas / fun)
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
When I turned off the Interstate and into Rapid City, I saw (and promptly ignored) a speed limit sign stating 25 mph. Seconds later, I was braking to avoid rear-ending a Chevy truck. Just as I was about to move into the other lane, I noticed that everyone was driving 20mph. Everyone! And there were no police cars present! That’s when I knew this would be different…
On the left, just inside the main door of the Lund Cathedral is a wooden astronomical clock built around 1424. Tangled within a euphoric stare five years earlier, I’d marveled at the intricate details, inhaled the aged wood, and relished the silence which filled the air. The experience rooted such a vivid impression that I’d vowed to return. But expectations were paused as my two friends and I walked in to find the clock being cleaned; all its guts taken apart. Two enormous posters illustrating the clocks face blocked the space where workers placed a table with paint brushes and other tools.
The night before we all went to Lund, I’d expected to perhaps feel the same bliss again in those sandstone walls. Maybe I’d even find the little used book store diagonally across the way with the half-dozen stuffed owls perched on the top shelves. Neither was the same. The clock was in pieces, and the book store gone. But somehow I didn’t feel disappointed, just pensive. And ended up discovering a small tucked away surface where an open book, pen and flickering candle sat. The sign beside said in English (and Swedish), “Do you want to share your prayers with others? Please feel free to write them down in this Book of Intercessions. The book is placed on the altar of the Baptism Chapel during The Service of the Holy communion every Tuesday morning at 08.00 am.” I’m not distinctly religious, but decided to write a prayer in the book.
My return expectations were very different from the reality of being there the second time. Have you ever felt so moved, even years after, to return to a place? What did you find?
Admittedly – I’m cheating a bit. I’m off the road for 2-3 months, so this was a day trip from Philly. If you stay longer, careful planning (couch-surfing, travel deals) will keep your lodging costs reasonable. As for fun – well, you just need to look around for it.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Hundreds of people packed into Washington Square Park, all packing pillows of every variety and shape. Was this a huge outdoor slumber party? No – it’s the International Pillow Fight Day celebration! Tons of people, some dressed in pajamas, waiting for the horn to sound at 3pm, so the epic worldwide battle can begin! Then, boom – everyone starts swinging and goose down fills the air. Think Braveheart, but much, much softer! (more…)
Last week I talked about road trips; but another more eco-friendly way, with a hint of old-fashioned charm, is to travel by train.
In the Swiss Alps, as I write this, they are digging what eventually will be the longest transportation tunnel in the world–the Gotthard Base Tunnel. But don’t go rushing off to Switzerland just yet; it won’t be done till 2016.
Perhaps one of the most well-known epic train trips is the Trans-Siberian across Russia. Have you ever been? I flipped on the TV late one night–not long ago–in my hotel and stumbled upon an action thriller movie called, Transsiberian. I’d not recommend watching it before heading off to experience the longest railway in the world. However, it did illustrate both the danger and beauty of railway travel.
The American novelist, Paul Theroux, undertook his first long distance rail journey across Asia. That travelogue became the modern classic, The Great Railway Bazaar. Many years later he decided to retrace his steps and account how both he, and the places, had changed in, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. Theroux also wrote a third railway adventure book, The Old Patagonian Express, about the Americans.
So now, it might be time I read, The Old Patagonian Express, as I plan my next railway journey in May.
Do you recommend any other train books? Or have train stories to share…
Guyana isn’t really that cheap. However, if you’re creative and have some skills, anything is possible. I worked at Dadanawa Cattle Ranch for two and a half months in exchange for food and board. Most of my money went towards toiletries, insect repellant and beer. Being frugal was easy because the nearest town was 4 hours drive over rough savannah roads away.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
“ GET OUT OF MY GARDEN” yelled Dani. A chicken was destroying the shallots and was being nonchalant about it too. Duane Defreitas, ranch manager and adventurer, shot at it from the balcony with a Ruger 22 handgun. “Oh scunt!” Winged it. Chung, a Chinese anthropologist, chased after the feathered fugitive with a machete. (more…)
A decade ago gas was 98 cents a gallon. I took a three month sabbatical from my job, rolled down the windows, cranked up the song “Life is a Highway” and with my dog riding shot gun, hit the open road. “Do it while your young.” people kept saying me. I skipped stones into the surf of the Pacific, climbed around cliff dwellings in New Mexico and rescued my dog from nearly drowning in a Montana river. Twenty-five states and 30,200 km (18,800 mi) later we arrived back home with a wrinkled road map, a journal full of adventures and a problem; there were many more roads to explore.
America claims to have one of the largest highway systems in the world. But, the first recorded long distance road trip took place in 1888 with Bertha Benz at the wheel. She and her two teenage sons drove 212 km (132mi) round trip in Germany. To commemorate the 125th anniversary of that trip the Bertha-Benz challenge took place along the historic route. It was only open to cars with alternative drive systems, highlighting the auto mobility of the future.
For me that first trip was only the beginning. I’ve meandered through 49 U.S. States and two territories in Canada. In the next few months I’ve got two more road trips planned. Granted, fuel prices are at an all-time high; but, there are ways to save money on gas. Road trips are a wonderful way to experience a country.
Have you ever taken a long distance road trip?
Many moons ago I was flown to the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica to evaluate a business plan for horse tours on a 2,024 hectare family owned ranch. It has mangroves, jungle, two river estuaries and 3.5 km of undeveloped shoreline. The family was in the beginning stages of protecting a good chunk of that land as a nature preserve and wildlife refuge. At the time I knew very little about managing large scale horse operations. Back home I was spoiled. We had accessibility to good feed, vet care and certified farriers. Riding horses along the beach is a romantic notion for many and I was no different. Heading for stables where the front gate was set only a few feet from high tide line had my mind souring with excitement. The gap is often vast between what we imagine about a place and what our experience truly is. So after three plane flights followed by a 45 minute taxi ride over molasses covered dirt roads we arrived on the sands of Ario beach beneath a vaulted ceiling of stars. What I saw over the next two weeks changed the current path I was on.
When someone says “paradise” what image comes to your mind?
My mind paints a warm, pristine beach with inviting waters; which is exactly what the Ario Ranch seemed like at first glance. But quickly that dreamy veneer was peeled back as I watched two cowboys shoe a gelding. The animal awkwardly tried to balance on three other hooves. Metal shoes, too small for his feet, got nailed on using the improper size nails. This will cause the head of the nails to protrude and create cleats. Those cleats catch on terrain and make the hole in the hoof wall larger and can lead to infection or lameness. But improper shoeing creates a whole other set of problems too. A horses’ heart alone isn’t large enough to circulate all of its blood throughout its body. A horse must move to keep healthy circulation. Blood is forced back up the limb by the pooling of it in the sponge like coffin bone. But the steel shoes on this gelding weren’t set properly which did restrict blood flow and can lead to bruising. I knew as it was happening that it wasn’t right. Yet at that moment my lack of language skills and ability to do it myself, held me back from saying anything.
As time progressed; I noticed the ranch hands had to rope horses for saddling rather than simply walking up and putting a halter on them. I discovered a horse with a vampire bat wound but no one seemed concerned about treating it. And in regards to the knowledge of horse care in the area the local vet said, “They [the people] just don’t know better.” Altogether these things shorten the animals’ life span substantially.
The whole experience left me feeling helplessly inadequate with horse skills and wanting to learn more. The wheels in my head started turning. I spent the next several years working with large herds of horses, learning how to manage ranches, study and apply natural horsemanship, volunteer to care for injuries, learn to shoe, and studied equine chiropractic and massage.
Now all those skills will be put to the test. Two weeks ago I was asked to help organize a large scale equine event in Mongolia. While I don’t know everything about horses, at least I know much more than I did seven years ago standing at the corral watching that gelding get shoes.
Have you even had a moment while traveling that set you in motion down an unexpected path?
Before you decide to get a tattoo from one of the many long haired, rasta-looking Thai men in the foreigner-inking business during a holiday in Thailand, think twice. There are enormous differences between the design you are going to get, and the rigid ink lines we can sometime spot etching a Thai person’s skin, spurting timidly from under their clothing.
Sak yant, as these traditional Thai tattoos are called, represents a form of magical protection for the bearers: may it be against accidents, evil, crime, or to give women better chances to attract the perfect soul mate, sak yant are not an indelible way to remember a backpacking trip.
They are applied by a master who gives his tattooed disciples a series of rules to follow in order to keep the protective spell alive, usually starting with Buddhism’s five principles. As much as sak yant is despised by upper class Thai society, it is still alive and well, and represents one of the few aspects of Thai culture which have not received massive coverage in the mainstream media. (more…)