The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys are bringing their hard driving brand of old school bluegrass to western Europe, and have promised to send us updates along the way. Here’s their first installment, from mandolinist C.J. Lewandowski, covering their departure on August 26 and their first day on the continent on the 27th.
We loaded up the bus and headed from Gatlinburg to Altanta at 9:00 a.m. We decided to take the route over the mountain from East Tennessee to Cherokee to get one last good look at the mountains before we headed off for 10 days. It was definitely worth it.
Proceeding to Atlanta, we arrived in just enough time to get through customs and the security check to relax before loading the plane at 5:00 p.m. The hardest thing to figure out was where to park a 30 foot bus at ATL. Jereme Brown was not able to go with us, so we got our good buddy, Luke Montgomery, from Ohio take play the banjo and sing tenor. Jasper, Sofia, and Luke shared a row on the plane and Josh and I piled into a two seat row. The flight was roughly 9 hours to Stuutgart Germany. A pleasant flight most of the way, we caught sleep as much as possible, but not much. Not knowing if it was because of excitement or the seats not being as comfy as we planned.
We arrived in to Stuutgart at 8:45 a.m. (being 6 hours ahead of East TN time), picked up our nice VW rental van, and headed a half hour south to Kusterdingen, Germany. Breakfast was on the table at Dieter and Birgit Stoll’s beautiful home as soon as we walked in the door.
Dieter and Birgit are a very sweet couple that hosted us at their home. They have a band by the name of Horse Mountain. Birgit on bass and Dieter had an assortment of vintage guitars strung throughout the house. Their home was a sight to behold. It is a rather large home with exposed spruce beams all over, and a sun room on the rear of the house that was two stories tall and rigged with shades to keep the sun’s heat out in the middle of the day. Birgit’s pottery studio is also in the house, where she sells plates, mugs, and art handcrafted by her, solely. From traditional German patterns to her own custom designs, everything was very unique and gorgeous.
The highlight of the home was their Bluegrass Porch. Complete with “Bluegrass Carpet” custom ordered from Belgium. Decorated with U.S. License plates from all our favorite states, Hank Williams posters, and classic bluegrass pictures, we felt right at home. It was even screened in, which is not common for Europe. Screens in windows aren’t needed since bugs aren’t as prevalent as they are back home. From their many trips to the U.S., we went through pictures of The Carter Fold, Bristol, Nashville, and many other places.
After a short nap, we proceeded into town to a local distillery. Marvin Wandel is a 78 year old cooper and distiller, making schnapps for over 50 years, an occupation passed down from generation to generation. He showed us his still, 70 year old barrels filled with his brews and all the old tools that date back even further. After sampling three delightful schnapps of raspberry, plum, and pear, Marvin presented us with a bottle of Pear Schnapps to take along on our journey. Marvin and his wife were a special treat that we weren’t expecting at all.
From Marvin’s Distillery, we went a small distance to our venue for the first evening of our Euro Tour. The Kino METROPOL is originally a barn built in 1773, which Dieter, the town, and several volunteers converted into a lovely theatre that seats 40 people. The walls were originally built from a mixture of woven sticks, clay and cow dung! That’s right, cow dung still around after 243 years! Getting a good feel for the venue, Dieter and Birgit took us to a Tex-Mex restaurant called Indian Spirit right next to the METROPOL.
Complete with cowhide chair cushions, a chuck wagon, and totem poles galore, Indian Spirit had the largest menu of any restaurant we have ever been. Burgers, country taters, and gyros covered the table, and large portions to boot. Dieter informed us that just a few weeks ago, Doyle and the boys were at the same table where we were sitting.
The show started with Horse Mountain singing a few songs before we hit the stage. Our booking agent and tour coordinator, Paolo Dettweiler, sat in with Dieter and Birgit. Paolo playing a mandolin that was very familiar to me. A Bill Monroe copy mandolin that had belonged to me and found a new home when I visited Switzerland with Karl Shifflet last May. As mentioned before, the venue was quaint, but in turn was very intimate we felt right at home. The cinema was packed full with folks standing in the doorways to get a taste of our version of Traditional Bluegrass. Two reporters were a part of the crowd and featured us the next day in the local papers.
After two 45 minute sets, we ended the night singing a few songs with Dieter and Brigit. We couldn’t have asked for a better first night in Europe. From clapping at every banjo break Luke took, to cheering Jasper’s wife, Sofia, on stage to sing a Hank Sr. song, we felt right at home!
Thanks you to Dieter and Birgit Stoll, and the METROPOL for a forever memorable night in Germany! Next stop, BED!