I left Croatia on a westbound ship from Split harbor. I settled into my cabin expecting very little of my upcoming Italian tour. I also expected a drunken roommate to barge in at any moment. It never happened. I had the cabin to myself on the overnight ride to Ancona. I actually slept quite well. I awoke assuming I was at sea. We had been in the harbor for half an hour. I scurried out with my bags and was met immediately by a cool chap from Argentina who spoke Italian in a manner that I could understand. We chatted over coffee and he drove me up the hill the epic beauty of the town Recanati. Upon arriving I realized I would be performing in the central square. A brilliant saxophonist and flautist would be joining me. I marveled about this over a perfectly made cappuccino as I awaited my hotel instructions. Moments later I was gazing out of my window taking in Recanati and the countryside below. I realized that one hill over I had performed with Odetta in Macerata in 2008. A nicely produced video remains of this epic performance.
Upon wining and dining and chatting (in Italian) through the day and evening, I prepared to take the stage with my new reed playing friend. A respectable crowd gathered in the square and we began to play. The music resonated through the ancient square and it seemed to smile back at us. My reed man was flawless and I vowed to make a recording with him. Hopefully in a comparably beautiful setting. As our last notes ended a terrific storm blew up out of nowhere. Equipment was hastily saved from the downpour as the wind attacked ferociously.
Morning came quickly as I had a train to catch to La Spezia. My Argentine friend arrived late. I was certain I would miss the train. His Mendoza driving skills landed me at Ancona station with time for a coffee and a newspaper. I took my sweat on the train and saw the Adriatic shores roll by. I changed in Parma, ate pasta with Parmigiano cheese and caught the local to La Spezia. The Apennines surrounded the long descent. A friendly short chap spotted me and led me to my next venue. This was a first class bistro and eatery in the center of town. I sound checked and was led to my room. I found myself in an art filled palatial B and B. My housemates appeared. A traveling couple from Belfast. The lady was a pianist and they agreed to come to the show. After stunning dining with my friend Franz the show began. The small space was eventually filled and I played with all the possible benefits of world-class cuisine and wine! At the end of the show I led the crowd out to the narrow streets playing my accordion.
I awoke at a reasonable hour in reasonable shape considering the nights festivities. A man named Jono Manson was to pick me up around five. I had all day. I caught the first crowded train to Cinque Terre. I began an impressive hike between the fourth and the fifth villages. The steepness of the stairs was rewarded proportionally with the overwhelming scenery. The trail was filled with Americans, French, and Spanish. Everything but Italians. Well, maybe a couple… I stretched my day out hiking photographing dining until I caught an afternoon train back to my room. Jono agreed to meet me at the neighboring fountain which flowed from a giant marble egg. I hopped in the car and within seconds we were long-lost friends. We rolled down the autostrada laughing all the way to Cecina where we found our remote hotel and proceeded to the venue. It was a birroteca. We beered and dined our way through sound check and played for the first time sounding like we had toured since the 80s. In spirit we actually had. We rolled into the hotel in centro de nulla. Middle of nowhere. Amazing luxury awaited us in our respective rooms. I slept soundly within the Tuscan pines.
Morning found us at the train station where we were revived by sunshine and stunning coffee. I hopped on a regional that took me to Piombino. Gianna awaited me there. She and her tiny dog drove me to La Gato Rossa. This was her venue and restaurant. I had the night off. The wining and dining began with a stunning view of Elba. This was followed by a walk through the magic streets of Piombino overlooking the burning Tyrrhenian Sea. After settling into my home for the night I took a walk and quickly jumped into the sea. It welcomed me much like the Croatian Adriatic. I would repeat this ritual for three days straight. That evening I was greeted with phenomenal seafood that never stopped coming be it in pastas or fish platters. Everything had jumped from the sea unto my plate. The wine was never out of reach.
The following morning I emerged from the clear and shining sea and we raced off to meet my band. I found myself In a van piled with gear and a friendly tall Italian guitarist drove me to rehearsal. We were deep in the Tuscan countryside in a farmhouse chock full of music gear. A friendly drummer greeted us there. I dubbed the house the Italian ‘Big Pink.’ I overworked the poor guys just because I loved the way they played my songs. The drummer called a break and prepared some delicious pasta. Americans – grab this drummer! He plays great and cooks even better…
After dining and playing some more we headed to San Vincenzo, the gig site. Show time was 11 pm! So much to do. I got a tour of Populonia, an ancient fortress towering over the sea in a forest preserve. Etruscan faces were carved into the stone along the roadway. We climbed the tower and my camera went mad taking photos. Two coffees awaited us below. Off to the gig with renewed energy. I caught a nap in the home of the guitarist. Then we loaded in and sound checked. Off to a good start. Just when I thought I had experienced the best in seafood more came. Then more than more. Then it was show time. Impossible! So soon. We played for three hours. I doubt if I played any of the tunes we rehearsed. Everything was spot on, as if we we’re making a record. The crowd seemed to agree. I was ready to play til dawn. The tall guitarist wisely told me it was time for a nightcap. Ahhh most enjoyable…
Morning came easily as I slipped off to the beach. I had an afternoon train up the coast. My swim somehow segued into another walk with my hostess Gianna who led me to what I assumed was merely coffee. More exotic seafood! How was this possible? I was wined and dined and left in bliss by the train station. I rode up to Chiaveri. I was immediately loaded into an awaiting car and driven to. You guessed it. Another spectacular seaside town. It was yet another 11 pm outdoor show in a tiny bistro by the main square. My kind of gig. I wandered the beaches and pathways until I was fed. This time by a particular Genovese pasta. Seconds before show time a dobro playing Paolo arrived Deus ex machinafrom Milan. We said hello seconds before the downbeat. I had another epiphany. Piano and dobro. Like bread and butter. Beans and cornbread. Who knew. I vowed to make another duo record. A nice crowd gathered as our music spiraled into the seaside mountains. We had a quick nightcap and soon were Milano bound in Paolo’s SUV. This vehicle was powered by bluegrass music. No fuel needed. Hours later I was housed in Paolo’s mansarde.
I awoke to the sound of gathering musicians. We had a long drive up the Adige river valley into the Dolomites. Gewurztraminer country. The cliffs towered above us as we plowed up toward Brennero pass. We arrived in Val Gardena. We checked into a stunningly elegant ski hotel and were greeted by a huge plate of hors d’oeuvres and very tall beers. Then we hit the sauna and Turkish baths. Then we ate again. Then we played. A five piece band we were. Me. Jono. Andrea. And the boys. We launched into the set playing for a packed house. These sud Tyroleans were pretty much Austrians. Their love of music was worn on their sleeves. We tossed around carefully placed original songs but the night was rooted in the blues. Paolo soared on the dobro solos. Jono and I grooved away in bliss. Beers and grappa flowed perilously. We only needed to climb a few stairs to our rooms.
Morning came a bit too soon. Our drummer told a rather vulgar joke passionately. An adjective seemed to stick symbolizing the joke. Avido. Everything was avido from that point on. We rolled down the alps all the way to Garda lake and made the right turn to Milan. Next stop IRD. The Italian label and distributor. It was run by Franco Ratti for years. He bought cases and cases of CDs from my Iowa City label Shed Records. His cousin now runs it. We kickstarted our old relationship. Then the closing show of the tour was to be at All’Una e Trentacinque Circa. A legendary club in Cantu. We set up sound checked ate drank and played. I had the opening set. We had the same band as in the mountains. The civility and erudition of the crowd led to a very carefully structured and well planned show. The response was overwhelming and it was documented perfectly in video. Then off to the Milan hotel which led me to Malpensa and Scotland…
I had the pleasure of playing my song “Headin’ South” at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on “A Prairie Home Companion.” The fabulous Shoe Band backed me superbly. The special addition of Steve Strand and Kenni Holmen (Prince’s horn section) made this a truly extraordinary event. I have never experienced a band like this before. I’ve been in some amazing bands. It was the plushest and most luxurious musical ride I have ever been on. Combine this with a sold out crowd of nearly 4000 in a highly energized setting. This is something that cannot be duplicated in a studio. Its a once in a lifetime deal. Moreover the expertise of the recording staff got every detail and lost none of the energy. I invite you to ride shotgun with me….its a smoooooooth ride.