9 times out of 10 I don't need an excuse to travel. And that's cool when you're unemployed. It's even cooler when you're unemployed and living in Europe. But tell me the New Orleans funk factory, Galactic, is playing in the Netherlands, I'll be on the train before you can finish the sentence.
As it turns out, this was the case three days ago as I sat at my computer, browsing JamBase. Just like most days, I was giving the homepage a once over to see what new items might catch my eye. There was a glance down the middle column to see if I identified with any of the headsup selections, a few clicks in, then back to the hp to check the day's shows. I was pleasantly surprised to find Galactic playing in Europe and immediately began to feel the old traveling jones once again (note: don't be afraid of the Skynard images in your head). Later that day I pedaled down to the main train station and bought an overnight ticket to Groningen, Holland, scheduled to leave at 2AM. Of course, I decided to have a few drinks to celebrate the spontaneity of it all.
At 10AM the next day I was standing in Groningen, 7 hours from home, married to a nasty hang-over, extremely tired, but only slightly confused. I wandered around in circles for a bit, bought some things I didn't really need and got ripped off by the luggage locker. Soon I sorted myself out and made my way to the center to see what this "Swinging Groningen" was all about.
An hour or so later I found the main stage where Galactic would be playing, figured out the schedule, then quickly retreated to the first coffeeshop I could find -- and, yes, Groningen has those wonderful little outlets for the recreational use of marijuana just like Amsterdam. The difference is Groningen is much smaller, cleaner and way less infested with low-lives and crack addicts.
I busied myself for the rest of the day taking pictures of the beautiful city center and some of it's wonderful Dutch style and design. My hang-over started to wear off so I got a beer and started to grease the wheels for the show.
I was tooling around, kind of keeping an eye open for the band, when I saw Rich and Ben (keys, sax) doing some of their own tooling around near their little tent area. There seemed to be some discussion about the crowd and then some shop talk about songs or something. Pretty soon, the whole band was schooling around the immediate area where I was, chilling and shooting the breeze. I asked Stanton for a quick picture and he gave me several chances to capture the famous, and always enjoyable, "bird picture," with him flipping off the camera. Problem was I just couldn't snap quick enough. Sorry to let you all down. Show time hit and I wished the guys a good show and headed off for some more beers and a spot up front.
The crowd was kind of a mix between curious and interested. There was some very chill, airy techno spilling out of the PA and a few people were even dancing to it (and that's fine). It was obvious that most of the crowd hadn't a clue as to what Galactic was all about. It was more like the kind of person you might find waiting in line to buy a frankfurter, then music started on the live stage and they kind of hung around. As the band took the stage, 90% of the crowd remained statuesque. There were exceptions, though. An America lady and a few others, who may well have been Canadian (no offense), were grooving and spinning around near the front. A real lit up Spaniard was walking on his hands and without end, pleaded with the band to play Spanish music. Most everyone around him had figured out he was from Barcelona. It was obvious because he kept yelling it in between pleas. Each time the band ignored his requests but it didn't seem to phase him, he would just walk on his hands some more. I took a picture of that, too.
From my point of view, Galactic was throwing it down with veracity. All the players were cool and collected whilst flexing their funky muscle. I would watch as people would walk from somewhere behind the main stage, skirt the crowd, finally start to hear the music, stop, turn around and wonder what was going on up there. At the end of a few songs the response from the crowd was very favorable, but they didn't really ever snap to it like you might find at Any Venue, USA. The awful truth was that Galactic played the first set of the day at 9PM and there just isn't enough booze in the crowd that early. (You should have seen that place at 1AM. I saw people dancing like they were trying to save their souls to a mediocre cover version of "Sweet Home Chicago").
Musically, there were some really nice highlights to the Galactic set. And if you are a fan, it was something really special to be standing there in the middle of the beautiful and historic square, grooving to the funk, basking in the Dutch/European culture.
I stopped back behind the stage after the show to get a few more pictures and say thanks for the fun. I had a few words with House Man and Stanton for a bit. And this may come as a surprise to some of you, but House Man likes women a whole lot. Ben was standing about and joined up with the rest of the group as we shot the breeze. They were their cool selves as usual, keeping it real, but the lax attitude of the crowd kind of killed their buzz.
I mentioned that the scene in Europe was so electronic that live music lovers were left starving. Ben, revealing the collective thought, said, "It didn't seem like that many people were that starved for our live music." And I had to agree with him, it was the first thing that I noticed. Lucky for them, Germans are a different group entirely.
Me and this lady, who we'll refer to as Judy, rapped a bit after the band ran off to the coffeeshops. We talked music and this and that: "Where are you from?" "What's your sign?" All that mumbo jumbo. Anyway, we hiked off to get a brew and maybe snap a few pictures. As we were walking down a side street, somewhat out of the action, we came upon three students playing cards in the street outside their flat. They had a table top set up on some beer cases with candles burning. I took their picture and they invited us to play poker with them... drinking style poker, that is.
The Dutch have this expression for enjoying your life. As a result of the rest of my evening, I can't quite recall what it is, but it sounds a whole lot like your trying to spit on someone. However you say it, let me tell you these people, the Dutch, they are very serious about enjoying life. And perhaps that explains their relaxed attitude towards most things that will put you rotting in a small jail cell in the United States.
I arrived in Groningen alone, confused, tired and maybe even agitated. At 2:30AM I was with a group of 4 other people, most of whom were Dutch, terribly losing a drinking game involving dice and a cup. Sometimes I lost on purpose, but mostly I just had a real hard time winning. Having bad luck at the tables, in any game can be brutal, but at some point you will walk away.
I stumbled away around 4AM, but I still had my dignity. I had, after all, stuck up for and represented my country in the most dubious fashion I could muster. I left my new friends painless and seemingly jovial. All was good.
15 minutes later I broke the chain on my bike and ended up walking an hour to my campsite in the rain. There may have been one other encounter as I returned home, but I will exercise restraint, and better judgement, and leave that one forever in Groningen.
The next morning I woke up with my shoes still on, one foot soaked from hanging out the tent door in the rain. After pulling my conscious mind out of my back pocket, I had 33 minutes to make it to the train station with all of my gear, return the useless bicycle and catch my train to Bonn for the Galactic set at Rhein Kultur. An hour and a half later, I caught the 9:18 AM train and made it to Bonn just in time to stand in a hard, cold rain which soaked me to the very bone. As a result, I now have an aching head and throat, perhaps needing a trip to the doctor, but at the very least, sympathy from relatives and friends. The upside was that I got to hear a fat set of funk Galactic style. And I wasn't the only one who was enjoying myself. There were several thousand others standing in the rain, grooving and happy to be alive.
I got to Bonn at 2:14PM, hit the show at 2:45, grooved, was very cold and soaked, then blew the scene and was on the 4:20 train home. And as you know, there's not a better train on rails.
In the end, I'll go anywhere. I just want to have a good time. And that's all I have to say.
JamBase European Correspondent
Go See Live Music!
Photos are available here: http://gallery.ebong.org/groningen/