Henhouse Prowlers: Europe (Part Three)
Words By Ben Wright
It's Tuesday afternoon here in Belgium and we're coming off one of the longest weekends we've had in a long time. The short drives here make it possible to play two shows in a day, so that's precisely what we did on both Saturday and Sunday. By Sunday night's show we were exhausted and I forgot to take pictures. Regardless, we worked it hard this weekend and still managed to have a great time.
Friday, April 13th
N9 in Eeklo, Belgium
This show was a highlight of last years tour and it was even better this year. N9 is akin to any of the nicer venues we might play in the states, and it drips with personality. The staff remembered us by name and were visibly happy that we were back. The sound here is phenomenal, with top notch gear and Patrick on sound clearly knows what he's doing. The venue is funded by the Belgian government and it's been made clear to me by several people that it's an honor to be asked to play there.
The stained glass window in the front is really something else. (Pictured above)
Dinner before the show was honestly incredible. Parsnip soup followed by Chicken Provencal, both of which were made by a French schooled chef. There was a real moment of calm and community at the dinner table that night. It's hard to express how valuable that can be when you're far from home. Ludo (our driver) told us a story about a visit he made to Boston several years ago where two teenagers talked him into buying them beer (which nearly landed him in jail). We laughed loudly with him at his good natured ignorance to conservative American values. The exquisite meal finished with a dessert of pears and local berries in a syrup that really should be illegal.
The show was a full house and the audience was incredibly warm and receptive. Dan and I met some young Belgian music lovers during the set break that we connected with over talks of favorite bands (Willie Nelson, Leonard Cohen, etc) and American vs. Belgian politics. Making friends here is easy and the people that come to our shows are genuinely good folk.
We ended the show with two encores, the second of which was acoustic. Again, it's humbling to be appreciated as much as we have been on this trip. People here love honest music.
On a side note: Ludo is a really sweet and cool guy. Check him out loading our gear as we talked to the audience and signed CD's after show. Go Ludo!
Saturday, April 14th
Bottendall Holland: Billy In Bottendaal Festival,
or "Lazy American Car Meeting"
I'm not sure if this was about "Lazy Americans" or a "Lazy Car Meeting", but either way it was a really cool festival. The EU obsession with 50's Americana was particularly prevalent here. There were several classic cars, including a 50's Cadillac and a late 70's Ford pickup that you'd label a junker in the states. Here though, they stuck out like somewhat abstract modern art. We arrived quite early and Jon and Grant stopped in a coffee shop for some local flavors. Dan and I took a walk and found the mother of all bike racks.
The Festival itself was something of a family affair and probably had about 200 people in attendance. Right from the start there was a feeling that our sound was going to be somewhat compromised. There was chaos around the stage as we set up (including a child and the festival manager's dog running around), but it all fell into place by the time we started. I was pleasantly surprised that the show went off without a hitch and the audience really bounced with our performance. A man came up and asked in very thick French accent if we'd play "Little Cabin Home on the Hill". Finer words are seldom spoken to a bluegrass band out of their element (or country, I suppose).
We were pressed for time to get to our next show so we had to run out of there quickly. Jon sold CD's while the rest of us packed up. It's great to have so many shows over here, but it always leaves us wishing we had more time to hang out with the locals.
Saturday night, April 14th
"Hoppin' Round Vorselaar"
This show really kicked ass. This type of event appears to be common in this part of Belgium (Rockin' around Turnhout being the weekend before). There were 6 bars/venues in the center of Vorselaar that were set up for live music. Each one had a band assigned to the location and each band played three staggered sets of 45 minutes. We had an hour between each set so we could "Hop Around" to the other venues and check the other bands out. We heard Reggae, Rock, Folk and more. Our buddy Robin was one of the organizers and he told us there were about 2000 people at the entire event. Each show we played was in front of a completely different audience.
Amidst the copious drinking and partying I met a man named Ronnie. He mentioned Flatt and Scruggs to me and asked for Foggy Mtn. Breakdown during the first set. We played it and he beamed in the front row at every note. He quickly bought a CD and T-shirt during the first break then waited around to see us again rather than check out other bands. I asked Ronnie to join me for a beer outside and we ended up having a great conversation about bluegrass and his love for America. When you grow up in a country with the various problems ours has, it's easy to forget what makes our home good. Music aside, Ronnie reminded me that America is full of many beautiful places and people, despite it's struggles.
He said "I wish have been a cowboy."
Me too, Ronnie.
I finished the night off with a Duvel, of course, and the rest of the guys kept hoppin' around while I went back to the house to get some much needed rest. I'll let Dan take it from here.
After Ben left us, there was a void in our hearts, as we knew we were not whole. But, we quickly filled that void with fresh frittes from a catering truck across the street from our venue.
We scuttled over to a bar up the block to catch the end of The Delegators' set (a dynamic Reggae band from England). We lingered around after the show and traded compliments with the band members who had snuck over to our show during their set-break as we did theirs. One member shared stories of the bluegrass bands he is familiar with in London, and the lead singer shared multiple rum & cokes with Starr and I (she stuck the bottle of rum in my coat jacket at the end of the night as a parting gift).
After a blurry end of the night at the festival after-party bar (where I met the only girl in Belgium that doesn't drink) we took a cab home and cut our losses. After I heard Starr was a state wrestler, I couldn't help but test his abilities out when we got home, until Stijn (our housemate, driver and Belgian buddy) told us to stop or take it outside. I'll let Ben take it from here so as to assure a clear description of the next day's affairs.
Sunday, April 15th
Show 1: Crossroads Cafe in Antwerp
Most everyone was slightly ragged from the night before as we headed out at noon for Antwerp. We arrived at the club early so we took a slight detour to the red light district for a little sight seeing. Our curiosity slightly bested the strangeness of the whole scene, but we didn't really spend much time there. It's funny how it's the part of Europe you hear about as a young man, but when you're face to face with it... you don't want to hang around.
Crossroads Cafe is a Blues/Americana themed bar with posters and all sorts of ephemera from our music scene in the states. There was concern before the show started that there might not be a great turnout, but there most definitely was. Sadly, this was another situation where we were extremely pressed for time to make our next show. I want to give a shout out to Stijn our road manager for making the impossible possible. While we set up at Crossroads, he drove 30K to the next venue and set up the PA, then stopped on the way back to get us food and was waiting outside the club with the Opel's back door open waiting for our gear so we could haul ass to our next show. Props, Stijn.
Our severe time crunch didn't allow for an encore, but the audience graciously understood even though they wanted one badly. We signed CD's in a flurry as we headed out the door. If you're ever in Antwerp, BE and want a small slice of home, make a stop at Crossroads Cafe. They even have Jack Daniels.
Here's some great pictures from our buddy Michel Verlinden from the show. I saw him taking a bunch of video too. Hopefully he'll post that on youtube at some point.
Photos From Crossroads
Sunday night, April 15th
This was one of those gigs that you need to dig deep for that 4th wind to pull it off. We rolled out of the van and ran into the club to a room full of people. Stijn's masterful setup (done earlier in the day) was perfect. The stage was set up with each XLR cable laid in the precise place for our gear. He'd taken 5 beer coasters and written each instrument on them and taped them to their corresponding cables. It eliminated any thinking in a situation where we really didn't have the mental energy to be doing so. About seven minutes after arriving we were playing our first song and we ripped through a 90 minute set. Warmed up from our previous performance and full bore on coffee and good beer, we really felt like we put on a killer show. A bunch of people followed us over from the show at Crossroads and we managed to put on a completely different show knowing they were there. Sadly, the exhaustion of the day made me forget to get any photo's. I'm hoping some will pop up on Facebook.
As a side note of this show, we met a really cool kid from Malta, along with some of his Belgian buddies. He'd never heard bluegrass before and was completely shocked at it. This is why we travel, folks. Without question.
All in all, we busted our humps on five shows over the weekend. They were all wonderful experiences and unbelievably warm receptions. One more week to go before we come home. Eight more shows in seven days...