It was a long, rainy drive to Antwerpen yesterday but the reward was immense. Dinner at La Campine (next to the Cafè Cosmopolite) was exquisite. Rosie, the chef, is a true artist and her medium is gourmet cuisine. For a trio of hillbilly musicians, we were literally blown away by both presentation and complex textures/flavors. Gratuity is not typical, and definitely not expected here in Belgium. But in this case, I felt inspired… and left a Euro (wanted to leave more, but didn’t want to seem arrogant). After dinner we leaned into the horizontal rain, and headed back, next door, to Cafè Cosmopolite where we were greeted with “Hey!! It’s the FUCKING AMERICANS!!!!! HAHAHAHA!!!” by raspy, smoke-choked voices, immediately followed by a hack/pleh/tooh and a handful of lung-tissue on a handkerchief. We just smiled, politely.. carrying our gear past them, to the stage… knowing that’s exactly what we were, and confident we’d soon win them over, and reinvigorate their spirits. Just what the doctor ordered…
Our shows , so far, have been for a seemingly upper middle-class of Belgian society. Cafè De Kröeg, Ace Cafè, Den Eik, and Cowboy Up… the people all seem to appreciate the music (if merch sales and compliments are any indication) but they appreciate it with very little hootin’ n hollerin’. At Cowboy Up, we were grateful for the freestyle two-step duo, (Edmund and his best girl, whose name escapes me).
Their two-step, line-dance technique was almost martial-art-esque, with some hints of ballroom. It was really something to see… Matter of fact, i’d almost venture to say I’ll never forget it 😉
The next show was Cafè De Kröeg, in Netherlands. The owners immediately made an impression, pulling up in their 1960-something Plymouth Valiant. On the rear dash, a Hula-girl was juxtaposed by a bobble-head Jesus, from the opposing corner. Sporting gray-primer, and original everything… it didn’t even need a flux-capacitor to take us immediately back home.
We played a great show, at the Cafe De Kröeg, around a single-mic setup. There were only about 15 people there, but they bought aLOT of merch, and showered us with apologies. Apparently there was a death in the local rockabilly community… and half the town was at his funeral. They invited us back, with much enthusiasm, and promised us a better turnout.
There wasn’t even time to burn a fag after the show. We all piled in to the Opal van, almost as Stijn was pulling away.. on the run 😉 We arrived at the Ace Cafe in Rümst, nearly on schedule. The owner, Chris VandeVoorde, explained that he was going upstairs to shower, but our dinner was soon on its way. He said to eat, and relax. But when he came back downstairs, we should begin our show immediately.
And that we did. Our spirits were, for a moment, deflated… realizing we had left one of our tuners at the Netherlands gig (and no one is getting rich on this tour). This is usually not a huge deal for anyone, but when you’re going into your fourth gig in three days, after traveling halfway across the world… fatigue has a way with suckin’ the wind right out of your musical sails. BUT!!!… nothing a couple of Duvals couldn’t fix. We tossed a couple back, and it was off to the races… In the end, we gave those fine folks, what I would consider to be one of the best shows we’ve “mustered”. I’m especially proud of the boys, because it wasn’t lookin’ good, just a few minutes before we finished the pizza. 😉
Immediately after the show, Chris approached us and apologized… There was a rockabilly festival in town, which had lured away much of the everyday clientele. He bought a plethora of merch, asked us to please come back, and just like the prior, promised us a full-house upon our return.
Which brings me to my initial insecurities, with regard to this tour. I had researched the Surfing Airlines booking agency, quite a bit, before actually signing on. I had also researched the venues and the former bands. Much of the photos I was able to find were of rockabilly, greaser-types, smokin’ Marlboros and riding Triumph motorcycles or vintage cars. Still, on the list of Surfing AIrlines formers, were Dale Watson, Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies, and the Jolenes (an Irish folk/traditional bluegrass band). I was certain that we fit somewhere in between the three, but couldn’t help feel somewhat intimidated when you walk in and they’re jamming Hank III, Southern Culture on the Skids, and/or The Legendary Shack Shakers on the jukebox. Then they look at you and say… “Hey!! It’s the FUCKING AMERICANS!!!!! HAHAHAHA!!!” But each time… we’ve bowed our heads, politely, and done OUR THANG. And we’ve done it well. People who have seen us at former shows are beginning to drive an hour (or two) to catch an èncore. We’ve been asked to sign CDs, T-shirts, and the walls of the pubs, and we even won the respect of “THE FUCKING BELGIANS” at Cafè Cosmopolite, by unplugging and playing a few songs right next to them, at the end of our show. “Chasing Ghosts” nearly made one of them cry. They were buying our merch, and offering some of the firmest handshakes i’ve ever encountered. Most of them are dock-workers, at this particular section of Antwerpen, so you’d expect them to be a little “rough around the edges”. They turned out to be some amazing people, much like our friends back home, and really made us feel like we were in the right place. I even got invited, the night before, into the kitchen of the Cafe Den Eik. I got a hands-on lesson, on how to make Belgian Mayonnaise. You may laugh.. but this is as I explained to the Belgians, “some good shit”. Chris, the owner, looked at me a little cross-eyed, when I called his ancient family recipe “good shit”. But it was funny to hear him say it back to me, with the Dutch overtones 😉
Chris is one of the best people I have ever met. He is a retired school teacher, married father of three, and owner of Cafe Den Eik. He’s considered to be a “holy man”, but I doubt he has time to step into a church. He’s too busy taking care of his people. I expressed my intense appreciation for the local mayonnaise, and he smiled at me and walked away. After our show, quite a bit later, he peeped out of his kitchen, and called my name. When I walked back, he was standing at the counter, displaying with open hands the ingredients to his grandmother’s recipe. I stood, flabergasted, as he walked me through the entire process. I could tell you what was in the mayonnaise… but then I’d surely have to kill you! To me, having someone show you a family recipe, is kinda like getting the key to the city… but without all the political BS.
Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention… we ate some raw horse-meat, last night. (except for Willy, of course..) and liked it.
Next show, tonight… somewhere near the top of the world. 🙂