For the past three weeks I have been living out of my suitcase while traveling on more of an adventure than a vacation through England, France, Switzerland, Italy,Austria, Germany and Holland.
The cultures had many similarities and differences that stood out throughout the journey, but the music was surprisingly American influenced… And there was music everywhere in Europe. From the subway cars and tunnels, to the open squares and rooftop lofts; there was usually someone performing.
The first thing that really became obvious was that the World Cup was happening and life stops much like it does here for the Super Bowl. People jam into local pubs to get together and cheer their teams on. It is a passion, it is on every channel, and it is a long game that can end with no points.
While one match was going on in London we were unable to eat at our first choice as there were no tables available. So we ended up heading a bit further down the road and came upon the Amano, which had a total Pizza Luce’ vibe. After we ordered our drinks I noticed that two musicians were setting up a keyboard and microphone. They proceeded to play some very polished crooning songs in the key of Michael Buble. The singer, Matt Parry, really had nice style on songs like “Fly Me To The Moon”, and he had good volume and tone. When speaking with him he talked about some gigs in London that he has had as a session musician.
In Paris musicians celebrate the beginning of summer by playing on the sidewalks everywhere for the Fête de la Musique. I was in my hotel room relaxing when I began to hear a rock band belting out classic rock hits with a distinctive French accent. At first I thought it was a band practicing with their window open, but upon further inspection I could see that they were set up on a corner with a modest crowd watching. It was a hodgepodge of styles mixed with songs like MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams” and a singer who looked like a young Sid Vicious. They appeared to be around 16 years old and already they were sporting ogling girls who began applying lots of eye makeup while watching the band. They would giggle and look at the boys; they also owned a section of railing in front of the band as well. It is funny how no matter what age that bands have girls who stand up front and are a “part” of the band. At most shows with older musicians it is the performer’s “girl(s) of the moment” who find some sacred spot to preen themselves while the band puts on their show. There is no age limit for groupies I guess.
The band made up the name Willy’s Brown Stone while I was talking to them. Only one of the members spoke English and they were kind of surprised that I had the guts to confront them in-between sets. They would many times sing an American hit like “Hotel California” with strong French accents, only remembering a verse or two. Then they would laugh as the crowd clapped and go about some other classic hit.
After talking to the desk at my hotel and learning that bands would be performing all over the city my wife and I headed down the block. Paris is known worldwide for its wonderful jazz music, and this night had many performances going on. It was about half rock bands and half jazz bands playing around, with audiences drinking on the streets and celebrating. At one “show” the audience even began to chant, “Freebird.”
Even in France…
In Italy there was more of a classic attitude toward music. While eating dinner on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Sorrento three well dressed gentlemen began singing and playing their squeezeboxes. The songs they chose felt right out of The Godfather movies, and after they had finished their set one of the band members came around with a cup for offerings. When he returned to his fellow musicians and they saw the cup was full they all smiled, packed up, and moved along. There were musicians in the subways, the train cars, the streets, and everywhere one would travel. It was easier to give money to someone who was doing something to earn it rather than the beggars who walk up to you and give some rehearsed speech with an open hand.
One street performing guy that made a bundle worked around Notre Dame in Paris. While tourists waited in the extremely long line to pay to walk up 400 stairs to the top of Notre Dame, a man in a scary mask was making the time fly. He was a smaller French gentleman, with normal clothes on, but he was wearing a hideous mask. The performer would walk up behind a couple talking, put his arm on one of the person’s shoulders, and proceed to stroll along as if he had always been there. When the unsuspecting victim would finally turn to look they would shriek in terror for a moment and run away. It was extremely funny to be in on the joke, and after doing this for about 30 minutes he would walk the line with his cup. It was full and that guy made a fortune as people even got out of the line to pay him. He was much better than the park full of super heroes in Amsterdam or the fake statues in Florence,Italy.
When you get to Southern Germany you must taste the food and weisse beer. InMunich there is one place that encapsulates the Bavarian experience, The Hofbräuhaus. Located across from a newer Munich Hard Rock Café, it is the Anchor Bar, Fitgers, TPB, and Luce’ all rolled into one place. Boasting a seating capacity of 3500 people it goes by Anchor seating rules, but instead of one couple slowly eating at a table that seats 6, there are no empty chairs. The people in Munich are very friendly and the price for a sausage with sauerkraut was around 7 euro. Sitting next to my wife and I was quite the German character: very large, lederhosen, a stein that is kept locked in their specially made locker, feather in the cap, bearded, and cigar smoking. He knew little English, but at the end of the night had to be escorted out by the security personal. Funny thing was that when we returned the next day he was there again, beginning another night of adventure. The beer glasses they give you hold about four beers for the price of two, and after two large mugs my German improved greatly.
Speaking of the World Cup, while in Munich the Germans won a match putting them into the final four teams. When we arrived in Munich it was an amazing cultural change to go from loud and pushy Italians to quiet, overly polite Germans. That all changed when we were in the subway right after that match ended. There were people with those horns everywhere, but bullhorns too… and people sitting on the floor all chanting, “Deutschland!” It showed me what America would be like if young people were allowed to drink at 16, like they can in Europe.
I thought Germany was nuts about football/soccer until I got to Amsterdam and had a hotel booked in Rembrandtplein during the match to go to the World Cup. The city was fluorescent orange, and not just the coffee shop patrons. When they won it was all night music and the horns. In the morning when I looked out my hotel window after not getting much sleep I was amazed to see the city erasing any sign of the previous nights’ antics and rubbish.