Our routing of the European tour was not based on strategic cities for our band to play, and the Czech Republic was no different. I was determined to at least book a show in Prague (Praha) for two reasons only: the first, our friends Wendy and Billy lived there; and the second, Milan Kundera, one of my favorite authors, is from the Czech Republic.
It was nearly impossible to land a show in Praha, or even find bands that I liked enough to contact. Wendy suggested we try Brno instead, and eventually we landed shows in both cities. (Bonus: Kundera was born in Brno. Though the Czech people I spoke with understandably have mixed feelings about their author who left for France in 1975 and was stripped of his Czech citizenship in 1979 — one person said he “refuses to write in Czech and rarely visits”). Given the historical backdrop of his time in the Republic (then Czechoslovakia) it’s understandable he’d maintain his distance.
Our show in Praha was with the truly excellent (and hard to follow, meaning to perform after) Vobezdud. Incredible performers with highly engaging gypsy songs. When I first met the bassist, with whom I’d been corresponding the entire time re: show and equipment, he was baffled at our lack of musical equipment. “In other words, you need to borrow everything.” I felt bad for the first time on tour, but defensively explained that we were already carrying a ton of weight with two guitars, keyboards, bouzouki, keyboard stand, guitar pedals, and all our personal stuff (clothes, books, camera, computers).
However, my initial baffled-ness diminished as the same bass player proceeded to make sure we had everything we needed, and livened up the crowd during our set with various shouts in Czech and spontaneous translations of our songs and banter. He also made sure we were paid, which isn’t a guarantee on this type of DIY tour.
Then, to my surprise, when I complimented the drummer on the metallic sound he made during a song, asking him how he did it, not only did he tell me how (small splash cymbal on the snare, playing with metal hotrods) but he *insisted* I take his cymbal. I refused and he became politely angry until I offered to “autograph” his snare drum instead. I’m not sure how the one canceled the other out, but anything not to have more weight and to take this sweet guy’s equipment!
It’s one thing to play a show, it’s another to be invited to become citizens of the Czech Republic. After our show a few people came up to us and said we were what the Czech people needed – a bit of joy in the depressive sadness — and said we should be Czech citizens.
Afterward, we filmed the sound person (among others) who was a philosophical fellow and considers himself a denizen of the world, having lived in Kenya and all over Europe, but also having an adaptive and compassionate way that lends itself to openness to experiences beyond one’s own borders.
The day of the show, Billy and Wendy kindly showed us around town in the short amount of time we had – including Wenceslas Square where Czech student Jan Palach set himself on fire in 1969 to protest the suppression of free speech during the Prague Spring.
With the exception of the train to Praha, we’d been taking buses our entire trip – primarily the cheaper Megabus, which operated all the way from England, to France, to Amsterdam, but also National Express (UK) and Eurolines (elsewhere). The Czech Republic has one of the nicest bus services, with the most leg room, little televisions, and working wifi.
The first and often most difficult and exhausting task is to figure out, without wifi, where you are staying, without walking all over town with your heavy equipment (trying to decipher previous “directions” when wifi was available). After a visit to the Visitor’s office, we were set on the correct path but still about 30 minutes late.
By the time we got settled in to Brno, we were still a bit sleep-deprived from our trip to Amsterdam, but we got in a little walking during our short stay in Kundera’s childhood home.
Brno was a beautiful town, the historic part full of art nouveau architecture, colors, and monuments. Even a tram through the center of town.
As typical, we found our mecca in the form of this cafe (most assuredly marketed to English-speaking tourists):
That night, after a quick nap, we headed to our show, which was actually a festival of poetry and bands held in a smokey club about the size of the Pinhook, except no ventilation.
But I’m not complaining, this was one of our best shows on tour, with some of the most enthused audience members and bands. I think we sold 80% of our merch (the heart-drives) at the Czech Republic shows.
We are grateful to photographer/artist Eva Svobodova for helping us get the show by connecting us with good local bands and venues – so important when it’s difficult to wade through all of the different bands and spaces.
Before our set, I was kind of upset that someone had drawn a picture of a bomb for us in our drawing book, asking that the USA “please don’t bomb us.” So before we played, this man kindly translated our message to the crowd, which was “We’re not here to bomb you, we’re here to connect with you through music.” Everyone cheered.
We were at club Brooklyn a full work-day of about 8 hours, and got to hang out with everyone for awhile. Here, we learn about the body-less guitar:
There were excessive hugs and hugging post-show. Possibly a partial result of our new song Stranger, which asks people to come hug us tonight. Though, noticeably, the same effect was not produced in England despite the language similarity.
The pick-up man:
We were happy to share the show with 000Kapela, who secured us a spot in the festival:
And one of their members’ alternate hip-hop band Lamram Jam, who shed his shirt to crowd delight. They were a lusty crowd. Where bowties meant … other things beyond existence as an adorable accoutrement.
The show ended with Sounds of the Occupation, around 2 am or afterwards (we lost track), in addition to several poetry reading that I taped despite not understanding a word. Though we heard the Czech people are guarded due to years of invasions, this night in Brno was one of the most intoxicating (and loose) smathered in affection and kindness.