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Music Heals.

This week was rough. I wake up every morning with an ache in my heart when I think about the way the country. . . this world is headed. Why most people don't chose love over hate and fear is beyond me. But we trudge on. Josh had a show booked on Sunday that we had put on the calendar many months ago and I was looking forward to it. But when it was actually time to hit the road, I was hesitant to go because I didn't want to leave our little bubble of compassion and sympathy here in Madison. I know that spreading love through music and connecting with friends and strangers is the only way to heal, but it seems so much easier to wallow from my couch, with a pint of ice cream in my lap.

Silently we drove the 5 hours to the tiny town of Pomeroy, Iowa in one straight shot. Yes, it's a bit crazy to drive that far for one gig, but we had been told great things about this venue and are of the opinion (lately. . . after 5 years of doing this) that it's better to have one great gig than a whole tour of less-than-great gigs. So even though Iowa is perhaps the most boring state to drive across, we managed to get through it with lots of enlivening podcasts (carefully avoiding the slew of political- focused ones that had come out this week).

Pomeroy, Iowa may not even be a one stoplight town. It's a collection of houses amidst miles and miles of farmland. The tiny downtown has one strip of older (turn-of-the-century?) buildings that are mostly empty. . . except for Byron's. From the outside it looks like any other Midwest dive bar, but as soon as you walk inside the impression is that this is a very special place.  Immediately we were greeted by Byron himself - a man who could be compared to Santa Claus in his appearance and disposition, but wearing tie dye and overalls. "I'm a hugger" Byron said as he gave both Josh and I a friendly squeeze. He proceeded to show us around the one-room establishment. Covering every wall (and even the ceiling) are posters of shows that he's hosted at the bar, photos and music memorabilia that he's collected and most prominently- Grateful Dead gear. If you can think of a type of merchandise that the GD has put out, he has it. Dancing bears hanging from the ceiling, concert posters and artwork, photos of Jerry and much more. A huge tie dye tapestry hangs behind the stage, featuring a GD bear and a guitar design.

The show was to start at 5:00 and we didn't arrive until after 4:00. So quickly after we got there, it started to fill up. Clearly all of the patrons knew each other and I understood that what Byron told us was true, "This is my extended family". I felt like we'd stepped in to a secret club house. Everyone wanted to meet Josh and thank him for coming out to this little town to share his music. But once the music started, the rowdy crowd settled down and listened intently. They took in every line of every song and were especially receptive to Josh's stories about the songs and about life on the road, his childhood in ND, etc. It was clear that these folks were having a rough week as well, and that this evening of camaraderie was helping them heal.

It always amazes me when we find a venue like that, tucked away in the most unexpected place. I know how incredibly hard it is to get people to care about live music- to tear themselves away from all the distractions (jobs, kids, television), pay a cover (even if it's only $5-$10!) and try something new. But the successful places are always spearheaded by someone like Byron- a true music lover through and through. He's not in it for money, like most musicians, and that's why it works. The people that come back there every Sunday are a part of a real community that has been forged through a love of music. It's a beautiful thing.
pulling up to Byron's


the man himself


Greece: Part 2

I finally get in to Athens at about 9 in the morning on Thursday, the day after I was supposed to arrive. Samantha and I have tickets to catch a ferry to the island of Egina at 11. So I hop a bus from the airport to the ferry terminal and an hour later I'm running towards the boat, getting there just in time. Ok, now the vacation can begin!
When we arrive on the island, we're greeted by a flurry of traffic, people trying to sell us car rentals and hotel rooms, and a variety of waterfront cafes. We pick one and sit down for a bite to eat, using the wifi to figure out where our hotel is exactly. When I booked the hotel, I could have sworn that I booked a place in the same town/ part of the island where the boat let us off. But, no, I was confused and the boat let off at the far side of the island, not the town closest to Athens. We had to take a taxi across the entire island (about 20 minutes and 18 euros) to the tiny, deserted town where we were staying. The Hotel Rachel was adorable, and the hosts (Angelica and Yanos, I believe) were incredibly sweet and hospitable. But looking around, it was eerie how quiet the town was, including many empty buildings and restaurants that were open but had zero guests. "It picks up next week, when the Summer tourist season begins." Angelica tells me. Of course.

Despite the lack of excitement, Sam and I were determined to enjoy the beautiful scenery, nice weather and whatever "sights" the town might have. So we took a short, but challenging up-hill hike to the Temple of Aphea, which was just about a mile from our hotel. It was a beautiful spot with an incredible view, and an ancient temple as interesting as any others we would see in Athens.
When we got back to the hotel, our hosts informed us that unfortunately there was going to be a ferry driver strike for the next 4 days! Our choices were to hunker down on the island (as long as we didn't have anywhere else to be, like a plane to catch), spend 300 euros to hire a private boat, or leave the island on the last ferry in about an hour. We chose the last option. Adventures in transportation abroad continues!
The quiet town of Agia Marina on Egina

Temple of Aphea on Egina

Well,  we weren't able to have the relaxing Greek island experience that I was hoping for. We ended up spending the rest of the trip in Athens. Luckily, Josh and I have a friend, Vangelis, whom we met on Couchsurfing years ago, had stayed with several times when he lived in England, and now he was living back home in Athens. We arrived at his apartment a day early and stayed there for the rest of the trip. It turns out, actually, that the strike extended far beyond the ferries- all bus drivers, train operators and metro stations were also on strike. So we sort of didn't have a choice but to stay in Athens and explore on foot (or by taxi, but the traffic was terrible because of the lack of other transportation options)!

Athens is a big dirty city. The air smells thick of smog and diesel fumes from all the motor scooters, there's a lot of trash on the streets, graffiti and stray cats and dogs are everywhere! But it's also got lovely old streets and alleys, tropical flowers and orange trees lining most sidewalks and, of course, the ancient ruins that scatter the center of town. We spent the first day exploring the most famous part of town, the Acropolis. The Acropolis is a group of buildings (the most famous being the Parthenon) sitting high on a hill in the very center of Athens. Most of it was built as a temple to Athena, the namesake of Athens. Besides hiking up the hill to explore the ruins and take in the amazing view, we also spent some time at the Acropolis Museum, which was fantastic.
according to the sign, construction/ restoration on the Parthenon ended in 2007. . . 

the view from the Acropolis. . . and my sister in twin form

Day 2 was a little more leisurely- we spent the day exploring the city with Vangelis. He showed us some of the hip neighborhoods, like Gassi (the post-industrial hood named for the huge gas refinement plant that has been converted to a venue) and Thissio. The weather was beautiful so we found a series of cafes to relax in and enjoy the wonderful food. Mezze is the typical style- like tapas or piatti in Italy- of small plates that everyone shares. I had grilled octopus 2 days in a row and feta with every single meal. awesome. 
Samantha left early Sunday morning but my flight wasn't until Monday morning. So I decided to head out of the city for some fresh air and beautiful blue water. I took a bus about 45 mins south to the large town of Glyfada. Immediately I could tell that this was an affluent suburb- much cleaner than Athens and almost no empty buildings. In fact, there were more high-end shops and bustling cafes than I could comprehend. It was Mother's Day (same day in Greece as the US), so of course the fancy restaurants were particularly busy. I picked a quiet, less busy cafe on the water and had a Greek salad (for the 4th or 5th time that week). After lunch I had planned to sit on the beach and relax, catch up on reading and my tan, but the excitement of the town got the best of me and I walked a few miles, mostly window shopping and people- watching.
Monday morning was rough. I had to get up at 6 am, catch 2 metro trains to get to the airport . .  Then came the scary part- Turkish Airlines part 2. This time I was also to have a 3 hour layover in Istanbul and I was almost expecting another catastrophe. But everything went on as scheduled. I took a second flight to Hamburg, then 2 more trains and 13 hours after leaving Athens, I was at Josh's show in Bremen! Now we get to enjoy a few weeks of non-travel. . . I'm so excited.


Greece: part 1

I've always wanted to go to Greece. As an art history major in college, I studied the stories of the Greek myths which are referenced over and over again in works of art throughout the ages. When I lived in Florence my junior year, I planned to take a trip across the Mediterranean but just couldn't fit it in. So when my sister mentioned that she was going to Athens for work and then had a few extra days to sight see, I jumped at the opportunity to meet her. Once you're already in Europe, going to just about any other EU country seems so easy and cheap. Well, yes, it was relatively cheap to get to Greece, but it was anything but easy. In fact, this blog post could be called "transportation disasters abroad" (part 1).
I left Josh in Amsterdam on Wednesday afternoon- he had a show there that night and then had to make his way to Germany to start the month long Songs & Whispers Circuit Tour (check out his latest blog posts here). The only (inexpensive) way for me to get to Athens was to take 2 flights on Turkish Airlines, with a 3 hour layover in Istanbul. I've also always wanted to go to Istanbul, so even the prospect of spending a few hours in their airport was intriguing. Turns out, though, a 3 hour layover wasn't enough time for me to catch my flight to Athens!
One thing I will say is that Turkish Airlines has excellent food on every flight- and these days, getting any kind of food on a flight is amazing. They also have comfortable, new-ish airplanes with tv's on every seat. luxury. 
As we were "beginning our descent" in to Istanbul Ataturk Airport, the pilot came on the speaker and said that the airport runway was very busy and we would have to fly around for a while before landing. fine. It didn't seem too alarming until about 30 mins later, after flying in circles I guess, the pilot came on again. I couldn't understand what he was saying very well, because after speaking in Turkish, he reiterated what he had just said in very quick, sloppy, mumbling English.
"Excuse me", I said to the nearest flight attendant "What did the pilot just say?". . . She told me we were landing in Sabiha- a different city! Yeah, that's what I thought he said. "Um", I tried not to sound freaked out "how can I get to Istanbul to catch my connecting flight? Is there like a bus or something?"
"No, you can not catch a bus" she said snarkily "They are very far apart- Sabiha is in Asia and Istanbul is in Europe!"
Wait a minute! My eyes widened as I took in this news- totally forgetting what little I knew about Turkish geography. "So you're saying I'm going to be stuck in Asia with nowhere to go?!!!"
"Uh", she sighed "I can't deal with this!" and walked off.
Putting aside my shock and frustration at how this flight attendant was treating me, I looked around the plane and noticed that no one was panicking except for one man sitting behind me, who was arguing passionately in Turkish with another flight attendant. Ok, now I'm panicking a little. 

We landed in Sabiha, which I finally was told (by another passenger) is actually the other Istanbul airport- just on the other side of the channel that divides Europe and Asia Minor. duh. After refueling, the pilot told us we would be heading back to Istanbul Ataturk shortly. Why didn't the f'ing flight attendant tell me that in the first place?! But we didn't head back shortly, we instead sat on the runway there for about an hour. Then we flew to Ataturk and sat on that runway for about an hour. So we finally got to the terminal about 5 minutes before my flight to Athens left. Needless to say, no one held the flight for me and the dozen or so other passengers who were supposed to be on it. Instead, we all ran around the airport like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to figure out where to go to get on another flight. The airport personnel were useless and downright rude. Finally, I found a huge line at the (somewhat hidden) Turkish Airlines ticket counter. This must be the place.  
To make a long story somewhat shorter, I found myself on a bus to a hotel, about 30 minutes across town from the airport, several hours later. I slept soundly for all of 4 hours before I had to wake up, get back on the bus, and catch a 6:30 am flight to Athens. At least now I can say I've dipped my toe in the Asian continent!


36 Hours in Iceland.

Well, it's the start of another European tour- our fifth time across the Atlantic in 5 years! This time, Josh has a fantastic new album ("Holding On") to tour behind. . . but we'll talk about that later.

So we'll be hitting a lot of the same spots on this tour- the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands. . . but we began the trip with a new country (finally)- ICELAND! The tiny island nation in the North Atlantic has seen a huge surge in tourism lately, thanks to the efforts (and cheap prices) of Icelandair Airlines. Josh and I, like many North Americans, found a super inexpensive flight to London on Icelandair, via Reykjavik. And since we always love to visit new countries, we thought we'd take advantage of their free "stopover" program and spend a night in the capital city. A few interesting facts about Iceland- the population of the entire country is only about 320,000! That's around the size of metro Madison, WI! crazy. And even though 2/3 of the citizens live in the main city of Reykjavik, if you do the math, that makes for a pretty manageable sized city. So, we were able to walk around most of central Reykjavik in a couple of days.

After landing at the airport in Keflavik, we had to take a bus for about 45 minutes to get to central Reykjavik. This was the only bit of countryside that we saw, but it was beautiful! The landscape is rugged and open- no trees, just low shrubs covering volcanic rock. It reminded me of Connemara, Ireland. In the distance (but not so far away) in almost every direction were snow-covered mountains. Actually, they're volcanoes. Many had flat tops, caused by eruptions in the recent past. The entire island is teeming with volcanic activity, including 30 active volcanoes! The plus side of this is that even though the temperatures are very cold, the ground stays quite warm. The most popular past time in Iceland is to bathe in the geothermal pools. There are dozens in Reykjavik and many more "natural" pools outside the city. And the entire country runs on geothermal energy, along with a bit of wind and solar power. My guess is they have the lowest carbon emissions in the world.

geothermal pool in Reykjavik

On our second day in Iceland, we woke up to snow. Quite a lot of snow, actually. Numerous people had told us that the weather there is particularly unpredictable, and this confirmed that. The previous day the weather report estimated temps in the upper 30s, but the entire time we were there I don't think it got above 25. Despite the fact that we hadn't really packed warm enough clothes (90% of our suitcases are full of CDs!), we walked about 1.5 miles from our hotel to the local geothermal pool. If you're familiar with Iceland, you've probably seen pics of the Blue Lagoon- a VERY popular tourist destination about an hour from Reykjavik. Some day I would like to visit this famous natural geothermal pool, but for this trip (since our time was limited and we didn't have a car) we opted for the "locals" version. The pool we went to was much like any public swimming pool, complete with dressing rooms, a tiny gym, and a steam room. Besides a full-size olympic pool, there are several "hot tubs" at varying temperatures. I would guess that the hottest tub is about 105 degrees fahrenheit. Surrounded by snow, steam rising all around us. . . it felt great! Even at a place like this, though, out in the "suburbs" of Reykjavik, it's hard to feel like a local because tourists are everywhere! Soaking in one of the larger tubs, Josh and I found ourselves wedged between two other American couples. And walking the streets of the central city, we heard English spoken way more than Icelandic. In fact, when we first arrived early Monday morning, we wandered around before the shops were open and it felt like a deserted city, save the dozens of tourists (mainly American & British) that we passed. Oh well. I still would LOVE to go back to Iceland, preferably when the weather is warmer, and see more of the countryside. 
  vintage posters from pinterest

Now we're in England and the tour is underway.  . . more updates soon!



City Feature: Lynchburg, VA

So, of course one of the best things about being on tour with Josh is passing through (and sometimes spending time in) lots of new places. We do end up going back to certain towns and cities every year, but every once in a while we take a gamble and book a show in a new town. The other day, while walking around Lynchburg, Virginia, I had the idea to write a short blog post now and then highlighting a place that maybe isn't the most popular tourist destination. In the past month we've spent time in Seattle, Atlanta, Asheville and (this weekend) Washington, DC- all great towns that we've gotten to know well, but most people are familiar with the highlights in these places, even if they've never been there. . . But there are so many unique communities in the US with cool things happening that you would never know about if you don't go there!
Admittedly, the only thing that I knew about the smallish Virginia mountain town of Lynchburg is that it's home to uber-conservative, right wing Christian college, Liberty University. As one of the largest draws to the city as well as a huge local employer, the atmosphere of LU definitely has an impact on the town, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a more open-minded facet of Lynchburg in the short time we were there.
Abe Loper is probably the best person we could have stayed with in Lynchburg. As a local businessman/ entrepreneur, teacher, advocate of "buy local" and owner of The White Hart Cafe where Josh played (and a couple other coffee shops), he was an enthusiastic "tour guide" and generous host. He told us about the history of Lynchburg, which historically was a tobacco town (like most of Virginia) and then a shoe manufacturing hub in the 20th century. Now a days there is a large percentage of the city that live below the poverty line, and this is apparent when you walk by all the empty old buildings downtown. However, like in many cities across the US, there is a growing movement of people who are moving back downtown, starting businesses, fixing up the historical buildings, and advocating a community-focused culture. Abe bought the White Hart a little over a year ago, after it had been empty for several months when the previous owners went bankrupt. It is a very charming coffee shop/ restaurant/ music venue in a large turn-of-the-century building complete with 15 foot high ceilings, a built in wooden bar, fireplaces, etc. It feels like the hub of a burgeoning downtown scene.
The White Hart

walking up to the Lynchburg Museum

this gorgeous old mansion downtown stands empty. . . Josh and I would LOVE to renovate it!

Food trucks on Main Street