Author: Evans, Bill

From Galway to Nashville

Itís 3770 miles (or 6066 kilometers) from Galway, Ireland to Nashville, Tennessee and Iím thankful that my musical travels have taken me to both places this month. Megan Lynch and I just completed our annual tour to the United Kingdom and Ireland just days ago (where Iíve learned that Ireland is most definitely NOT part of the United Kingdom). Weíre now both in Meganís home stomping grounds in Tennessee this week for this yearís IBMA conference.

Thereís no question that travel Ė and meeting people - is one of the perks of being a performing musician. Everyone knows by now that the pay in bluegrass and acoustic music isnít all that great and that the benefits arenít one of the primary reasons why people choose this career path (this reminds me of Ron Thomasonís story about Parade magazineís ď50 Worst JobsĒ but Iíll leave that story for another time). When I look back on over thirty years of touring, the experiences Iíve had on the road and the people Iíve met in my musical travels are near the top of my list of what makes playing music for a living fun and enjoyable.

Hereís some things Iíve learned in my three trips to the UK and Ireland, just in case any of you might be heading across the pond soon:

Just like in the United States, people have many different accents and some of these are definitely more understandable than others to green American ears. If youíre surviving on little sleep as you travel from town to town, understanding what people are saying can sometimes be truly difficult. In my own case, itís not very good to simply guess what someone might be saying and then base my reply on what I thought they might have said. Usually, if you assume a look of genuine stupefaction and simply stare at your speaker, they will politely repeat what theyíve said, trying their best to say it in a way that you can more easily understand. Most Brits and Irish folks can easily imitate Americans very well Ė so if you ask them to speak to you in ďAmerican English,Ē you can expect a hilarious response that youíll nevertheless be able to understand. Because I watched A Hard Dayís Night about 100 times as a kid, I discovered that I could understand Liverpudlian pretty well.

It makes sense to take public transportation. Megan and I made the decision before our first tour to get around the region by bus, train, cab, ferry and the occasional flight. While itís a hassle carrying a banjo and fiddle and 100 pounds of luggage through the London Underground on the way to the Gatwick Express, thereís a feeling of satisfaction, not to mention a rewarding soreness in the arms and legs, once youíre arrived at your destination. Traveling in this way also gives you an excuse to eat another croissant or have a dab more whipped cream on that first cappuccino before you get on the train. A footnote here Ė the trains and buses run pretty much on time. Religiously. If youíre so late that youíre running after a train as it leaves the station, donít expect it to stop for you (but it might Ė thatís how reasonable Brits are). A second footnote: It can take longer to get from one end of London to another than to get from London to northern England, or at least it seems that way. London is an incredible city Ė it makes New York seem like Mayberry. Too much to take in, even in a week. A third footnote: never fly Ryan Air.

Despite what you may have heard, the food across the pond can be great. Like most places around the world, food has also been internationalized in the UK and Ireland. You can enjoy just as a great meal in Cheshire as you can in San Francisco these days (okay, well almost). And we did eat some truly great international cuisine Ė Turkish, Thai and Indian come immediately to mind. Some of our best meals were in English pubs. So even if youíre a Berkeley foodie, I donít recommend bringing your own organic vegetables or your French press on the plane.

If youíre performing, donít be surprised to hear some of the strangest opening acts on the planet. Megan and I have performed with an intense variety of music in our UK/Ireland travels and almost none of it is bluegrass. Weíve been on the bill with a quintet of women singers singing in Gaelic, accompanied by a folk harp; a singer-songwriter accompanied by a small electronic piano and trumpet; a well-dressed tongue-in-cheek ukulele duo performing 80ís New Wave songs; Gypsy jazz (well-played in this case); a female singer who added some very dramatic flourishes while singing extremely unusual original compositions; and a variety of bluegrass-like bands that sound like they are influenced much more by English skiffle and musical theater than they are by the Lonesome River Band. We also played a show with the legendary English blues guitarist Wizz Jones Ė he was one of the first English folk finger picking guitar players back in the late 50ís and early 60ís. It was great to listen to his stories of teaching a very young Eric Clapton and Keith Richards some of their first licks way back when.

And, last but not least, donít forget to look right before stepping out into the street Ė unless it says look left. And always Mind The Gap.

Iím writing this on a Tuesday night at IBMA week Ė by the time you read this, Iíll be back in the Bay Area, getting ready to enjoy another Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Itís great to travel the world but we might have the very best right here in our backyard. Take care until next month!

All the best,

Bill Evans

Posted:  10/2/2009

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