BILLY BLOCK WESTERN ROOTS REVIVIAL
SCANDINAVIAN COUNTRY MUSIC FEST
ROAD KILL – DAY FIVE – JULY 27TH:
Finally – no rain this morning, so I could run my 5 miles. Of course, when I got about 2 miles from the hotel, it started raining again. But it was WONDERFUL to get outside and run, even in the rain. The bus was supposed to be at the hotel at 9 am but didn’t arrive until almost 1 pm. No worries, because we have 5 days before we need to be in Sweden! When it did arrive, it was a BRIGHT YELLOW double decker with a great lounge area, toilet, and 12 bunks. Ahhhh….traveling in style. Since I only slept 3 hours last night, I hit the bunk first thing. But, we were on those little winding Norwegian roads and it was impossible to sleep. Finally got up and we made a stop at a roadside stand for a grilled cheese sandwich. The rain is following us all the way to Sweden. I just hope it clears up before the festival this weekend. At least this town we’re staying in has a gym! There are bikes available at our hotel and it’s only about a 2 mile ride into the center of town where the gym is located. And, there are nice running trails all around. Our host has some great day trips planned for us this week while we have 4 days off. Make that a 12 hour bus ride. We didn’t arrive until almost 3 am. Nice hotel and they had the rooms ready for us. It has stopped raining and is hot. The desk clerk said that they do not have any fans and we should not open the windows because of the “bugs”. Of course, it was too hot not to open the windows and he was right – lots of mosquitoes. First order of the day tomorrow – buy a fan!
ROAD KILL – DAY SIX – JULY 28TH: Up for a cup of coffee and the adventure of riding into town. Gym didn’t open until 9 am, so I left the hotel on my “bike” at about 8:30 for a 15 minute ride into the center of the city. The bike had really small tires so I seemed to be pedaling twice as much as the people I passed. And, I never could get the guy at the hotel to lower the seat to the proper height. So, I sort of fall off every time I stop. I got great directions into the town (which should have been a straight shot) but KNEW that I would get lost. I ALWAYS build in at least 30 minutes to backtrack. Actually, I only made one wrong turn. My problem is, when I come out of a building, I can’t remember which direction I came from. I’m thinking of dropping pennies along the way…. Gym was great. Some man came over and tried to talk to me in Swedish. I told him I only speak English and of course, he thought I was from England. I figured out that he said he could also speak Spanish, German, and “France”. Told him I only spoke English and Japanese. He insisted on talking and I tried to tell him that we were here for a country music festival. I honestly never figured out what he was saying and I know he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. The only thing I do know he said was that he was from somewhere in Italy. So, wouldn’t you think he would speak Italian? Strange. Made the ride back to the hotel on the bike and only embarrassed myself once. I saw 4 of the musicians on bikes going into town and decided to wave to them. Big mistake. Nearly wiped out right in front of them. And, I was so proud of myself up until then…had my backpack with all my “gym stuff” and figured out how to use the bike lock and bike rack all by myself. By tomorrow, I’ll be a “pro” at this, I’m sure. I was laughing about the small tires and how hard I was having to pedal with one of the musicians. He said that he was pedaling HARD and some old guy passed him jogging! Our buyer handed me a key to a “rather expensive automobile” that he was leaving for us to use. Right. Like I should be driving around in Sweden. I don’t think so. Danni decided to “brave” it and we went shopping. I did waaay too much damage to my credit card because they had my favorite clothing store at a mall in the little town of Gavle. Our hosts took us out to dinner at a restaurant that was about a half hour drive from our hotel. It was in a beautiful building right on the Baltic Sea. It was located in the “middle of nowhere” but after eating the meal, I understand why the locals will make the drive. It was the most incredible fish I’ve ever eaten. The building was all dark wood – floors, ceiling, etc., and we sat in a glassed-enclosed area overlooking the water. I skipped breakfast and lunch but I think I made up all the calories at that meal! I got the scoop on the purple Norwegian flowers! They are actually called “Foxglove” and the leaves and flowers contain ~.017 percent digitalin, which is poisonous. Medicinally, digitalin is used to treat irregular heartbeat. Morphine actually comes from the sap of the opium poppy seed pod. Thanks, Al! Tomorrow we are taking a boat cruise around the islands to a small island in Finland. Should be beautiful if it doesn’t rain! Jude
ROAD KILL – DAY 7 – JULY 29TH: Quite the day for “adventure”. Got up and ran my 5 miles. Sweden is awesome for running or riding bikes. I think every road in the entire country must have a bike/jogging path beside it. It’s great but makes me want to run too far. Three of the musicians and I left with “Harry” our driver/host for the boat trip to Finland. We knew that the van trip would take about 1 ½ to 2 hours. But, we didn’t know that Harry had never been to the ferry landing before. After several wrong turns, we pulled in just in time to buy our tickets and hop on board. The ferry trip between Sweden and Finland took two hours. But, it was beautiful except that we went up on the upper deck and picked the wrong side to sit on – very windy and cold. So, we decided to “wander” around instead of sitting. We were told that when we landed, there would be a small town where we could shop for about an hour and then take the ferry back. The key word here is “small”. There was a “general store” by the ferry landing and an old Russian Post Office about a half mile away! It was possible to rent bikes and ride around the island but since we wanted to take the next ferry back which left in only one hour, we didn’t have time to do this. We started to make the trek to the Post Office as that was our only option and one of the musicians decided that he didn’t want to carry his bag with him. He asked the guy in the bike rental shop to “hold” it for him for about a half hour. I didn’t think that was a very good idea and Harry offered to carry it for him. But, he refused and left it and off we went for the “big adventure” at the post office. We walked back to catch the ferry only to find that the bike rental shop was closed and locked up tight. No one at the General Store or Tourist Information Office had a key to it. We were told that the owner would not return until another ship docked – about two hours later! We were about to miss our ferry and knew that the next one would not arrive until 3 hours later. I did not want to hang out there with nothing to do for another 3 hours. So, they held the ship for us and we left two of the musicians in Finland – waiting to retrieve the bag. Beautiful trip back but then Harry had to drive us 2 hours to the hotel, turn around and drive 2 hours back to pick up the other musicians and then drive another 2 hours to bring them back to the hotel. Poor Harry! I’m just hoping the musician got his bag back with everything in it. Did I mention that he had his passport and money in there? He may be living in Sweden for a while.
DAY EIGHT – JULY 30TH: Rode the bike into town again to work out at the gym and it was “painful” – not the workout, the bike ride. I’m still feeling the pain from Monday’s experience with the seat. Thought about taking a pillow out of the room and sitting on it. But, I’m already drawing attention by riding a bright red bike with a huge number on the front panel and the words Scandic Hotel on it. The bike looks like a little motor scooter – without the motor! The guy at the hotel who has to help me lower the seat does not want to work with me on this. For some reason, he does not want to lower it enough so that my feet can touch the ground. He was using angry “Swedish” with me this morning and shaking his head as I kept motioning “down, down”! Probably best that I didn’t know what he was saying. Our musician got his bag back – with everything in it. However, the owner did not return to the shop until 3 hours after we departed. No excuse – he just closes down for 3 hours when there are no ships in port! Several of us went to tour the Gevalia Coffee Factory today. And you’re saying, “why?”. It was one of the highlights of this trip. As you probably know, it is incredible coffee and cannot be purchased in the U.S. You must order it. The coffee beans come from all over the world and they have a large display case dedicated to things they find in the beans. Things like jewelry, cigarettes, knives, bugs – you name it! We got to go into their little employee store and purchase some items at their prices. I bought 15 bags of coffee and 7 boxes of candy for 211 Swedish Kroner. That’s about $25 U.S.! Everything in the factory is totally automated – no humans. It reminded me of the Coca-Cola Plant that we visit in Japan each year. We all had to put on little caps with nets attached to tuck our hair under and a long red “coat”. You must check out the website next week and look at that photo. We definitely looked like we were heading into surgery. This one factory roasts 80 tons of coffee a day and ships 9,000 tons every two weeks. The warehouse is at least 10 stories high and more than 10 stories deep. They also produce my favorite coffees that they only sell in the U.S. – Jamaica Blue Mountain and 100% Kona. The really strange thing is that the brands that they sell in the U.S. are not available in Sweden. Even the people at the plant have to call the U.S. and order it and have it shipped back to them. The Swedes cannot purchase beans here, only ground coffee! Another interesting tidbid is that they just hired a “coffee taster”. She is only 30 years old and does not drink coffee which made them very cautious about hiring her. She “tastes” 200 cups of coffee each day and has been training since she was 16 years old. There are only 5 coffee tasters in all of Sweden. The coffee tasting process is like wine tasting. They do not actually swallow any of the coffee. Can you imagine tasting 200 cups a day and actually swallowing it? You’d never sleep. Like I said, it was a fascinating experience and I’ve only barely touched on some of the highlights that I remembered. Tomorrow we journey into Stockholm.
DAY 9 – JULY 31ST Up early to jog and then off to Stockholm. It was about a 2 hour drive in vans. It’s been several years since I was in the city and I had forgotten my way around. NOT that I have any sense of direction even if I had been there last week. We split up and went our separate ways – some to museums and cathedrals and Danni and I to SHOP, of course. Walked all through old town and then went into the newer shopping district. There were so many great shops that it was just “overload”. Have a great lunch at a little sidewalk café and “people watched”. The Swedes are gorgeous – men and women! It was beautiful weather but unseasonably hot for Sweden at this time of the year. Tomorrow, it’s back to work – sound check and concert with 2 of the artists. We also get to visit the primate house and meet the lady who “talks” to the chimpanzees. Should be interesting.
DAY 10 – AUGUST 1ST: Sound check today at the Furuvik Amusement Park. It’s a beautiful park and a really nice stage. One of our drivers has a ’58 Chrysler Imperial Convertible so everyone was jockeying for a position to ride with him. Had to wait until after sound check to go to the gym because the one I like doesn’t open until 10 am on Fridays. FINALLY, when I’m not going to be riding the bikes anymore, I got one that the seat was all the way down on. My feet actually touched the ground when I sat on the seat! Harri, our sweet driver, had to go to the airport to pick up Stonewall Jackson this morning. (Stonewall is 71 years old and was traveling alone). Evidently, Stonewall put his return airline ticket and his watch in a plastic bag and then laid it on the conveyor belt when he was picking up his luggage in Stockholm. He told Harri that he had lost it, so they had to go file a claim. Then, he told Harri that his back was hurting too bad to walk to the van so Harri had to try and locate a wheelchair. Once he got Stonewall in the wheelchair, he had to push him and carry his luggage to the van – which he said was not parked “downhill”. He said he looked like he had stepped out of a shower by the time he got him to the van. Then he backed out of the parking place and only drove 10 feet before the van died. Had to call the rental agency and spent about a half hour waiting for them to bring another van. Stonewall went to the hotel and advised Harry that he wanted to sleep until 8:30 am the NEXT DAY. We went to the see the chimpanzees and their incredible trainer tonight. She really does talk to him and they see her as their leader. We visited with an Orangutan first and she was “lovely”. I fed her chewing gum and she drank from my water bottle. To get our attention, she “spit” at us. Charming! The male chimpanzee heard us in the other part of the room visiting with her. He would run around his cage screaming at the top of his lungs and hitting the metal walls as hard as possible. The trainer said he was showing us that he was the “boss”! She told us that for a new chimpanzee to be accepted by the others, they have to stick their rear end out first in the other ones face and then they have to stick their finger in the other ones’ mouth. The trainer had a “face off” with the male that was showing us he was the boss. He considers the trainer to be the “leader”. Every time we would start paying attention to any of the other chimps, the Orangutan would spit at us to get our attention. One of the little female chimps – Linda – had found an open door a few weeks ago and escaped. She LOVES to ride in cars and happened upon a worker in a golf cart so she jumped in with him. It scared him so bad, he wouldn’t move, much less drive. So she sat for a few minutes then realized he was not going to take her for a ride and hopped out. She went into a building that the park officials thought was vacant but learned that there was a 3 man cleaning crew inside. When the trainer arrived, she found Linda sitting at the table with the cleaning crew. Linda was eating all their food and the men were just sitting at the table too scared to move. We moved from the Chimps over to see the little spider monkeys. We were watching them jump around and feeding them. The trainer turned to me and said, do you want to feed them and held out her hand. In her palm were dozens of LIVE WORMS! Now, those of you who know me, KNOW that I am scared to death of worms. My biggest fear in life is that somehow a live worm will come in contact with my body. I let out a scream and ran which made all the monkeys scream and run. The musicians were between me and the doorway and I ran right over them on my way out. Met back up with the group in the room where the snakes were. They have Europe’s largest python and trust me, it was LARGE. When we entered, the trainer said that the snakes are roaming freely and that one of them was “missing”. That was all I needed to hear. Although, I can accept snakes better than I can worms. The trainer picked up six snakes and came walking around with them. The show was incredible. Danni did two encores and the audience loved her. The Billy Block band has some fantastic musicians and the audience and our buyers were very pleased.
DAY 11 – AUGUST 2ND: Sound check today with Stonewall Jackson and Heather Myles. Typical “second day” at the festival site. The musicians and driver decided that there was no reason for them to depart 15 minutes earlier than the artist and that everyone should just ride over together. Of course, there were too many people for everyone to ride together, so we had to take two vehicles. Then, when we arrived at the site, the production company still didn’t have power to the stage. So the artist had to wait about 20 minutes for the band to set up and begin the sound check/rehearsal. Fortunately, the artist was Stonewall Jackson and he was very patient. To make matters even more confusing, a group of young Russian musicians had been added to the show lineup. They arrived at exactly the same time we did thinking they were gong to sound check first. But, everything worked out fine and we were able to depart back to the hotel by noon. I ran my 5 miles into town but got caught in a rainstorm about 1 mile before I arrived back at the hotel. Fortunately, it was very hot and the rain just felt good. Tonight is our last show and we fly back to the U.S. tomorrow. I was dreading the week of downtime in Sweden, but it went amazingly fast. Could not have asked by better hosts or musicians/artists. Everyone has had a great time and I know the promoter is pleased with the performances. My battery on my sonicare toothbrush died last night, so I KNOW it’s time to go home! The last show was great. It’s a good feeling to know that you can return to the U.S. with happy promoters, fans, artists and musicians. I do so love my job.
DAY 12 – AUGUST 3RD: Couple of hours sleep then off to the airport. Everyone was on time and the drive only took 1 ½ hours as opposed to our anticipated 2 hours. I was amazed at the lack of people departing Stockholm on a Sunday morning. All summer we’ve had to stand in long lines at the check-in counters. We had plenty of time to do some last minute shopping once we cleared immigration. I visited the “Water Closet” (toilet) one last time where there was a long line. The doors on the individual stalls went all the way from the ceiling to the floor and someone was “trapped” inside one of these. She was fumbling with the doorknob and screaming something in a language that I didn’t recognize. Obviously it wasn’t Swedish as no one else in the restroom was able to make her understand anything. Someone left to find assistance but the lady finally turned the bolt the correct way and emerged. She appeared to be from India and was definitely panic-stricken. I was convinced of two things – I would definitely get trapped inside as well and she would be sitting by me on the flight. Fortunately, I didn’t get trapped and although she was on our plane, she was not sitting with me. Arrived Amsterdam with no problems with a 2 hour layover. However, because of their security checks, you are supposed to go into the gate area 1 ½ hours prior to departure. Of course, not everyone does this. However, I’ve found that it’s an excellent way to keep from spending more money in the shops! Had there been a massage bar enroute, however, I would have partaken of that luxury. If Sweden is “famous” for their Swedish Massages, they definitely keep their locations a secret. We tried several times to arrange one and it seems that every masseuse chose that week to go on vacation! Flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was painless. Landed in Detroit to find that our flight to Nashville is delayed at least one hour. Went in the World Club to ask the attendant why the flight was delayed. When I walked up to the counter she smiled and said, “Celine, right?”. I just smiled back and say, “Yes.” She said, “I’ll bet you get that a lot, right?”. I assured her that yes, I do, but that IF I were Celine I would not be stuck in the Detroit airport waiting for a flight that had been delayed. I’d be in my private jet headed for Las Vegas. Oh well, came full circle – right back to the conversation I had at the airport the day I departed for the Scandinavian tour. Jude