Here’s the second report from C.J. Lewandowski on the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys‘ ongoing 2016 European tour. Full tour details, including newly-added dates, can be found online.
Saturday, the 15th, was our first day of two shows in two different locations. We relaxed around Jan’s until about 1:00 p.m., then headed roughly an hour and a half south east to the very southern tip of The Netherlands. The town of Grevenbicht hosts a day long bluegrass festival, complete with instrument builders, vendors, and great hospitality. Bluegrass Beeg 2016 had everything an American festival had, and it was really neat to see how the festival scene has been molded and adapted to the European culture. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by quite a few folks wanting to shake our hands and wanting pictures with us. We don’t deserve this kind of fame (for the lack of a better term), but it sure made us feel good about what we are doing. Bands made up the nice little festival, mostly from The Netherlands, but there was also a band from Portugal. Who would have thought there was bluegrass in Portugal? ITS EVERYWHERE!
Our set was dead center in the middle of the day at 4:00 p.m. The set was a scheduled 45 minutes, but over an hour later, with 3 encores we came off the stage. Bluegrass Beeg truly treated so kindly, and we want to thank the committee for hiring us, especially the event coordinator, Martin van den Berg.
I’m sure most of my friends know my passion for vinyl, and more specifically the rarer albums of regional acts that may have been somewhat overlooked through the years. Well, the highlight for me at Bluegrass Beeg was coming across some extremely rare vinyl, and even some Missouri bluegrass acts that are hard records to find in the U.S., much less Europe. Among all the great material, I came across The Bluegrass Patriots (Longing For The Ozarks being on the album), Jim Eanes, a German copy of Jimmy Martin’s Tennessee, The Bluegrass Five (from Missouri), and the last recording Charlie Moore made. Mountain Sweetheart was an album cut while Charlie Moore was on his final tour of Europe in 1979. The band accompanying him for these recordings was Smoketown Strut. The significance of this recording to me is the mandolin player on this project. Our host, Jan Michielsen, is pictured and named on the back of the album jacket! So, naturally, I had Jan sign it. Pretty dang cool to find these classic rare albums so far from the regions they came from. Shows the power of good bluegrass music and how it touches people all across the world.
After slinging some merch, and signing some babies foreheads (total lie), we heading back to Hoogstraten, Belgium for an evening set at Ste Cecila. This place was plain cool! Prohibition has never been a thing in Europe, of course, but Ste Cecilia really reminded us of an American Speakeasy, complete with alleyway entrance, and jazz era-styled design. We played two 45s to a packed, overflowing house. Young and old. Extreme bluegrass fans to newly made fans. There was even a fella that brought a Bed By The Window CD cover for Adam to sign. He’s pretty cool, you know, haha. That really did make Adam’s night, though, that he was that influential in the King sound for someone to want his autograph in Belgium. The second set tore the house down, and was reason enough to stay and visit a few hours with the natives. A late night, for sure, but it was well worth it. Did I mention how lucky we are to be in Europe right now?
Late Saturday nights make for early Sunday mornings, which was the case for Sunday October 16th. Jan is a librarian in he nearby town of Arendonk, and that is where our matinee show was, starting at 2:30 p.m., Sunday afternoon. That late night must have got to me somehow, because I pulled a huge boo-boo. I left my mandolin at Jan’s and didn’t realize it until we pulled into the library and began to unload. Talk about mad at myself. I was fuming at my own stupidity, I had to take a walk around town to cool my jets. I guess it happens to folks, but I just had to cool off. Luckily, Jan had brought his McClanahan. I was saved by him! Thanks for covering my tail, Jan! It was alright though, his mandolin is A BEAST! It can be seen on a few videos that are on our Facebook page. The intimate matinee at Bibliotheek Arendonk was a lot fun, regardless.
From a Library, to a cafe, we are making every day count. Second day in a row for two locations per day. A short drive brought us to the little town of Ravels, where we arrived in time for a fantastic Greek meal. Complete with wine, kalamari, and a specialty Greek drink that I can’t pronounce, much less spell. Luk Van Gils set us up at Cafe Van Dun where our show started at 8:00 p.m. The small cafe was quaint and dark, with real pretty wood ceilings and neon signs hanging all around. A Belgium honky tonk, if I do say so myself. Out of the 100 tickets available, 98 were sold, along with several other guests, making this a standing room only. It was really enjoyable to look out and see folks singing along with us. It was also really neat to see a fair amount of younger people in the crowd. Seems like bluegrass is appealing to all ages over here. Very important. The high energy show left us wound up, and we stayed at Cafe Van Dun visiting with the audience for several hours. It’s so interesting to learn about all the folks watching and listening to us. Farmers, Civil War reenactors, chefs, all walks of life were there for the love of the music.
Monday the 17th, was a little easier, laid back day. We had to drive quite a ways to our show, but we only had one, starting at 8:15 p.m. in Utrecht, Holland. Utrecht is a pretty significant town for bluegrass, from what I was told. It is the only town Bill Monroe ever played in Holland, the year being 1975. As we headed, once more, from Hoogstraten, we made a couple of pit stops. A few friends from Cafe Van Dun invited us to their farm in Ravels, and also to a Cadillac collector’s home close by. Ronnie, Luk, and Michiel met us at Michiel’s where we saw the workings of a genuine European farm, and some of the prettiest Belgium workhorses you’ve ever seen. Huge horses that Monroe himself would have tried to take home with him. Billy was given a horseshoe to mark the event. We loved seeing the culture at work first hand.
We all then loaded up and went a little distance to see a collection of some incredibly beautiful Cadillacs. A warehouse full of show quality convertibles, Eldorados, and the ultra rare Biarritzs. 17 Caddys ranging from 1939-1959. Only missing a ’40 and ’47. They looked like they all just rolled off the showroom floor. We played a few songs with one video with the cars in the background, and even got to start up the ’54 Eldo and get a selfie in it! Ha! We really enjoyed it. Never thought we’d see those fins in The Belgium.
Utrecht was an hour and half from the Cadillacs, so we headed that way, arriving at Parel Van Zuilen just in time for a brilliant dinner with cheesecake to die for! Parel is a grand hotel-style building situated on the river Vecht where they hold a concert every Monday. Doyle Lawson incorporated this venue in his 2014 tour of Europe. Quicksilver’s picture is proudly displayed in the restaurant, with our good buddy, Eli Johnston smiling big! Dinner filled us up, making us a tad tired, and by the time showtime rolled around, the previous eight 45 minute shows had caught up to us. We were pretty tired, but we gave it all we had. The little venue was pretty dang full. Our Disc Jockey friend, Dick Groot, was in the audience, and it was really good to see him. It was also good to see The Bluegrass Boogeyman, Arnold Lassuer. He’s a great mandolin player from right there in Utrecht. By the end of the night, our voices were starting to give out, but we hit it hard until the very end. The night ended with some twin fiddle working and an encore of Back To The Mountains. A beautiful venue to play, and I suggest it to anyone traveling the Utrecht area.
We got in late to Jan’s and crashed in the beds pretty hard. And that leads us to where are right now. Jan cooked us a great breakfast, we got all packed up, and left Jan’s home for the continuation of The Back To The Mountains Euro Tour 2016. We will return to his house on the 31st of October to drop off his bass back to him, and catch up bit before we fly back home. We are heading to Vlagtwedde Netherlands (northern part of the country) right now for a house concert. We wanna again recognize Jan and Leen Michielsen for their hard work and hospitality that they offered The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. Without them, The Euro tour wouldn’t be possible for us. Jan is a true ambassador of the music we all love so much.
Alright, well I’m gonna gonna enjoy the sites of this drive. Until the next report, CJ signing off, from the PRB rig cruising down the road in The Netherlands.