Switzerland & Madison Violet: Euro Tour Update #5

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My longest journey during this tour started at 5:30pm on a Sunday evening and ended at 11:45am on a Monday morning. I went from Northern Holland (Steendam) by car to Leer, Germany (thanks Peter), then by train to Münster, Basel, Zurich, and finally, Lucerne. With that many stops that included hauling my guitar, pedal board, knapsack and large suitcase through train stations and up to platforms, up the train steps (two-stage load) and into individual luggage holds, by the time I arrived in Lucerne, Switzerland, I was very tired of public transit.

One note about German trains: when you book them, you can add an extra 30Euros to secure a seat and a seat number, but if you’re travelling on the cheap (like I was), then it’s hardly worth the extra expense. That is, until you’re on the train and the seat you’re sitting in is being claimed. And the next one at the next stop. And you’re ousted from the third. And the fourth. The fifth. Finally, upon asking a conductor, there is no way for them to know if your seat is booked until the train leaves the station at which someone may have just purchased a secure seat. So, as he put it, “It’s like playing roulette.” If it weren’t for having to guard my stuff, I wouldn’t have minded so much. But transferring items from one luggage hold to the next and keeping an eye peeled on my guitar made for a rather dissonant “musical chairs” experience. Add sleeplessness to the mix and I wasn’t feeling very harmonious when I arrived in Switzerland.

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The sight of Brenley and Lisa of Madison Violet was enough to bump me back into cheerfulness, though. They came to collect me at the train station café where I’d been waiting and we headed off for some strolling through the small town and then a lovely coffee together. So healing to see familiar faces and to slip right into their van’s rhythm of daily shows and road time. Their tour manager, Tristan, and extra musician, Jake (bass/guitar/keys/bvs), were instantly welcoming and I felt wrapped up in the feeling of family and friendship within minutes of joining the team.

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That night’s show was in Zell in a refinished basement of a winery for a wine-tasting event. The place was packed and it was great to perform an opening set for a full house. And this is what characterized my entire time with Madison Violet: full or sold-out houses, lovely people and hosts, excellent wine, great sound (thanks Tristan), lots of laughter, delicious cheeses and frothy coffee for breakfast, short drives between venues, more laughter.

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(We laughed at the suggestive names of these candy bars…)
The second show was an architectural design studio in Sargans; the third in a lovely cultural center facility with Crazy Heart Productions—a group of people who were so warm to me that I felt like I’d met old friends; the fourth in a refinished cultural center in that used to be a hospital’s refrigeration room three hundred years ago; the fifth in a hillside village venue whose history I forgot to ask about but whose arched ceilings and long room felt akin to performing in a wide subway tunnel for acoustic music.

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A few specifically Swiss impressions are these: in the small towns, there isn’t an angle that isn’t a great picture. I went for a walk in Sargans and found myself laughing out loud with wonder at the beauty that was in every direction. I snapped dozens of pictures and even came upon an old man practicing a mountain horn (alpenhorn). What are the chances? (Many of those pics are peppered throughout this post.)

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(A wink from Sargans.)
I also love that in Switzerland (as well as in Holland), little cafes have outdoor terraces that come equipped with blankets for each chair. So, you can sit outside and enjoy your meal and still have warm legs. What a lovely thought!

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Each night, I found Madison Violet’s performance even more compelling than the previous night’s and I felt more and more inspired by the intricacies of their live show—proof of what ten years touring a territory will generate—and I laughed and clapped and sang along just like everyone else in the room. These women write great songs. I’ve always known that, but now after a week of hearing them, they’re imprinted on my mind with their soaring melodies and pristine harmonies. Jake was awesome, as well, filling in the musical gaps with a wide-ranging musicality. He is a huge but humble asset to the Madison Violet live show, both in skill and personality. Those dimples!

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(Loved the angles and shadows on this downtown street in Bern.)

But the biggest thing about my week in Switzerland is the feeling of being reunited with an old lover: the road. It used to be my whole life: travel, gigs nightly, the organization of when to wake and when to load in and when to run errands between driving times to the next town. Of course, I was my own tour manager (98% of the time) and we carried out both the musical and business details of the tours without outside help, but the feeling was the same. The hectic daily shows in Switzerland gave me that old feeling of belonging, purpose, intention, belief in art, and commitment to music. The constant changing environment had once been my normal. The stage, my home.

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On the morning marking the end of the fifth and final day after joining with Madison Violet, I rose before dawn and rolled my luggage down the hill to the train station where I was to catch the first of many legs of a journey to get me to Berlin. As I slipped out of the hotel, the band and crew still sleeping, I turned in the middle of the deserted Swiss street in the little town of Biglen, and I smiled up at the perfection of the Swiss structure, its wooden shutters, heavy roof beams and quiet windows blinking at me in the dawn’s dimness. And I said, out loud: thank you. Then I turned and took my leave.

I am not a road warrior anymore. I missed my kids so much at this point in the tour that their moments of disinterest in video chatting with me (for instance) felt crippling—something so normal for kids, but so heartbreaking for the absent parent. And while I truly enjoyed my reunion with the road, with somewhat of a passionate abandon at times (the Swiss white wine was amazing!), I am so glad that I’m no longer married to her. The road: she was my companion for over ten years—differently and more instinctively than even my life partner was—because it was the road that taught me my greatest lessons about humanity and culture, curiosity and respect, artistic exchange and hard work. And through this reunion with her, I feel certain that I can balance a life as a parent with a life as a touring musician, just not full time. Everything’s possible. I’ve grown wiser and more capable of anything.

And by the way, the reunion with my kids was DIVINE.

Next blog: Berlin.

That city requires its own entry.

~es

Berlin: Euro Tour Update #6, the final chapter
Holland Hoi! : Euro Tour Update #4

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