The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys brought their hard driving brand of old school bluegrass to western Europe, and promised to send us updates along the way. Here’s their fifth installment, from mandolinist C.J. Lewandowski, covering their trip from Holland to Denmark and back.
We were bright eyed and bushy tailed at 9:00 a.m. and followed him through the Dutch Countryside. We found our surprise to be a tour of a mill built in the 1600s. After a short educational video, we went to the actual mill and got to see the inner workings of a windmill used to pump up water to high elevations. All of Holland is below sea level, did y’all know that? I didn’t have a clue. Well, these mills were a necessity to keep the country from flooding. They sure don’t make things like they used to. It was amazing to see a still working piece of history. Thanks to Loek for showing us a little bit of Holland’s culture. We said our goodbyes and headed to Amsterdam. Pieter was waiting with coffee and cake before our trip to the airport.
We arrived at the home of Pieter Groenveld with enough time for a small visit and instrument observation. The Gilchrist caught my eye from the start! What a great mandolin. Pieter did us a huge favor by giving us a ride to the airport and also picking us up. We got through all the normal procedures and were off to Copenhagen to play for The Ole Smoky Moonshine affiliates of Denmark.
After a short flight, Christian Bay-Jorgensen and Kristian Juul picked us up for our first evening to vacation. Christian has an awesome apartment in Frederiksberg (a city within the city of Copenhagen), that he graciously let us take over while we were in Denmark. We dropped our stuff off and they treated us to Genuine National cuisine at an outdoor restaurant that was set up like a beer garden. We gobbled up all you can eat pork and potatoes and headed to a few local hotspots. Kristian and Christian really showed us a good time and lots of hospitality.
We parted ways and walked back to the apartment a few blocks. Jug, Jasper, and I loaded the elevator and conveniently got stuck between the first and second floor. After freaking out, yelling, waking up all the neighbors, pushing all the buttons, calling Christian, ringing the service bell 1,436 times, and crying a little, the service man showed up and let us out. 30 minutes seemed like eternity when you’re in an elevator 2 1/2 foot square with two others, and that’s dark and hot as Wake Frankfields’ Loar in the oven. Was funny after the fact though.
We all woke up to an afternoon of free time. Jasper and Sofia went for an early morning walk. After they came back to the apartment, Jasper, Josh, and I walked to the metro and headed for the Community of Christiania for some beers and a touch of Copenhagen culture. We had never seen so many bicycles in our lives. Thousands at each metro station. Reminded us of our local hangout, Knuckle Busters Speed Shop in downtown Pigeon Forge. We proceeded on back to the apartment after a sandwich and souvenir shopping.
The Ole Smoky boys picked us up and dropped us at the swanky Alabama Social restaurant in Copenhagen. It’s an American-themed soul food restaurant that serves Ole Smoky Moonshine in their many drinks and cocktails. We had a great dinner of jerk chicken and red beans and rice. All the folks started loading in and we played four short acoustic sets while the audience enjoyed finger foods and five different cocktails made of Ole Smoky Shine. We sure enjoyed it.
So many people asked us questions about our heritage and music at the Alabama Social. Christian explained that the locals love the way Americans talk, so they ask questions just to listen to us! While there, a good friend of mine, Evelina Gold, came in and surprised me. She is a writer whom I met at Rosine in 2013. She was traveling the states researching Southern American lifestyle and music. She stayed about 5 days with me that fall and I showed her the mountains, Popcorn Sutton’s home and grave, and we checked out the music scene of East Tennessee. It was so nice to see her again and visit.
After our Alabama Social evening gig we had another late night gig in Copenhagen at The Drop Inn. The Drop Inn has been around since 1934 and had never had a bluegrass band EVER! So, needless to say, we were worried what the crowd would think of us after the rock band got off stage. We came in to the dimly lit bar to find that some people had been waiting there for 2 hours just to see us. Several folks from a Denmark Bluegrass Club came out to join in the festivities. Ole Smoky was passed around, and the crowd was intense! They hung on to every note, but not in the quiet, formal way we had encountered before. This a younger crowd and they hooted and hollered and just had plain fun! Evelina danced her tail off the whole time.
A 45 minute set had the people screaming for more. We had never felt closer to rockstar status then that night! Two encores. We went downstairs to pack up the instruments, and came back to find the the rock bar had bought our CDs and were playing them over the sound system! It made us feel amazing that the bar accepted us so well! We got to hang out a little while, and met some folks who had never heard bluegrass music ever before! They said that we changed their life and loved the music! One of the best experiences of their life! I couldn’t believe that there were still folks out there that had no idea what bluegrass music was. There’s still fans that haven’t encountered our awesome music. We need to spread it far and wide, so that everyone can enjoy it!
After getting back to the apartment (we didn’t take the elevator), we hit the bed hard and woke up extra early to catch our flights back to Amsterdam. Kristian Juul and Christian Bay-Jorgenson really went out of their way to take care of us, and host music and moonshine in Copenhagen. They love Ole Smoky Moonshine and work hard to bring our mountain spirits to their home. The boys dropped us off at the airport and a short flight out it’s back into Amsterdam where Pieter was again waiting for us with coffee and cake.
We visited Pieter for a good few hours and listened to some great Joe Val live stuff. The fellowship with Pieter was such a good time. He is a kind gentle soul that really loves bluegrass, and Europe is lucky to have him to help preserve the music by way of recordings. It was hard to leave his company, but we had to get to Rotterdam. We all had to get haircuts!
Rotterdam is the home of the world’s most famous barber shop. A place where tattoos are prevalent, there’s beer in the fridge, and women aren’t allowed in. It’s like stepping back in time. Schorem is that place. A couple years ago, a bunch of fellers decided they needed a place to hangout and get a good haircut, so they started one. It’s as old timey as can be, but still new and fresh.
These guys know what they are doing. They now are booked all over the globe doing workshops, meet and greets and spreading the grease. Men line up down the street every day they are open to get the best haircut they’ve ever had. We walked in the shop and the barbers knew exactly who we were. They announced to all the customers what we were gonna do and we broke out the instruments, played music right there in the barber shop. It was like Floyd’s on The Andy Griffith Show!
The guys seemed to like it a lot. They even hired in a photographer to document our visit with them. We were so excited to be at Schorem. We’d been following them online since Josh’s sister told us about the place. We played the guys quite a few tunes, then walked the main drag and got a bite to eat and picked up a few records. I found a Jimmy Martin record in Rotterdam! We arrived back at Schorem about 4:00 p.m. so we could get haircuts of a life time. We are pretty particular about our hair, so we were excited! We felt cool as can be since we got an appointment and they have a strict policy of first come first serve. All the boys got slick haircuts, loaded up on pomade, shirts, aftershave. What a treat it was to step back in time and get an old school haircut, by true professionals that love what they do! Thanks To Bertus, Maus, and all the other guys for treating us so well, and clean us up the best they could. We will be back!
We loaded up and headed south to Jan Michielsen’s house to catch up with him, eat some food and spend the night with him again. We visited with Jan until late in the night and retired to some good sleep. What a jam packed few days.