Reports of the Past
REPORT From The Field
The whole damn thing was a blast!
It's 5am, and our schedules have inverted themselves again. Marlo decided we should go to Amsterdam with Carolyn Wonderland this year, and those six nights and five days have left me quite invigorated. I've got to clear up a few things I've missed, and get ready for The New Jack Hippies' appearance on Saturday evening at ART ON THE AVENUE at the Winter Street Warehouse. I'll try to finish my Amsterdam report this morning, but even if I don't - there is a bunch of it already written when I was there. Here's some thoughts from Amsterdam...
Friday - The Netherlands
Noonish over here... 5am at home... Up all night...
We arrived in Amsterdam without any real hassle or inconvenience. We also arrived without Carolyn Wonderland. Carolyn had been sent home from the airport with a visa problem. Supposedly, it's all being worked out now, and she'll arrive tomorrow, at the same time we did today. Our bus driver, Rene, was entertaining and informative, and gave us a brief rundown about Dutch culture, law, society, etc. We had fun with him, but listened quite intently. Many of us had never been to Amsterdam before.
Friday night 19:00 (7pm)
This is great! Everything seems to work really well here. We left the hotel with Matt Hubbard, one of our new friends from the group, met up with Marlo's friend Leslye and her friend Drew, hit the train station, figured out the passes to buy, and were dropped in a touristy part of the central district within 20 minutes of leaving the hotel room.
Across the street from the train station, we saw our first coffee shop. Knowing that the place near the station must be the most expensive didn't stop us. After twelve hours of sober transportation, paying 8 Euros instead of 6 seemed OK to me. The place was tiny, and we were handed a menu as soon as we walked in. Marlo ordered Cappucino and the King Hassan, while I went for the White Widow and Northern Lights. The guys doing the dividing and weighing was from San Francisco, and was quite helpful and knowledgeable. After sampling everyone's choices, we were ready to hit the streets. As we left the coffee shop, the first thing we saw was an open air market with fashions and chatchkes in the brightest colors imaginable. It was right next to the train station, too, but our new perspective (from across the street) showed us that the ballet/opera house was right on top of the train station. We checked our Amsterdam map, and boldly crossed a bridge over the Amstel River, where we found hundreds of little tiny restaurants, all types of shops for everything from guitars to groceries, and more coffee shops. We chose a little shoarma house, and the tastes were incredible. By this time, we had lost Leslye and Drew on the streets of Amsterdam. We were about ready to sleep, so we made one more coffee shop stop, and headed for the hotel. It's only 8pm here, but I've been up for 52 hours, and our group breakfast buffet begins at 6am. Sweet dreams...
Saturday morning - 9:30am
MArlo is getting dressed for the buffet. I woke up a 5am, & I've already been there twice.
The breakfast buffet for our group is in a second floor dining area which is set aside for large groups. The real large groups must reserve a time, but since we had a smaller group of 27 (and because we convinced them that our group would never make it up and organized that early), they allowed that we could wander in and out at our pleasure during their breakfast hours, Good thing this is Saturday, because the breakfast ends at 9am on the weekdays. The only way most of us will make that is to eat at 6am, before we go to sleep! It's a much better buffet than I thought it would be. There's a table that looks scandinavian, with cold cuts and cheeses. I took the roast beef, prosciutto and the liver loaf. The scrambled eggs were extremely fluffy, but the bacon was served almost raw. The hard boiled eggs were brown. So were half the breads and rolls. Eight types of bread (toast it yourself) and rolls, dry cereal (cornflakes, corn pops...), milk juice, coffee, tea.
Saturday 20:00 (8pm)
We went with Darren and Robbie to pick up Carolyn at Schiphol Airport and returned to the hotel. I wanted to head straight back out, but Marlo was hit by the jet lag, so we didn't hit the streets until 16:00. Amsterdam is so far north that it gets dark between 4-5pm at this time of year. But for all of the rain they normally have (over 220 rain days per year), we've got nothing but sunny days, so far... We hit more coffee shops as we walked and walked. I had a pizza with chicken shoarma and mussels, to satisfy the munchies from the Orange Bud and Purple Haze. Life is good, but it's time to get to the venue. Carolyn plays at 11pm-3am, and we must arrive early enough to set up cameras in the best places.
Sunday 04:00 (4am)
There's a little time to write about tonight's show, before gathering in a tourmates room at 5:15 to keep each other awake until the breakfast buffet. Not that we haven't eaten - Darren, Robbie and I went to a little snack shop during the gig, where we indulged in fries with all sorts of condiments with mayonnaise. It was at that shop where we encountered our first anti-americanism. A large guy in a wool cap (who's insignia proclaimed his allegiance to an american sportswear company) asked where we were from.
"Texas", we proclaimed in unison.
"Texas... George Booosh!", he replies, and then continues speaking with us in dutch or afrikance or some other language we didn't understand for the next three minutes or so.
It wasn't until he left, and a couple of other kinder-hearted Europeans began to apoligize to us profusely, that we realized just how much we must have been dissed. Maloe Melo was a bunch of fun! The venue has been there forever, and the management loves their Texas music. It stuck me immediately that there was no difference in the way they accepted our country, blues and rock-n-roll, as if it were all the same music... American music.
Even when getting into the cab - the mix of music was amazingly diverse. Euro-disco followed by Tom Petty followed by a hiphop track in french. Jerry the bartender showed us pictures of himself on the road with Joe Cocker, and sat in during sound check to do a little boogie woogie. Jan blew my mind when we were introduced, and he said, "Hmmm... GUY SCHWARTZ... I am familiar with your music! I know Mopar Mike!" There were several good musicians on the trip, who were not there to play music. It may not be healthy, but us musicians get very used to the attention people give us. Many of us perform because we need that attention. Marlo was wonderingn how I'd hold up. After all - I'm usually the star of the show, but this time I was there in a supporting role, to film Carolyn Wonderland.
I made it through OK, but not all of the musicians were as comfortable as I. Many of us sounded like waiters in Los Angeles (who are always between acting parts), telling our tourmates about the music we create and handing out our CDs. When Carolyn missed the first flight out, some of the group began fantasizing about having to save the day by performing in her place. Not me! I was too busy figuring that it would be a cool documentary if some of these other musicians had to save the day by performing in Carolyn's place, and then Carolyn walks in at the last moment, etc... Maloe Melo is small. There's a pub-like room and bar in front, with swinging doors that open to the music room in back shortly before music-time. Each room couldn't be more than 16-18 feet wide and 40 or 50 feet long. I'm not certain how many meters that is, but it isn't many. A guy named Chris (or Kris) brought out guitars and amps for the band, which saved everyone money, and made it unnecessary to convert power supplies for European standards. They were good sounding amps. Marlo set the new Canon XL-1 on it's tripod up in a small raised 3x3 booth in the back of the room, and I set up with a hand-held Panasonic 3-chip unit at the stage. Darren brought a DAT machine and stereo microphone for audio, and set it up by Marlo. When showtime came, they opened the door to the back room, and the place flooded with people. It was packed to the walls with music-lovers, who listened and applauded and laughed in all the right places. The band was hot! An audience like that almost guarantees it, but these guys were ready. This band is tight, and full of great players who are always in the right frame of mind to get the music done. I've known and listened to Carolyn and Scott Daniels for years, and have enjoyed Cole El-Saleh's music since we met a couple years ago, but the additions of both Bob and Lefty on bass and drums, has really brought this band up to Carolyn's great potential, musically AND professionally. Jan and Jerry both sat in during the night, and Guy Forsyth showed up too, singing and playing harp with the band.
I hope the Videotape looks as good as it did in the viewfinder! I hope Darren got great audio! I hope those guys are still awake for our pre-breakfast meeting, 'cos it's time to go!
AMSTERDAM Pt. 2
Marlo didn't get up with me on Sunday morning. After breakfast, I napped for a few hours, but it was clear that she'd need the whole sleep to recover from the long night before at the club. I decided to head out in another direction, to see what I could see.
I went to the transit station and hopped on one of the tram lines. The map said that #4 began at our station, so I figured I couldn't get lost if I stayed on that line. The trams are electric trains, like the ones which are being built now here in Houston. Number 4 took me through some urban residential neighborhoods to an area which had plenty of businesses and residents.
I walked into several shops to try my luck at communicating with the natives, and picked up over-the-counter pills at an apothacary, lasagna at a deli, pizza at a snack shop (where I watched Outkast on TV - entertaining in any language!), and some Coca-Cola Light. They all asked where I was from, and they were each from a different part of the world. While in Amsterdam, every pizza I ate was cooked by a Turk!
It was getting dark, so I jumped back on #4, and found other tourmates working their way back to the hotel as well. There was Jason Enright and Scott Daniels, making thier way from the music shops, and showing off music books they had found. Scott, Carolyn's great guitar player for the past few years, is a Houstonian I've known and have had over to the studio before. Jason is a music retailer and guitar player in Austin who wound up on this trip with us by winning a contest on the radio for a pair of tickets. Just so happens, that he had gone to school with Carolyn, as well! We had each found Amsterdam warm and friendly on this day.
Though we generally found friendly people everywhere, our clash with the angry anti-american drunk at the chips place was by no means our only encounter with humans of other cultures and levels of intoxication and tolerance.
On the very first evening, two days before, at the shoarma place I mentioned in part 1 (just as Matt, Marlo and I were about to get our food), we met a Norseman.... a very drunken Norseman.
There were only four small tables in the place, large enough for a one-car garage at best. I was seated only three feet from an open door, which led to the cold wind, and the narrow cobblestoned street. Across the street was the Magic Mushroom, or some such place. Psychedelic mushrooms are legal in Amsterdam, too! Funny how every street with a head shop had a couple restaurants or snack shops right next door! There was only room for one lane of auto traffic on these streets. They had been built long before the automobile was invented. The patterns of the different stones and bricks, which indicated the borders of differing areas for different types of traffic, gave an sort-of entertainment value to the act of watching the ground in front as one was walking.
It may have been the first time I've actually watched the ground as I walked. At home, I often bump my feet into things as a result of not watching my step as I move in and out of spaces. In Amsterdam, I learned to look down. My old knees demanded proper lookout on these surfaces.
So, suddenly, the wind blows a drunken Norseman into this little restaurant, and he lands right next to me. Only his sudden reaching grasp onto the corner of our table had kept him from landing on the floor. He didn't make eye contact at first, shaking his head full or red hair as if the shake would give him some renewed sobriety. His head raising slowly, and he realized that he was face-to-face with another human being. It was me! Our faces couldn't have been more than 3 inches apart. He smiled. "You are Amsterdam?", came the question.
"We are Texas!"
"Is OK?", he asked, referrring to some individual aspect of this situation which I will never be able to distinguish from the others.
"Is OK!", I replied, non-discriminatingly.
This conversation lasted another three minutes. He was gentle-hearted and happy, but very drunk and stoned. After establishing that I was OK, he was OK, Marlo was OK, Matt was OK, Norway was OK, the USA and Texas was OK, we had little else to talk about, and the proprietor had our food ready. We left it to the shoarma man to see our Norweigan pal back towards the street, and settled in for the tasty seasoned lamb and beef delights in front of us.
Speaking of mushrooms...
We knew that the possession of small amounts of 'soft-drugs' were legal in Holland, if you were a citizen, so some of our group had become concerned because we were not citizens, and we were staying in a nice modern hotel in the new business district. Many of us fell into old habits of putting damp towels under the hotel room door, to ensure that none of our sweet smoke made it to the hallway.
On the first morning, one of my tourmates reported, "I left the 'DO NOT DISTURB'; sign on the door, but the maid came in anyway and made up the beds, and STRAIGHTENED UP MY MUSHROOMS.
I knew just what he had meant. In our room, three little buds I had accidently knocked to the floor the night before were assembled on the table for me (in alphabetical order) when we returned from breakfast! What a country! Everything seemed to work better. There was nobody treating anyone else like a second-class citizen, and there was nobody acting like one either. Most of the few cops I saw drove around in little cars which couldn't catch you in a chase, and they didn't carry guns. Sure, there were special armed squads to call if anything got out of hand, but nothing got out of hand while we were around. The worst thing we saw was a bicycle accident, but we heard that one of our tourmates was mugged for 5 Euros.
HEADED FOR A SECOND NIGHT AT MALOE MELO.
There was a bit of confusion about what was supposed to happen on Sunday night. I had been told that it was a night off, but Carolyn had told the Saturday crowd that she'd be back tomorrow. When I saw Cole and Michelle getting ready to do the town on Sunday night, I asked what gives...
Carolyn was hosting the open mic that night, and it was optional for everyone else. Marlo and I flagged a cab. We couldn't allow ourselves to feel safe on the train with the video gear. As we had the night before, I took out my little Maloe Melo bumper sticker and showed it to the cabbie. He seemed to understand, and took us to the club, passing many of the now recognizable landmarks we had passed the night before. Our fare was around 16 euros again, so we felt good that the two nightly fares matched.
The back room was locked up on Sunday, and there were microphones in a little corner of the front pub area. Carolyn was sitting in front of one of the mics and was readying her guitar. Matt Hubbard came over and told me that they had let him in back to play the old upright piano there. Matt (who you may remember as our day one street buddy), was probably the luckiest guy on the trip. When Jason had won his free contest tour, he chose Matt to come along with him.
Matt's a fine young multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter from Austin by way of the midwest. He's got Willie Nelson on one song on his new CD, so you know that there's something musical happening inside of him!
Carolyn handled the open mic like the pro that she is, but not too many people ventured up to join her. Most were content to drink and listen. When the band showed up on Monday night, it was more of the same. The house was packed and the band was cooking! The only hang-up all night was a cabbie who looked at the address on my Maloe Melo card, got us in the cab, and then locked us in while he tried to find out where the place was. Realizing he was clueless, I asked to be let out of the cab so we could find another. Marlo remained locked in for another five minutes, before we were allowed toi grab another cabbie, who found the place without a hitch.
On Tuesday, we got a late start, but decided not to forego our daily stop into the coffee shops and restaurants. So, as we left the hotel for the Bob Dylan concert, we knew that we were already minutes behind. The only cabby at the taxi stand was our buddy who didn't know the location of Maloe Melo, but we assumed that any cabby in Amsterdam knew where Heineken Hall was. Nonetheless, we asked the man if he knew - and he assured us that he did. He took off in the same direct6ion we had traveled the past few nights, and passed many of the same landmarks we had passed on the way to Maloe Melo. Unfortunately, it was my understanding that Maloe Melo was the opposite direction as Heineken Hall. I asked the driver, "Is this the right way to Heineken Hall?"
He replied, "this is the way to your destination!"
"My destination is Heineken Hall!' I reiterated.
"Heineken?" he questioned.
"Yes!' said I, 'Heineken Hall! Are we headed to Heineken Hall?"
"We are going to same Mellow Mellow as the other night?" said the genius.
"No -we are going to music concert at Heineken Hall", said I, as calmly as I could, given that I now believed that we would never see Bob Dylan.
"Oh, no..." said our genius cab driver, "I think you want same place!"
"No!" said I (now doing my best ugly American voice), WE ARE GOING TO HEINEKEN HALL!"
Oh, no... OK... I take you to Heineken!' he assured us. I told Marlo that I was now certain that this man would never get us to our destination in anything resembling a timely manner. Marlo tried talking to him in Afrikaans, but it only made matters worse. Suddenly, he slows his down. right in front of the Heineken Brewery - clear across town from Heineken Hall!
"Bad Man! You are a bad man!" I say over and over, louder and louder. "Stop the car and let us out! Bad taxi driver! Bad, bad, bad taxi driver!" The man wouldn't stop his cab until we had driven around the brewery three times. BAD CAB DRIVER! We immediately found another cab .T driver knew the way, and literally walked un into the hall when we got there. I guess it takes all kinds. Our group was mostly up in front of the stage left sound system, and Carolyn was already being shown her way to the dressing room. It turns out that the Hell's Qangels doing security have the word that it's always OK to let 'the girl from Texas' pass. Between the show and the encore, Carolyn got a few words and a kiss from the poet. Dylan and band were cooking through one classic after another, with Bob standing behind his trusty electric piano the whole time. After the show, Marlo returned to the hotel with Scotty and Lefty and a few others, while Jan took most of us on a quick tour of the red-light district. The way I saw it, half of our group wanted a very quick trip in and out of the district, due to their disinterest in the sex combined with their desire to get back to an alcoholic establishment or psychedelic coffee shop. The other half wanted to get thru quickly, so they could return without us prudes. We passed thru some of the tiniest walkways and alleys I had ever seen. It was clean and well kept, and although some of the women in the group expressed otherwise, I never saw any characters who appeared scary or unsavory. Each 'storefront' featured a large pane of glass with a door next to it. If the prostitute was working, the shade on the window would be pulled. If the working girl was open for business, she was standing on the other side of the window. Some were disco/techno dancing, but most just stood there. One girl, a sort of plain girl with a Lisa Loeb look, stood with her door cracked and an unlit cigarette in her mouth - waiting for a gentleman with a light. We did soon arrive at the coffee shops, and then found our way back to the hotel, where most of us decided to meet at 9am to smoke up everything we had leftover, before the chartered bus took us back to Schiphol airport. At 9am, about a dozen of us dragged our feet into ****'s room, and began the task of using up the stash. One fellow emptied his White rhino' onto the coffee table, where small piles of red, orange, green and gold buds were lined up, one after another. There were small cellophane bags with five varieties of hashish, and the smoke was thicker than a roadhouse bar. We smoked and smoked, and then had to go to our rooms to finish packing. The last thing we did before leaving our new smoking headquarters, was to agree on a 10am meeting to smoke up what we haD LEFT AFTER THE 9AM MEETING! Eventually, ALL of the meeting were over, just as were all of the shows, and all of our time in Amsterdam. We climbed on the bus with the 'WONDERLAND GROUP' sign on it, and di a head count. Two were missing. We never found them. They missed the flight home, but caught another on the next day (lucky bastards). When we hit Bush Intercontinental, Mikey was there to take us home, but Marlo, Scotty and I asked him to take us to hear PotRoast at the cafe. After all, it had been 10 hours since we had, uh, stretched our legs.
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