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My First Gig In Europe

August 25, 2012

I am so hacked that my camera battery died tonight; I really wish I could have documented this crazy evening.  I had my mini audio/video recorder in my guitar bag, but, as we will see, the time was never ripe to pull it out and begin recording.

The reason I was going to this hospoda (Czech restaurant/pub)  to perform was that the previous night, the owner, seeing I had a guitar with me, said I should come down.  He said there would be an accordion player, and that accordion and guitar might be nice together.  Backing up further, the reason I went there the other night is that John, a guy who has been coming to Prague for many years and is friends with the owner of the hostel where I am staying, said I should check it out for a real Czech experience.

I was nervous about it.  I kind of like to know what’s going to happen at a gig.  How long will I play?  Who’s the sound man?  Well, none of that was applicable tonight.  It was less of a gig and more like your medieval tavern-type situation.  There will be people drinking.  If your playing is pleasing, you may receive coins and drinks.

I got there at 20:00, as I said I would, sat down, and had a nice beer, which they did not charge me for.  Good sign.  The accordion player showed up shortly; he was a very nice, muscular, young, peasant from Moravia.  He does not drink and he knows perhaps 10 words of English.  It was odd, conveying mostly through gestures the fact that I was going to sit in with him, but he got it and seemed okay with the idea.

So I tuned up and he began to play.  Like a lot of genuine folk musicians, he had excellent feel, but a very idiosyncratic sense of timing that made it hard to follow him. I mostly just chunked along, trying not to miss the chord changes, with occasional success, but he was very happy with it and really wanted me to keep playing.  A couple of times, I sang a song, but he was not really able to play along with me.  He couldn’t for instance, make a B chord.  E, yes.  A, yes.  B?  Never done that.

So things went well.  The crowd—by which I mean 10 people, enough to make the place feel crowded—liked us fine.  But there was this blotto German guy who kind of spoiled the evening. He really loved it when I sang a jazz or blues tune, which was nice… except that he loved it so much that he went and screamed at a large family seated around a table to “shut ze fuck up!” while I was playing. In general, the level of drunken rambunctiousness that transpired—well before midnight—well, as a Texan, I was shocked and, honestly, a bit frightened. Every biker bar I’ve ever been in felt like a Methodist church in comparison.

So I ducked out pretty early. The sweet Moravian accordionist looked hurt and asked plaintively, “Go why?” I tried to assure him that I enjoyed playing with him, which was true. The proprietor tied me up for 5 minutes, first, writing down the phone number of a promoter he swore would get me gigs all over the Czech Republic, then having me tune a very damaged bar guitar. While this was going on, the German was beating the shit out of my guitar and terrorizing everyone with punk songs.  But when he accidentally banged it into something with a startling sound, he became very quiet and said, “Very sorry, Dave, very sorry.” That made it possible for me to retrieve my guitar and evaporate.

It was an adventure. I don’t think I will have any problem getting gigs over here, especially with my jazz and blues repertoire, but I need to learn a bit about what kinds of venues I want to play in. I have heard that Polish pubs are not nearly as rambunctious as Czech hospodas.  I wouldn’t mind that.

I’m really glad I steeled my nerves and went down there.  I had two excellent free beers and a new experience playing music.  I wanted to skip out, but I made myself face the unknown.  That almost always pays off.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2012 11:48 pm

    Are you sure you’ve chosen the right vocation? I hate that I missed that.

    • August 26, 2012 12:10 am

      Well, unless I am able to survive on compensation consisting entirely of two beers a day, I think the teaching gig is a better bet. Also, I’m pretty sure that, however well I may teach English, none of my students is going to yell at my other students that they need to listen.

  2. Sibyl White permalink
    August 26, 2012 12:31 am

    I guess if you had stayed you might have gotten a split with the accordion guy since he wasn’t playing for beer. Or maybe they pass the hat? But I wouldn’t go back tomorrow.

    • August 26, 2012 12:36 am

      Well, I didn’t see much going into the hat. And he looked like he needed it more than me.

      The owner wanted me to come back tomorrow. I might, if I knew the German wouldn’t be there, but I think instead I will get to bed early so I can rise and shine for my train trip to Rybnik Monday morning.

  3. August 26, 2012 1:22 am

    Awesome story. I look forward to many more adventures. There is nothing more terrifying than a drunk fool handling one’s instrument. And I offer that remark up to the gods of innuendo.

  4. August 26, 2012 1:42 am

    I’m surprised that it isn’t more civilized. Do you think if Jazz Hitler wasn’t there, the night would have felt safer?

    • August 26, 2012 10:02 am

      The German guy yelled Sieg Heil at one point. It got rather quiet for a moment. Hitler jokes are a bad idea in places where Hitler actually rolled his tanks.

      • August 26, 2012 2:40 pm

        yikes.

      • October 12, 2012 6:41 pm

        Yeah, I almost got beaten up at Auschwitz because I had the temerity to refer to German-occupied Poland. EVERYBODY in hearing range took offense. But I guess it would have made for an interesting story to get beaten up at a former concentration camp.

  5. eroslane permalink
    August 26, 2012 4:37 am

    Wow! What a story!! What an experience!!

    The only thing that would make this better would be the addition of Tor Johnson (as The German) and a giant octopus. Just sayin’.

    • August 26, 2012 9:54 am

      There’s nothing that can’t be improved by Tor and the old inflatable octopus. And Criswell. I want Criswell to narrate my blog.

  6. Nörbert permalink
    August 26, 2012 1:47 pm

    This sounds like every gig I’ve ever played. Except for the guy being German – every German person I’ve ever met has been desperately polite. The people who thrash guitars here are usually drunken natives.

    • August 26, 2012 7:00 pm

      Well, he was an aficionado of English punk rock, so I do believe he was acting in a manner he believed expressed his affiliation with that subculture. Heaven help you if he really was on the mark. I’ve met some very nice Germans, some of the nicest people I’ve ever known, but I must say I’ve also met a few who were appallingly insulting. I think it’s safe to say they have a rich and complex culture. Somehow they produced Adolph Hitler and Bertholt Brecht in the same generation.

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