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France and the Netherlands

It's really hard to believe that six days from now we'll be back in the States. . . what a long, strange trip it's been. About a month ago we flew into Amsterdam and immediately drove down to France. I'm sure it would have been a lovely drive if we hadn't taken the highway the whole way, getting stuck in terrible traffic for 2 hours in Belgium. France was great, though. . .We spent the bulk of the week in the Northeastern city of Nancy and then driving south to Burgundy.
One of the highlights of the week was the show that Josh played in the small town of Chagny in Burgundy. The Theatre Copaius was built in the 1850's by a local man who was dating an opera singer. In an over-the-top display of affection, he built this gorgeous 200 person theatre adjacent to his house. Not surprisingly, the poor man ended up bankrupt and had to sell the theatre (and I'm guessing the lady dumped him at this point). Now it is used for all kinds of city events, including the much-anticipated Josh Harty concert! The afternoon before the gig Josh went around to a couple of the local grade schools and spoke to the children (through a French interpreter) about American music, culture, etc. Some of the questions and comments were pretty hilarious (such as "Do you know Rhianna?" seriously?!)
The night of the show the theatre was packed. . . Josh played for 2 hours completely un-plugged, no amplifier or microphone. . . and at the end they called him back for 4 encores!

signing autographs for the French teenagers
before the show at Theatre Copaius
So back in the Netherlands. . . If you read my blog post from last year you know how much I respect the Dutch. They have a very lovely, well-run country, despite the fact that the first things most people think of when they think of Holland is weed and prostitutes.  I was happy that we got to spend a full two weeks there this year, including a considerable amount of time in Amsterdam. If you venture outside of the very center of Amsterdam, where most of the tourist-friendly coffee shops, pubs, gift shops, overpriced restaurants and brothels are, you will find a really unique, amazing city. We also went to several new cities this year including Nijmegen, Heusden, Rotterdam and Groningen. 
Christmas time in Amsterdam

Most people, including the Dutch, don't venture as far north as the 3 provinces of Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen. I was actually shocked at how many Dutch people in the South we spoke to who had never been up there. . .it's only about a 2 hour drive from Amsterdam to the main northern University city of Groningen! And it's a very lovely city. . .We stayed with a Couchsurfer named Willy who lives in a 500 year old building, actually built into a part of the original Roman wall that surrounded the city. For a few days, including the trip to Groningen, we were met by my sister Sam and her bf Dan who flew in from Atlanta for a quick holiday. 

Sam, Dan & Josh in Groningen
The first night with Sam & Dan was a night off for Josh and one of our favorite musicians, Jason Isbell,  happened to be playing in the central NL city of Hengelo. The 200-seat show had sold out weeks before but Sam bought tickets through some overpriced third party website. . . we were really looking forward to it. But during lunch the day of the show we realized that the tickets were supposed to be shipped to Sam's apt in Atlanta and they never arrived! And when I talked to a woman with the company we purchased the tickets through, she said "It looks like the seller backed out, sorry!" We were temporarily distraught but pulled ourselves together and got on the good ol' social media sites, pleading with anyone who would listen to help us out. Amazingly, we heard back from both the venue and Jason himself. We're still not sure who exactly left the free tickets for us at the box office, but we were so grateful (the day after Thanksgiving!) and the show was fantastic!
Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires
Now we just have 3 final shows in southern England. . . I think Josh is really looking forward to taking a break!



Scotland is a fascinating and mysterious place with a dramatic history that goes back to pre-history (duh, we've all seen Braveheart!). This was my third time in the country, and I have to say that I like the people, places, scenery, culture and food (ok, maybe not the food) more and more every time I'm there. On our first trip, which only included stops in Edinburgh and Glasgow, I'll admit I was not so impressed. I found the people mildly abrasive, the food terrible, and of course the weather was awful. But last year we spent more time in the cultural epicenter of Edinburgh as well as in smaller towns on the Northeast coast, and I fell in love. Might have helped that we had better weather that year :)  Then this year we finally made it to the Highlands and the Northwest coast- where everyone always says the most spectacular scenery in Scotland is. I agree. Josh played in Glasgow and then 3 shows in the Highlands, as far north as Ullapool, after which we drove South along the coast back to Glasgow.

Considering this is the furthest north that I've ever been (Ullapool is on the same latitude as southern Alaska), I was expecting extreme cold and short days. However, we were pleasantly surprised that our first 2 days in the Highlands were enjoyed in the sun, wearing just light jackets. Apparently, the gulf stream keeps this small corner of Scotland relatively mild year round. . . In fact, Ullapool is known for having a few palm trees! Of course, this is still Britain, and our good luck ran out by the 3rd day when big gray rainclouds and dense fog rolled in. It was still lovely, though.
near Gairloch

One thing you notice about this part of Scotland is that there is water everywhere. Of course there's miles and miles of rocky coastline, dotted with several hundred little islands (unfortunately this time we didn't get to visit any islands) as well as small waterfalls just about everywhere you look. And then there are the lochs (lakes to us non-Scots). . . on our drive back to Glasgow we followed Loch Lomond and the famous Loch Ness (no Nessie spottings), and dozens of other smaller bodies of water. Multi-colored mountains and crags of varying sizes rise straight out of the lochs, usually with low-hanging clouds clinging to them and highland sheep grazing near the base.
Loch Ness
day 1 in the Highlands (Gairloch)
Modern day Scotland is as interesting as it's ever been. Next year they will vote on a referendum to separate from the United Kingdom, which they've been a part of for over 300 years. Despite the fact that the Scots and the English share the same small landmass and technically are ruled by the same government, they are vastly different in many ways. And it seems that after a centuries-old tumultuous relationship with England, the current economic and political situation has caused Scotland to finally break away once and for all. But who knows if the referendum will actually pass? As an outsider who knows very little about the situation, I was skeptical that Scotland could afford to detach, but after talking to a local Glaswegian promoter I am convinced otherwise. Apparently he and most of his friends adamantly support independence because they see England's economy slipping and don't want to be pulled down with it. Also, Scotland has already been pretty independent for years. According to wikipedia: Scotland's legal system has remained separate from those of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland constitutes a distinct jurisdiction in public and private law. Interesting...
So in the last week we've driven the entire length of the UK. . . from Ullapool down to Arundel, West Sussex where we are now. And, believe it or not, we'll be heading back up to Scotland next week! With just a handful of UK shows left, we'll be on the East coast of Scotland (Dundee and Carnoustie, just north of Edinburgh) by Nov. 9th, just before flying to the Netherlands.


Check out more UK photos on Flickr!


Looking back

Currently I'm sitting in a friend's flat in London, catching up on some work and sipping my 4th or 5th cup of tea today (so far). It's another October in the UK and the usual cold, damp, gray weather has moved in, chilling me to the core. To be fair, though, the first few days of the month were surprisingly pleasant. And when we were in Austria a couple weeks ago, it was gloriously sunny!
wish I was here now
Josh & Chuck
I can't say enough about our week in Austria. It was productive and relaxing. . . if only all of our touring could go so smoothly! We stayed with Chuck LeMonds and his lovely family near Graz, in the south. Chuck is an ex-pat from Madison who has lived in Austria for 20+ years, making a living as a musician and teacher. Lucky for us, Chuck hooked up some fantastic duo shows for he and Josh in the Graz area. Here's are some photos from one of the places they played (a winery/ restaurant/ hotel/ venue) ...
the view from the winery

It's amazing how quickly the landscape, and everything else, changes when you cross the border from Austria to the Czech Republic. The rolling green hills turn to more craggly hills with patches of exposed rock. The pristine chateaus and churches become empty stone storefronts and boring white square housing complexes. Not to say that the CZ isn't beautiful- it's incredible- but there are differences. Driving through the Austrian countryside, near the border, I thought about what this area would have been like 25 years ago, during the Communist era. What did the quiet, prosperous Austrian farmers think of their neighbors (just a stone's throw away) whom they would never meet or even see? As we breezed past the CZ/ AU border, empty of guards on a Sunday afternoon I imagined how much this has changed- from a heavily military- guarded border to a stopping point between countries to an insignificant line between two members of the EU.
We spent several days in the Czech Republic's second-city, Brno. It's a fascinating old city full of winding cobblestone streets, medieval churches, a castle, and a very large population of University students. Josh played two shows here, and they were fantastic. The people we met were incredibly genuine and generous. We stayed with Michael, his girlfriend Kate and their 5 roommates (yeah, it was a full house). Michael told me that he and Kate are trying to find work in Canada. They are anxious to leave the CZ out of fear that the Communist party is making a come-back. That threw me a little. Clearly, the country has come a long way since that "dark" era- it seems to be prospering. But apparently the Communist party is still the 3rd most popular in the government, and growing. I can't imagine anyone voting in a Communist government, especially after having lived through it. . . But maybe some people were actually better off back then.
After Brno we had a couple days off so we went to the Medieval walled city of Cesky Krumlov. It was gorgeous but a bit Disney-esque because of all the tourism (thanks, Rick Steves!). 
at the Saturday market in Cesky Krumlov

more photos on the flickr page!


Europe: Week 1

It’s 10:30pm here in Switzerland. Or Austria. I’m not sure if we’ve crossed the border yet. .  . I believe this is the first time I’ve taken an overnight train ride since I was a student in Italy 10 years ago. Some friends and I went to Vienna and while I was sleeping someone came into our cabin and stole my roommate’s camera. This time we’re not lucky enough to have a cabin-  just regular seats. So I’ll probably be awake for a while.  But I just purchased the new Neko Case album on itunes and Josh stole a couple mini bottles of wine from (an empty) first class, so things are looking up.
The first of 15 weeks in Europe went by smoothly.  Despite nearly constant rain, Switzerland was wonderful. We were totally taken care of by our booking agent, Kristina, who let us stay in her gorgeous apartment in Basel all week, and escorted us to each of the 8 shows to act as manager/ interpreter. At every venue, the owners fed us a delicious home-cooked meal, and the audiences were so warm and appreciative. There’s a sense of genuine support for good music here.  
 Josh had 8 shows in the last 7 days, so it was a bit of a whirlwind, driving back and forth across the entire northern part of Switzerland a couple of times (it's only about 120 miles across). With shows in big citites like Basel, Bern, Zurich, and smaller towns like St. Gallen, Balgach and Altnau, we got to see a lot of diversity. . . well, as much diversity as there is in Switzerland, which is generally a pretty idilic place. Just like in the Netherlands, you never really see homeless people or panhandlers. . . and it feels very safe. In fact, I noticed that people don't even lock up their bicycles! Not that being American is so bad, but I feel like to be born Swiss is like winning the lottery of life. They don't really have any enemies, their government and economy is very stable, and everyone is guaranteed good health care and a good retirement pension, no matter what. However, in Zurich we did see the "red light" district. . .which is like Sesame Street compared to the RL district in Amsterdam. But it did feel slightly less sound-of-music safe than the rest of the country. 
on Langstrasse in Zurich
One of my favorite days was on Saturday when we went to St. Gallen for the second time. The sun was out for the first time all week, and an enormous market was going on downtown. There were dozens of food vendors, mainly Swiss specialties like cheese, sausage and chocolates, as well as farmers selling vegetables and home made pasta, sandwiches, etc. Also many regional wine makers were there- handing out samples of wine next to samples of local cheeses. We had a wonderful lunch for free! At 3:00, with the market going on outside, Josh played a set at the Musik Hug record store. And that night, he played again at S-ka in the nearby small town of Altnau. 
at the Market in St. Gallen
as always, more photos on Flickr!

Well, there are more stories to tell, but for now I need to sleep. Tomorrow, Austria!



On the Eve of our Departure...

Sitting at the bar in Smiley's Acoustic Cafe in Greenville, SC.  Josh is wrapping up a 3 hour show played to a crowd dominated by an 18-top table of 20-somethings who quite possibly have no idea that there's live music going on 4 feet from them. I'm being a super dork and pulling out my laptop at the bar. I have a million things running through my head right now, because we're leaving for Europe tomorrow. For 3 1/2 months. This makes me nervous, anxious and excited. Nervous and anxious because I feel like we could use a couple more weeks of planning and rest/ relaxation, but excited too of course. This will be our third trip over "the pond" together, but by far the longest. And being a generally worried person, I can't help but think of all the things that could go wrong. . .but it will be fine, right? It will be fantastic!

When we tell people about the month we just wrapped up, they think we're crazy to head to Europe right away. I think in August we added about 6,000 miles to the van and passed through 15+ states. In total this year we've put about 26,000 miles on the car and been to 38 states. Folks keep asking about our favorite places. . . there are too many to name. Yellowstone was incredible (of course). New York and Boston are always great. Arkansas was surprisingly awesome (especially the Fayetteville Roots Festival!). But when I think of places that we could actually see ourselves living. . . Well, it's no surprise that we're drawn to Madison- esque small/ medium sized college towns. Northampton (Mass), Portland (ME), Bellingham (WA), Missoula (MT), Ft. Collins (CO) and Asheville (NC) are at the top of my list. 

swimming in the river in Arkansas with Jennie & Chris
We realized recently that when we were planning this whole live-on-the-road vagabond lifestyle (which was supposed to last a year. . . it's been 13 months) we didn't plan an exit strategy. The question of where and when to "settle down" is always looming over us, and we might just put it off a bit longer. When you have nothing tying you down, the endless possibilities can be a bit overwhelming. And for now, there's only the next 15 weeks in my headlights. . . after Europe, who knows?
sitting amongst the pronghorns in Yellowstone


To see all the photos from the past year, take a look at our Flickr page!


So currently I am sitting in the "computer lab" of the St. John's Lutheran Ministries Retirement Community in Billings, Montana. Josh is playing here tonight, on their huge lawn out front- part of a weekly music series they host in the Summer. We've spent two days as guests here, eating in the dining hall with the residents (dinner starts at 4:30) and enjoying the luxury of having our own room (the "guest suite") for a bit. We've really come to cherish these rare opportunities for privacy. . . but not really for the reasons you'd think. When we have time off, a quiet space and wi-fi you'll find us doing exactly what we're doing now- working. Josh is upstairs playing guitar, and I'm here on my computer emailing (literally) hundreds of venues in Europe, trying to finish booking our last month there.
A couple hours ago Josh got an email from the venue he was supposed to play at on Saturday- that's 2 days away. They said they had to cancel the gig. Did I mention that they gave us TWO days notice?! And there was a relatively large sum of money guaranteed. So this has a pretty big impact on us. . . Not having a show on any Saturday sucks, but especially when it comes at the last minute. And you know what, this kind of thing happens all the time. I know we lead a charmed life and I don't want to complain, but I just think musicians get a short stick sometimes. People seem to think that they all party hard, show up late to gigs, tour because they think it's fun. . . and it is most of the time, but it's not a vacation- it's a job. And it's 24/7, especially when you do all the booking, promotion, social networking, travel planning, etc. yourself. . . and, of course, then you have to find the time to practice your craft and write new songs. It just drives me crazy when a venue cancels, or they don't do anything to promote a show (how hard is it to post on FB once or twice?!), or Josh plays to a full house and gets paid $12 because the sound guy, door guy and venue owners have to get paid (that actually happened recently. . .).  And then there's the shocking lack of general support for live music in this country. It's sad, but sometimes I think that most Americans would rather stay home and watch "American Idol" than go see a live show. We all need to stop and think what this world would be like without real musicians, writing songs and playing instruments.
Again, I don't want to sound ungrateful for the amazing freedom we have, but sometimes you just need to vent. Geez, and I meant for this post to be about the last month in Washington. . . which was amazing, by the way. But I didn't find time to write because we were so busy catching up with friends & family, "networking", and booking for this Fall. . . but here are some lovely pictures of mountains and beaches.
Mount Rainier

Vashon Island





Since we last left off. . .
Josh and I have driven well over 2,000 miles the last 3 weeks in our little Previa- which is now equipped with a loft-style bed! Pretty fancy, I know. . . almost like having an RV.  So now we're in beautiful Washington state, staying just far enough north of Seattle to be surrounded by huge national and state parks, small farms and lots of lush greenery! It's so nice here this time of year, probably my favorite part of the country.
The journey out here from Wisconsin was long but exciting. Driving across Minnesota, South and North Dakota, Montana and Idaho the landscape changes drastically every couple hours. From dense green forests to wide open rolling hills to dry flatlands and then huge mountains show up in the distance. Since I've never really lived around mountains (unless you count Stone Mountain, GA. . . ) they still fascinate me. If you take a look at my flickr account you'll see there is a disproportionate number of mountain photos.

Livingston, MT
north of Missoula, MT
Every time I go to Montana I love it more and more. This time we got to spend nearly a week there (and we'll be back in August!). We went to Livingston (near Bozeman) for the first time and I just fell in love with this small Western town which has a thriving downtown thanks to the natural landscape that brings in a fair number of tourists this time of year. And then we had 3 days in Missoula which is fantastic! I had only been there once before, briefly, but now we had adequate time to explore. One afternoon I drove up to St. Ignatious about an hour north of Missoula and the landscape there just blew me away. My friend Piper grew up there, on a huge ranch surrounded by snow-capped mountains and vast green fields.
Here in Washington there are still snow-capped mountains surrounding us (in the distance), but it was about 90 degrees today. strange. When we first got in a few days ago, though, it was lovely and cool. We took our time driving through the Cascades which were spectacular!
not a fake backdrop....

Now it's time to get back to work- Josh has 6 shows in the Seattle area, one in Bellingham and one in Eugene, OR, and we'll also be going out in the city as much as possible, meeting musicians and playing open mics. Should be a busy month!



Ahh, Wisconsin!

Well, somehow the last 6 weeks have flown by without my writing on the blog. . . oops. I will say it's been a very busy Spring and will continue to be a crazy hectic Summer for Josh and I. When we left Boston at the end of April, we headed straight west for Madison, making only brief stops in New Jersey and Ohio. This past month has been spent entirely in our adopted "home state" of Wisconsin, playing shows, catching up with friends, eating at our favorite restaurants, seeing some of our favorite bands and so much more. This morning we woke up at a campsite in Perrot State Park, hiked to the top of a large bluff (not quite a mountain, but it felt like it), looked down at the Mississippi River dividing Wisconsin from Minnesota and I realized "this is the last time we'll be in Wisconsin for almost a year!" Strange.
Perrot State Park

Besides spending time in Madison, we took a few trips around the state- to some old favorite spots as well as a few new places. I had only been to Door County once before, in January, for a friend's 30th birthday party.  Since then I've been dying to go back during "the Season" when businesses are actually open. Well, the weekend before Memorial Day is still not technically tourist season, but that has its perks. We got to Sturgeon Bay on a beautiful 75 degree Tuesday and spent 2 days exploring the peninsula known as Wisconsin's "vacationland" (though it would be more fitting to call it Chicago's vacationland). Josh played a show at the very cool Holiday Music Motel- a classic 1950's roadside motel that was recently bought by two musicians who fixed it up in a retro Rock-N-Roll style. Upstairs they have a recording studio/ listening room that was packed on Wednesday night with local musicians and music appreciators from 5 years old to 75.

Last week we got up to Wausau for a couple of shows with "the band". . . The Josh Harty Band, that is. It's always fun to hang out with the guys and hear Josh's songs re-interpreted as upbeat dance music with a great drum beat. After the Wausau gig, we drove a bit further north and stayed at a friend's farm. It was a fantastic day filled with horseback riding, atv-ing, cooking, playing music and of course, a campfire after dark.

On Wednesday we gathered most of our belongings from various friends' houses, packed up the van once again, and headed north. We headed to Hayward for a house concert at our friend Rick's amazing house on the lake, then down to Black River Falls for another house show. Yesterday we started meandering up the Mississippi with no real plan. We stopped in Trempealeau, WI to check out the famous Trempealeau Hotel. Well, we kind of fell in love with this beautiful town and decided to stay a night. Sitting outside on the river, sipping brunch cocktails in the afternoon, we met the unofficial town "mayor", Don. He told us all about the town and its history, how the land was formed after the last ice age and where we could get a good meal. Though we were tempted to stay at the hotel, we decided to be more budget-conscious and camped, finally having a night without rain!

Now we're in Minnesota for the week before heading West! Check out the tour page to see where we'll be next. . . and for more Wisconsin photos go to our flickr page.


We Heart Boston

As everyone knows, a terrible thing happened here in Boston a few days ago. Some unknown, evil person or persons planted 2 bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and when they went off, 3 innocent people were dead and nearly 200 were wounded. I know bombs go off in other countries every day- we read in the news about the thousands of civilians dying in places like Syria and Afghanistan. I think it's important to keep these facts in mind when dealing with terrorism in America. . . however, as we all know, the closer you are to the tragedy the more tragic it seems. I keep thinking about people who died or lost limbs on Monday- they just wanted to enjoy a race on the first sunny day in weeks. I've only been in this city for two weeks, but after day 1 I had completely fallen in love with it, so this violence seems personal.
Luckily, Josh and I were in South Boston when the bombs went off- several miles from the site. I still haven't been through that part of the city, so it still seems a bit surreal and removed. But on Tuesday we spent the afternoon walking around Cambridge and you just felt such a strong sense of community, of compassion. Crazy, inconceivable things happen every day on this planet and sometimes I think humanity is just going right down the toilet. . . but then you see something like this.
college kids giving out "Free flowers, hugs and conversation" in Harvard Square
we met Eric Sommer who was playing music in the square- he's been on tour non-stop for years!


RE-CAP: eating and shopping in NYC

So last week we left the tiny apartment in Bushwick that we called "home" for the past month. Time really flies by when you're in a new place, seeing new things every day! In fact, it seems like just last week we were in Europe. . . now we're in Boston (which does have about as many Irish pubs as Dublin). But let me back up a bit. The last couple weeks in Brooklyn I was an especially avid explorer- going out for hours almost every day, exploring new neighborhoods, but mainly eating and shopping.
I had a few food goals when we got to NYC. . .of course, there are an endless number options in every conceivable category. And I don't have the stomach or the pocket book to eat out every day (plus I like cooking)- so I just sought out some highlights- starting with the almost-unattainable gluten free NYC bagel. If you read my last blog post, you know what a struggle (*tear*) I went through to find this simple delight. In all of my research and wanderings around the city, I was still only able to find one deli-Tompkins Square Bagels in the East Village- that had GF bagels on their menu. I'm pretty sure they don't make them in-house, but I didn't even ask for fear of being disappointed. However, they definitely make their own cream cheeses, in a vast array of delicious flavors. I went with my old staple (pre GF-days): veggie cream cheese with tomato slices. I used to always get everything bagels, they only had plain in the GF variety, but no mind. . . it was heaven (albeit very pricey for a bagel). 
 I was hoping to get to Chinatown more than once this month- there is such an overwhelming number of restaurants, tea shops, groceries, etc. that I could have just eaten here for a month and been satisfied. Avoiding soy sauce (which has gluten in it) at a Chinese restaurant is a bit tricky, but otherwise there are usually a lot of great GF options. The one day that we did spend in Chinatown was spent darting in and out of shops trying to avoid the rain. When the rain got particularly bad, we ducked into Paris (because it was close and there were delicious smells emanating from within), which turned out to be a Vietnamese restaurant. In Chinatown. Oh well- it was wonderful!

I got these rice paper crepes with a side of pork, which looked like Spam, but tasted great. Josh, of course, got pho.

Homemade brunch on the roof in Bushwick (we thought a sunny 55 degree day was good enough for rooftop dining)

seriously awesome empanada- that only cost $1.50!!- at undisclosed Queens location (if I told you I'd have to kill you, sorry).

Delicious Ethiopian food by Bunna Cafe at special Pop-Up Vegan Fair in Bushwick

Now on to the shopping. . .
I spent a lot of time combing through a few particular Brooklyn thrift stores (again, if I told you I'd have to kill you...) which were fantastic and allowed me to seriously bulk-up my Etsy store! Also, I made it to a couple of the big flea markets.

The Williamsburg "Artists and Fleas" market was small but had a great selection of handmade jewelry and high-end vintage
Brooklyn Flea in the impressive Skylight One Hanson building

and finally. . .
Next up: Boston!