Middle European Tour Journal-Ridculous Headgear

This Tours Collection of Ridiculous Headgear

As is my tradition, I procured several examples of the local cover. Here's this years collection, this time all from Belgrade Serbia:

Chetnik hat If I were a rich man... kepi

1) A Traditional Serbian Shropshepka, in Chetnik Black, purchased in the Belgrade open air market. As dear to Serbs as the beret is to the French. (Bit of a grave political statement associated with this cap however. Not something you wear on a trip to Croatia if you can dig.)

2) Also called a shropshekpa, but a more modern design and not too unlike a "Greek Fisherman's" cap. Purchased directly fromthe shop that makes them on Balkan Ave., walking distance from our hotel.

3) Given to me as a present by my generous local host and musician Djordje Stijepovic. It is a traditional Montenegrin hat that was actually his when he was a child. He explains: "the 5 gold bands represent the 500 years of Turkish occupation and the Serbian Orthodox cross (a cross with a C in each corner) stands for Serbians United will Never Fail." I'm deeply touched by his gesture.


Middle European Tour Journal-Serbia to Vienna

From Vladichin Han, Serbia to Vienna

Over breakfast in the lovely courtyard of the Hotel Han, our driver (standing far right in this photo), who let us know straight off that he had 2 passports and there by could "go anywhere" (he has a Serbian AND Croatian passport) was grumbling. "Tziganes (gypsies) don't like me..mumble mumble.." Evidently Sascha felt he had been drinking too much, too much to drive us safely. Sasha calls his boss and chews him out royally. Hence, "gypsies don't like me." We are soon met by Boban's boys, driving a formerly Austrian Ford Transporter van, their normal of mode conveyance in Serbia, all 14 of 'em with gear.

We drive briskly to Belgrade and to catch a plane to Vienna. Along the way our still grumbling driver points outs various bridges and public buildings along the route. "Here..NATO..bomba..." I reckon I hear this 7 times, so when Merlin suggest we uncork the "Yellow Wasp" slivovitz he picked up in Belgrade airport, I heartily agree. It's 11 am and we've begun a trend. By 1 pm we're passing the "famed" Beograd Air Museum, featuring a wide array of rotting detritus courtesey former Warsaw pact aircraft dating to 1949, before entering the airport area proper. We bid a final farewell to our ever grumbling, most likely gypsy-hating driver.

When we originally arrived at the Beograd Aerodrom a few days prior and were promptly charged 55 Euros each to enter the country (up from 10 Euros just the week before,) we joked sardonically " I wonder how much will it cost to get out." 800 Dinar (12 Euros) is the answer. It's the "Airport tax" to get past the Serbian Customs officials. Now we need to get actual Visas to get back in for our appearance at the Ring Ring Festival here in Belgrade next week. The ever helpful Bojan says don't worry, he'll take care of it and we, completely out of our safe American element believe him. (As always and true to his word, he did indeed make all arrangements.)

The Vienna experience was all and all a little too weird for words. It's a live concert broadcast for the opening of the Vienna Festival Week, evidently quite a big deal. Austrian State TV (ORT) is set up to broadcast the concert ALL over Europe.

Normally the opening is your standard old fasioned, snooty classical performance. But in recent years they've tried to spice it up with high concept and a more adventureous talent booking policy. This year they've employed a movie production company to try and pull it off.

This year's high concept theme is of Vienna as the central station of the "Station Europa." Very, very "Spockets" we come to understand but we are being paid to play along. Paid quite a bit actually. Our best guess is that we're here to speak for Jews and Boban the Rroma, in some small way somewhat absolving these racist bastards of thier barely contained contempt of our two cultures. (uh, sorry, but these Austrians want you to think that they did the world a favor, and come to think of it, they're the victims of WW2. But I digress...) The music we're playing is all from Bregorivich soundtracks, essentially stuff he lifted from Serbian bands like Boban, so it's nice to see him getting a paycheck too.

There are to be THREE DAYS OF REHERSAL, as in all Austrian functions nothing will be left to chance. But we come to find that majority of the music for the important grand finale is all sequenced on tape. Even so, they are micro managing everything to the littlest detail. It is after all, going to be broadcast all over Europe. The real work for us is getting with the locals we're supposed to play with in the concert proper, which turns out to be more work than we originally planned.

Highlights Include:

The combined Brotherhood of Brass is to collaborate with a local acapella hip hop quartet called Bauchlang. Sounds awful on paper, but they actually rock. One fella makes a beat box sound with his nasal cavity, holding the mic up to his nose. Susan inquires if that's a normal thing or something he came up with. He figgers it's all his own, and I'm apt to agree. Rehearsals prove daunting what with 3 languages in play, but Frank, chaos being his element, pulls it off very well.

A local cat named Otto Lechner was hired on accordion to play a number with us; great player, even better rancountuer. We get the idea to break down to a smaller combo for his tune adding Sascha and Dragu from Boban's band to back him up, though I sit it out. Sounds very cool and looks even better.

A hip local string trio called Trilogy layed out a pretty cool version of Kraftwerk's "The Model." One of the violin players wears a shirt that from a distance looks like a "CK" Calvin Klein shirt, which in actual fact says "FuCK me." He even gets it past the censors unnoticed. We decide we like him.

There's a really lousy Kraut rock band on the bill as well, shipped in from Germany. Though they are nice kids and some of us hang a bit after the second day of rehearsals. Sweet kids. Dumb as potatoes.

As our rehearsals are scheduled for evening time, to reflect the exact natural light that will be present show time, we have our mornings completely free. Frank, Curtis and I pay a visit to the famed Nacht Markt. We find many goodies to basically provide our own craft service for the rehersals as these lousy Austrians don't. Organic tomatoes, spicy sausage and goat cheese, fresh bread, olives and dried kiwi and other fruits are on our backstage menu. Not to mention sauerkraut.

In the Market, we meet Leo the famed local kraut and gherkin maker. That's a whole story on its own. We take many photos of his stall and decide to make him his own web site.

Since I am on a diet and all I decide to walk my ass off. In a city with so much culture I decide to start with the Modern Art Museum, filled with cutting edge and avant guard works , and end in the Ferdinand I exhibit at the National Museum across the street, filled with suits of armor and Rembrandts. Four and a half hours and I'm museum out (and they we're over 10 bucks each to enter so now I'm broke.)

Just prior to our big performance, Curtis takes Frank and me to the best schnitzel house in town. (Weiner-schnitzel, get it?) An amazing little joint called the Figmueller. As is evidently the custom there, the waiter basically tells us what we're having, we nod and he brings us what he thinks we should have. And it's great. A 15" round pork steak beaten to a thin pulp, lightly breaded and pan fried, served with a lemon slice, a fresh salad and red wine. Whoo-eee.

Amazingly the show actually goes well. The whole square is packed to the gills (around 17,000 they reckoned) and evidently millions are tuning in at home as well, as it was broadcast live on all the German speaking chanels in Europe. Each individual act's segment is great though the big grand finale is just a soulless and corny as it was rehearsed.

Here's a preveiw from the local paper:

In the morning Boban's Hungarian bodyguard- drivers meet us at the hotel to take us to Szeged Hungary.

Middle European Tour Journal-Szeged Hungary


It's a mighty long drive from Vienna in a really tiny Hyundai mini van. I'm pretty certain we don't have an equivalent vehicle here in the States. For some unknown reason, the caravan of 3 vans taking both bands has avoided the toll roads, which are in every way comparable to a normal US highway. Being the largest member of the group, I'm given the front passenger seat, but I can tell that my fellow travelers have literally no leg room and look packed in like sardines in a can. We're given some respite with a nice meal at a road side stop midway in the day. But then we fold ourselves up and it's back to the back roads again.

The city center itself is quite beatiful, but rather than sight see we are delivered straight to the hotel. Tonight's accommodations are early post communist miserable: a 4th floor room with no fan or AC and a single window without a curtain. The bed is what I think we call a daybed over here, something quite a bit less than a single. Quite a job for me to lay my wide frame on it with any comfort. It's hot like hell and I'm going to be an unhappy camper I can tell. Sadly for him, drummer Aaron Alexander and I share a room.

Good news is, the job site is amazing.

Both bands play totally acoustic and we are very well received by a packed house.

After a post show dinner they take me and Frank to the local TESCO, which is basically a huge WalMart open 24hrs. (Where's my camera!!!) We goof under the florescent lights on the huge selection on liquors,

including TESCO brand
Slivovitz, TESCO brand whisky, TESCO brand vodka, ect.. I imagine seeing a "Victory Gin." I buy a rotating fan, some bungee cords to salvage my fast falling apart tuba carrier and a package of the locally famous Peck brand Szegedi Paprika sausage.

Despite his claims to the contrary, Aaron doesn't snore too loud and now with a cool breeze (4999.99 Forints worth) I get a decent nights sleep.

As we check out, I come to find that there are in fact some very nice rooms in this hotel, some even with air conditioning. We were simply given rooms on the "economy" floor. Rooms in fact reserved for "gypsies" and other not first class guests. Very quickly, we are beginning to see bit of what it's like to be treated as a Rroma band in the hands of a Hungarian concert promoter and not our Serbian pal Bojan, who is looking better and better every day.

After a meager hotel meal, It's a short drive to Budapest.


Middle European Tour Journal-Budapest


Like the day before the drivers won't take the toll roads so the drive is needlessly long and dangerous, what with single lane passing and all. Better news is that Hotel is much nicer than last night, but as far from the venue or anything interesting as can be. My room has a working TV with BBC and CNN, curtians on the window and a fan, so no complaints. There's even internet connection in the lobby. (Susan tells me she got AC in her room, note to self 1st floor is the nicest rooms in East Europe)

We inquire the front desk about where we can good bowl of goulash. He can't think of anytyhing near there, but he does ask the chef of the resturant next door what he can do. He whips up a decent goulash special for us and there's plenty of Zwack Kosher Slivo at the bar and a nice fresh salad to boot, so all is well.

Not for long however as we're carted to the jobsite which is a mess. It's essentialy a barely renovated industrial space, acoustically a nightmare with no backstage to boot. There's a local fake gypsy opener (nice kids, but nothing either original or interesting which is strange seeing as killer Rroma bands play Budapest all the time.) so we head over to find grub before the show.

We run into Bob Cohen and his girlfriend Fume who lays a bottle Romanian moonshine, a handful of killer CDs and cassettes on us and then takes us to a nearby resturant. (Merlin gets Fume's famed homemade rice balls.) I get the Ziguenersteak topped with a crown of porkfat and am not disapointed. I am in Atkins-land.

Bob tells us the barn we're playing in tonight is part of a European Union sponsored/funded boondoggle that has been eating up hard currency for years now. Evidently we were originally scheduled to play someplace cooler, but agin we see what iot's like to be promoted by someone other than our pal Bojan.

Opener sounds terrible, but can't determine if they suck or the room sucks. I reckon it's probably a 60/40 split. (Bob claims they're ok, but the singer is the best thing about them and we can't hear her at all over the general caterwall.) In a desperate attempt to rescue our show, we decide to create some kind of sense theater for our set. We make and acoustic entrance walking down a long walkway that spans over the audience. It totally works and we have a great set. Boban rocks as well. Despite all earlier indications it's a great show.

After the show we head over to a hip local hangout called Castro's with a very drunk Bob. He's trying to get me to expatriate and hunt down cool music with him. "Don't live vicariously!!," repeats loudly and often. He introduces us to a dark and evidently dangerous Romanian woman who's name translates to Kali (the Hindu godess of destruction and chaos.) Frank and I walk her and her friend home while she jumps up on truck beds and sings politically volitile gypsy songs, loudly, through the roughest neighborhood I've yet encountered in E. Europe. We arrive safely at the hotel and prepare for another cramped trip to Belgrade.

Following morning I get more great sausage from a local corner market and some killer Hungarian folk on CD. This time we take the toll road to Serbia.