Thursday, February 16, 2017

My top five, part 2

My fourth most favorite show of all time took place in Amsterdam at the end of 2011, on my second European tour. I went to visit my family in the Hague, and then they delivered me to Amsterdam, where I flew out of on the following day. I remember it being an icy cold, windy day. The sky was gray and people were riding bikes everywhere and smoking pot all over the place, so I felt like I was right at home in Portland in some ways. But all of the buildings were older, and there were little canals and foot bridges and pot cafes that reminded you that you were somewhere else.

My family stood in line with me for one and a half, maybe two hours, outside in the freezing cold, waiting to get into the Anne Frank Museum. It was a touching act of kindness, since they had already been there, but they knew I wanted to go in. It was an incredible, grotesque and raw but important experience, going through and seeing these artifacts and proof of one of the most horrifying things that has happened in our history.

After we left the museum, we had dinner at the Hard Rock Amsterdam, because my family is American, so they like those old familiar comforts like chain restaurants. I don’t mind the Hard Rock at all, because I love seeing the memorabelia, and they usually have at least a veggie burger I can eat.

After dinner, my parents and brother needed to get back to the Hague; it was getting late. They dropped me off at my hotel, and I found another closet room waiting for me. It was clean and affordable so I had no complaints. I didn’t have a cell phone back then, so I had printed a map from the hotel to the train to the venue before I left my parents’ house. I had studied Dutch for a few months prior to my trip, to learn to say things like, “excuse me”, “hello”, “do you speak English” and “where is this?”

I got off of my train and was supposed to be looking out for the venue near a long bridge. I didn’t see it anywhere near the foot of the bridge, so I asked some passerby in Dutch, “excuse me, do you speak English? No? OK, where is this?” and pointed at my map. No one had seemed to have heard of this venue I was supposed to be playing. I started to get worried: I’d left with plenty of time to get to the venue early, but I hadn’t planned for getting this lost. Now I was walking back and forth across the bridge, looking for anything that vaguely resembled a bar. Asking people in Dutch, “where is this?” Asking some people who spoke Spanish, in the Spanish I know, which is very little and muy malo. “No se,” they responded.

I found some people who spoke English to ask for directions, but they were tourists, so they had no idea where anything was either. Seeing a line of house boats near the foot of the bridge, I took a chance. Roaming in the dark, passing boat after boat, felt futile. Then suddenly, I came across a boat with Christmas lights all over it and beer signs in the window. I noticed a small sign on the door that said, “Hannekes Boom”. This was it! I rushed into the venue, checking my watch just before I checked in at the bar. Oof, eight o’clock already! I never show up right when the show is meant to start; I always arrive early, to set up, so I felt pretty embarassed rolling in at 8.

“Don’t worry about it! Relax, have a beer!” said the bartender. She poured me a beer, asked me if I had any merchandise that I wanted to leave on the counter for her to sell for me. I hadn’t gone in with the proper working papers, but, being that it was the holiday season, I had figured out that if I wraped a pile of my own CDs in wrapping paper, customs would think they were just a gift. So I unwrapped my CDs and left them on the counter, selling out of the whole pile later that night.

I was opening for a jam band, and they had their own photographer with them. They had already set up their gear before I took the stage. I started playing my guitar and singing. Got about half way into set, when, one by one, members of the jam band began joining me on stage, without any provocation for me, and began playing their instruments along with my music. It felt serendipitous because they were all so tight and played so well by ear that they sounded like the back up band that I should have brought!

The band’s photographer took photos and we danced to the jam band together after my set. Everyone else in the room was just standing and nodding their heads slightly. “Why aren’t they dancing?” I asked Friso, the photographer. “ “They are Dutch,” he replied. “This is how they dance.”

“Ahh, I understand,” I said, thinking about white guys at concerts in Portland. Friso helped me through a hail storm and back to my hotel when the jam band was finished playing. I flew back to Portland the next morning, still buzzing from the warm reception in Amsterdam the night before. It was New Year’s Eve when I got home, and I was on my way to celebrate with my then-estranged-husband, and to start an exciting new chapter. The next year would bring a reconciliation, a six-month-long tour in the US, and a baby. What if I’d known when I was about to board that plane back to States? Would I have run toward it, or sat frozen, immobilized by the weight of the responsibility that all of those beautiful things would bring?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Top Five, Part 1

People always ask me what my favorite performance was so far. But I am a list-marker so I have a top five. I want to record it here, so that I don’t forget one day, when I am old.
5. London, first European tour, in 2010: 10 years after I’d moved away, I returned to the city where I had lived for two years (end of high school/first and only year of college; I’d gone through a certificate program instead of doing four years). I had other places to visit on the trip, but I needed to be back in London first. London and Portland are my favorite places that I’ve ever lived, so I supposed I love places with gloomy weather, despite my seasonal affective disorder. In the middle of my long voyage, I switched planes somewhere. After having gone through the trouble of requesting vegetarian meals for each flight, and sleeping through the first flight, I was finally going to eat. A flight attendant brought me a sandwich. I was mid-sandwich, wondering, how did they slice this tofu so thin?, when I noticed on the wrapper it did not say “vegetarian”, but was marked “kosher/Muslim”. Yep, I was eating meat. And I was a hardcore vegan at the time (and not the sloppy vegetarian that I am now).

The second flight was the longest but I couldn’t sleep: I was getting too excited to be back in London and perform there for the first time (besides an a cappella performance I did at an open mic once when I lived there). After I arrived, I quickly found the train so that I could find my hotel and drop off my suitcase. My hotel was charmingly antiquated, and my room was the size of a closet. My shower was right over my toilet, and I’d never seen that before, but I was happier than a pig a shit, so who needs a shower? I was back in London, and I was on my first European music tour.

After dropping off my bag, I took my ukulele and hopped on the tube, and headed to the venue. It was June, and when I stepped outside I found that it was unusually warm and sunny. I had to take off my sweater! Everyone from around those parts can attest that you only get two days a year that are warm and sunny and not grey and foggy, and so I thanked my lucky stars.

By the time I got to the venue and started drinking my pre-show beer, I realized that I had been awake and not eating for 24 hours straight! My body did not know what time it was or when to feed it, because of changing time zones. Thankfully I didn’t get messed up from the combination of drinking one beer on an empty stomach. I nailed my performance, and even had the guts to play a very personal, and, at the time, brand new song, called “S&M”. Everyone in the pub was quiet and staring at me. It was the highest compliment: after having lived in London, I was more accustomed to the locals being quiet and extremely civilized on the streets during the day, and then getting loud and wild in the pubs at night. I was so flattered that they were quiet and took in everything I had to say. Afterwards many denizens of the pub asked me for CDs but regrettably I hadn’t figured out how to smuggle them into another country without paying for a work permit (more on that later). Many of them told me how brave they thought I was, to be singing about my sexual feelings, wearing sexy clothes, traveling alone, not having a back-up band to keep me company... Yikes! I thought, good points! It was midnight then, I realized. Time to take the tube back to my hotel and sleep, and head to Italy for the first time the next morning. A violinist from the opening band helped me find the right train to take.

Back in my closet room in some sketchy part of London I’d never visited before that afternoon, I tried to eat some falafel I’d bought from a little diner on my way back, but it was truly awful falafel. It was too hard to bite into. I turned on the TV, feeling wired, not knowing how I’d sleep when my internal clock still didn’t know what time it was. Then I found BBC news and it was like an old relative had come to read me a bedtime story: so soothing and familiar. I left it on and drifted off. I visited Piccadilly Circus quickly the next day since I hadn’t had time for any tourist activities when I was working and commuting the day before. And then I caught a quick puddle-jumper to Milan, the first place I would ever go where they didn’t speak my language. I had studied Italian off and on my whole life, but nothing prepared me for being surrounded by strangers who were only speaking Italian and not English. I got the worst culture shock... and then got drunk enough to get over it, and speak about a toddler’s level of Italian to all the hungry men who were out at the bars... but that is a story for another day.