the last tour of the year

I'm riding on a train headed south to Bologna. Sunlight is pouring through the window on my right and for the first time in my life I'm on a train that actually smells pleasant…kind of lemony-fresh.

I am headed to Bologna for my last show of 2007. I have played 115 shows this year (while working full-time), and done about 20 radio appearances, one of which was in the RAI 3 Studios in Italy - their equivalent to our NPR. I've played in America, Italy, England, Ireland, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden - all in all, not too shabby. I still don't know how I'm going to buy Christmas presents for everyone, but that's another matter.

So I just got back from Denmark, where I did a short but lovely tour with MC Hansen. Mads (that's MC) and his wife Carina took such good care of me and I am so grateful to them for their hospitality, and to MC for organizing the shows. He's a great folk&roots songwriter and guitar player, and he and his band, The Sentimentals, backed me up on this tour.

I flew into Denmark last Wednesday on 3 hours sleep and 12 hours of traveling. I overslept and missed my train out of Castiglion but luckily Manuel drove me to the station in Arezzo and I just caught the train to Rome, where I caught a flight to Berlin where I caught a flight to Copenhagen where I tried to catch my breath. Whew. MC met me at the airport and we took a train to the rehearsal studios where he and the guys practice because we had a show together on Friday night and we'd never actually played together – they had just learned my songs from my CDs. We did a 3 hour practice and then called it a night, heading back to MC and Carina's place in Malmo, Sweden. It's just across the Oresund Sound from Copenhagen, just a short 40 minute train ride (part of which includes a 25 km bridge across cold, dark, Scandinavian waters…brrrr).

I slept the next morning until very late – something that would become a trend on this tour. Since this was a comparatively easy tour (I only played 4 times in 8 days), I was able to finally get some much-needed rest. I hadn't even realized how tired I was until I found myself sleeping until 9, 10, 11 am most days…quite a change from my usual wake-up call of 6 am. Actually (and I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit this), there was a 48-hour period where I didn't even put on shoes or leave the house. That may be the first time in my life that I have ever done that, except for maybe when I had the flu or something. It was on my three-day-off stretch, and Monday we spent inside practicing new songs, and Tuesday we spent inside recording one of them, and I didn't even realize until Tuesday night when I was packing and looking for my shoes that I didn't know where my shoes were because I hadn't worn them in 2 days. What bliss!!!

What else do you need to know? Well, Denmark (and Sweden, and I guess all of Scandinavia) is mega-expensive – and it seems even more so because they don't use the euro, but the kroner. And of course they don't all use a Scandinavian kroner – there's the Danish one, the Swedish one, etc. 1 euro is 7 DKK, so a train ticket can cost 70 DKK, which sounds like a lot – and compared to Italy, it is a lot. The difference is, of course, that everything in Denmark is very well-run and well taken care of, so since the trains always run on time and are spotlessly clean, you don't mind paying 10 euro for a 30 minute train ride (well, not much, anyhow). Actually, on our way to our first show together, MC and I were riding a train that looked just fine to me. It was clean and on time – more than I've come to expect from Italian trains. At some point the conductor came by to punch our tickets, and he gave us a little coupon along with the ticket. I asked MC what it was for and he said that train company was apologizing that the train wasn't one of the newer ones so it was a coupon for a free drink or snack at the train station, valid for 90 days. Are you kidding?? I nearly fell out of my chair laughing….and I was only to grow more amazed shortly at all that Denmark had to offer.

Over the course of our 4-5 days playing shows together, MC let me in on all of the amazing perks that Denmark offers its musicians. You get paid for every song you play live – only about 2 euro, but if you've played 20-30 song sets and have played 100+ shows a year like I have…well, that adds up fast. And that 2 euro (15 kroner) per song is a minimum – if you play, for example, in a big theatre in front of tons of people, you get paid more. In America you get paid if you are one of the 200 top-grossing tours of the year….so the people already making bucket loads of cash from touring get paid, while the rest of us, well, don't. You become a member of the Danish Musicians Union, which costs 500 kroner a month to join (about 70 euro)….but membership gives you life insurance, and you can apply for grants to help you cover recording costs and to help cover your travel expenses if you tour abroad. I met people who got more than 30000 kroner (more than 4000 euro) towards their recording costs. And oh yeah – there is a (are you ready?!) minimum wage for musicians of approximately 1500 kroner per show (about 200 euro). Denmark is the first country I've visited where you can actually make a living doing music if you bust your butt touring. I bust my butt (and then some) and still come out in the negative at the end of the year – travel costs are just so high, and break-even only comes after all of the CDs and merchandise have been paid for.

In any case…the shows in Denmark were loads of fun. We played one night with the whole band (called the Sentimentals) and I played other shows with just MC. The band show was at a venue in which some people were having a little bit too much Christmas cheer with their snaps (pronounced schnapps) – we actually saw one guy fall down with a resounding thud right at my feet, and another guy who drunkenly tried to pass between a table and the microphone stand and ended up straddling it for a while, leaving his bum in my face while I tried to keep singing and keep the microphone stand from falling over. It was all pretty hilarious – some of the Danish good ol' boys even got into a fight in the middle of our second set, having a good ol' fashioned knock-down, drag-out in the parking lot. The crowd seemed to love the show though – we got them dancing at the end, and we even did a rousing version of "I'll Fly Away" as the encore, which got one very drunk lady in a Santa hat doing the do-si-do with a businessman dressed in a suit for his Christmas party. Good times.

On my days off, Mads and Carina took me around Malmo's Christmas market, and then I made them an Italian dinner and we watched My Cousin Vinny, thanks to some nutjob who actually put the whole movie on YouTube in 15 installments of 8-9 minutes. He recorded it (seemingly) off of his VCR. The modern world never ceases to amaze me. We spent the other days off recording a new song and doing more cooking – I made another Italian meal, and Mads made a Danish-Mexican fusion dish of sorts…like burritos, but made with Danish pancakes.

I played my last show as part of a night called The Write House along with three other young Danish musicians, all of whom were totally different from one another and totally great. I'll put their links below – you should find all of them on MySpace. They were completely kind and all of them were amazing performers, and Rene even lent me his lovely Gibson acoustic guitar for the evening. Sara and Jacob and I drove back to Copenhagen late that night and we ended up singing Christmas carols for an hour – a cappella. It was fairly hilarious. Thank you Sara and Jacob and Rene and Roar for such a great wrap-up to the tour!

And that's pretty much Denmark & Sweden. I headed down to Bologna (via long layovers in Berlin and Bergamo) for my last show of the year, a simple acoustic set with Manuel at the TPO in Bologna. We had an amazing audience in a really cozy setting – it was very house-concert-ish – and we met the very kind Joe Lally (formerly of Fugazi) who now tours solo and who played the big stage after us. We drove home and got there around 4:30 am – and woke to find everything covered in snow! Yes, winter came to town to see me off – I woke three mornings in a row to find everything lightly dusted in white. It was so pretty – all the more so because it melted and let the sun come out, unlike in the south of Italy, where all the roads and schools were shut down and people were buried under meters of snow. Eek!

And now, days from when I started writing this blog, I'm sitting in the Newark airport…waiting…again. My flight to Dallas is delayed but I don't care – I'm just happy to have made it this far. The weather was pretty crummy for my first two flights today and I spent about 12 hours with all of my muscles clinched as we bounced through the skies and across the ocean…so I'm very glad to be on land for a bit. Here's hoping that my last flight of 2007 will go smoothly. I hate flying, as many of you know, and this year I've flown … maybe thirty times? No joke. Probably closer to fifty, actually. Another funny side note – I flew into Paris on October 3rd. That was my first point of entry into the EU, and no one stamped my passport (they barely even glanced at it). I then proceeded, over 3 months, to fly Paris – Pisa then Pisa – Eindhoven then Eindhoven – Pisa then Rome – Berlin – Copenhagen then Copenhagen – Berlin – Bergamo and then this morning I flew from Pisa to Milano and then, and ONLY then, did someone finally stamp my passport – and that's as I was leaving. So I really never entered the EU, only left. I guess that's the Schengen Visa thing for you. And then I went back and looked and I never got a stamp saying that I entered America back on September 10…so I never really came home either. It's all very confusing. All I know now is that my flight to Dallas is now 4 hours delayed and I'm going to find food. It will be crappy over-priced airport food, but at least I don't have to eat it on a fold-out tray from the seat in front of me.

Happy trails to you all and I'm sure you'll be hearing from me again soon!


Links to check out:

Eva - my friend is releasing her next CD and it's great:

My Danish friends from this latest tour:

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