Planning a three week tour for a band is tough sometimes, we all know that. Planning a three week tour for a U.S. band traveling abroad takes quite a bit of time, organization, and correspondence with a number folks across the pond.
Planning started a year in advance for the second tour of Europe with The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. 2015’s ten day tour was extended to 22 days with several 2 show days. Like I said, lots of planning, and we want to thank Jan Michielsen and Paolo Dettwiler for their hard work and dedication to bringing traditional bluegrass to Europe. We couldn’t even think about a tour like this without them, so these guys are the reason that The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys are in Europe as I type. I write from the kitchen table of Jan’s home in Hoogstraten, Belgium on Friday night, so let me retrace my steps a little bit.
Four days prior to leaving from Knoxville, I got a call from our guitar player, Josh (Jug), saying that he had just came from the doctor with news that wasn’t very appealing. He had some health issues that were keeping him from joining us on the Back To The Mountains EuroTour 2016. So, along with all the things we had to do before leaving, we had the newest priority of finding a guitar fill in for Josh in roughly 3 days, along with getting that person a plane ticket!
After two days of calling over 30 people, we nailed down Adam Poindexter for the flat top duties – less than 48 hours before we left! We got him a flight, but it wasn’t with us, so Adam was understanding and flexible enough to accept a flight from Knoxville to Amsterdam, with layovers in Chicago, and Madrid, Spain. With that out of the way, we could continue with our agenda. Thanks to Adam for coming in at the last minute and helping us out in such short notice. We really appreciate you for helping us out.
So, on to leaving… Jereme, Jasper, Billy Hurt, and I arrived October 11th, at the airport in Knoxville after Fred and I brought Adam previously that morning. We had a delay from the start. After 5 hours, we were on the plane to Chicago, where we sat for a few hours, then off to Dublin, Ireland. We arrived early in the morning in Dublin, and had a 9 hour layover to Amsterdam. Last year’s flight across the pond didn’t seem too bad, but let me tell you, this old boy is still tired and twisted up from that overnight trip.
We got to Amsterdam at 4:25 p.m. local time on October 12th. Just as we got the rental bus lined out, Adam arrived in his camo bibs, with guitar in hand, safe and sound. We then headed onto Jan and Leen’s in Hoogstraten Belgium, roughly an hour and a half from the airport there in Amsterdam.
After figuring out the dang GPS system, we got to Jan’s just in time for a great dinner. We were ready for a meal like that! I then presented Jan with his brand new McClanahan Trinity model mandolin. He had ordered it from Jonathan in February, and had waited all this time to finally see it in person and play it. It’s #731, the batch mate to my “Orch.” I truly feel privileged to be the person that handed this mandolin to its owner. I’m not totally sure how Jan feels about it, but the first night in his hands, I don’t think he went to bed. He stayed up playing it and listening to his new friend. With that being said, I think it’s safe to say that he is tickled with every aspect of his new McClanahan, that we’ve affectionately named “Scarlet.”
The 13th was a day off, to kind of acclimate to the time change and try and reset our biological clocks a bit, which I highly suggest to any band traveling abroad. Get your bearings, let the culture sink in a bit, without having to worry about a show that day.
Jan had a late breakfast for us. Late because we slept our tails off. Showered up and ready to go, Jan took us on a tour of the sites around Hoogstraten. Anyone who followed my little journal last year may remember Jan’s name. He hosted a concert at his home, in the backyard, which turned out to be amazing! So, we are very much at home with Jan, and his hospitality is second to none. The Bluegrass Garden concert last year helped make room for this year’s trip, and for that we are thankful for Jan. He is the main man for our Belgium and Netherlands connections.
Our first stop of the day was Begijnhof en Stendelijk Museum. Yes, I know you don’t know what that means. This was an historic housing community tied to a church in Hoogstraten, where single women went to live. I’m assuming the large wall around the houses was to keep the men out. Not totally sure though. Inside a few houses, which have been renovated and now are offered to the public, housed a museum of ancient times. From paintings, to a Neanderthal scene at full scale. It was really dang neat.
From there, we travelled to a few churches dating back to the 1600s and earlier. One being the church tied to Begjinhof, and the other being the grand St. Catharina Church. The architecture is simply amazing in these places. Pictures do not do them justice, by any means. Beautiful, just beautiful. And to add to it, as we walked into St. Catharina’s, the organ built with the church was being played. Talk about in awe, I had to just stop and soak it all in. Here I am, in a gorgeous church built in the 1500s, practically destroyed by the Germans in 1944, and reconstructed by 1958, and the organ is echoing indescribable tones throughout. Never in a million years did I think I’d encounter anything like it.
Being that we are in Belgium, our next stop was a pub. Yes, I’m aware we just left a church for a bar, but “when in Rome….” We had our first Belgian beers of the trip, and they sure did hit the spot. Trappists, yessir buddy. Them monks know what they are doing! From the pub, it was dinner with a national dish of stoofvlees and back to Jan’s for a little picking. Since we hadn’t ever hit a lick with Adam, we figured we better try a few things out before we hit the stage. A couple hours of jam time and we were ready to hit the bed. Still not fully recovered from the flight.
Now to today, the 14th. Our schedule wasn’t too awful packed. Got the bus loaded with instruments and merch, we headed toward Antwerpen Belgium to pick up a bass amp to borrow. We met up with Antwerpen native, Jozef van Gool and he took us on a mini tour of the seaport city. Walked by a shop full of violins and classical basses, so naturally, we had to go in. Billy may find out a little more info on his fiddle because of it, which is pretty cool. From there, we walked to the old part of town and the architecture, once again, was amazing. These old buildings still standing after so long and in such beautiful shape. Also, we may have found another pub in Antwerpen where we had a sandwich and tasted the local brews at. The best beer in the world is in Belgium, no doubt.
Our show was scheduled for 8:30 p.m. just a few kilometers from Antwerpen, so we departed from Jozef and off to Lier, Belgium we sprinted. The first show of the tour always makes you a hair nervous, but it was sold out a few weeks ago, and we went in with confidence after hearing that. De Valk was an awesome room on a second story overlooking the town hall (built in 1369) through hand poured glass windows. Ripspique was the group of folks that hosted The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys and sure do know how to host. Incredible dinner, awesome setting and sold out house. Billy fiddled his rear off, Jasper held it all together, Jereme laid the thumb to it, and Adam came right in there like we had been picking with him for years. The first concert of the tour couldn’t have gone any better! We sure hope we didn’t disappoint any of the folks, but we sure had fun. The kickoff to the tour is over and in the books.
With it over, I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing with confidence, that the tour is gonna be a whole lot of fun and, with Adam, we can still play these folks some traditional bluegrass without straying too far from The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys sound. Very comforting and humbling to see so many come out and support what we do. As it approaches 3:00 a.m., I’m gonna sign off and I’ll try and keep up the best I can with y’all, wifi permitting! Looking forward to the days ahead!