Pohoda Festival, Trencin Slovakia

After a week of rehearsing, gigging, drinking and enjoying the hospitality of Frank and Louie London it's off to Trencin Slovakia to perform at the Pohoda Music Festival with Frank's Klezmer Brass All Stars and Boban Markovic's Okestar. There's a lot to tell about this trip, but I'm not certain I can share it all. (Earlier in the week Frank laid a copy of Absursbistan on me and I must give it a hearty recommendation.)

Today I'm flying Czech Airways which means I'm assured to fly in a plane that Delta Airlines deemed unfit to fly many, many years ago. The only possible positive is that they still hand out free booze on board and I ask for a Becherovka and a Pivo. Only too late I remember that I hate that crap and coupled with a probably gamey tuna salad sandwich I am reduced to clutching the handy air sickness bag within a few hours. The only other event to report was the little old Czech-American lady who was so unhappy to be sitting next to a tattooed fat guy that she literally cried until they found her someplace else to sit. Fine by me as now I get an open seat for the 9 hour flight. I arrive at the Bratislava airport just in time to get in line behind the folks who came off an Air Kuwait flight. It's all turbans and burkhas and fat Okie in the passport line, which takes nearly 40 minutes to be processed by the surliest looking border cops I've even seen. After finding my horn has in fact arrived safely, I spy a friendly gal and a taciturn gent holding a sign with my name on it as finally get through the Nothing to Declare line and into the very hot airport.

Europe is experiencing a genuine killer heatwave this week and it's well over 40 degrees Celsius, which it pretty damn unbearably hot. Now, I'm from a place where it gets real hot too, but we are a Freon based society in Texas and you are never far from an AC unit. Not so much here, in fact, Slovakia has no AC period. As a fold up in the back of the Mercedes S Class cab, I make mental note to find a table fan somewhere. Additionally, I had assumed that I was to be staying in Bratislava for the night and had made plans to hook up for a hang with my old buddy Samo Alexander of the Pressburger Klezmer Band. I awake from my cab ride to find myself in Trencin, some 2 hours and in many respects, an entire world away. There is no phone at the hotel, nor is there one anywhere near there. And Internet connection? Yeah right. I have no way to signal my whereabouts to anyone, nor do I know when and where I need to be. In other words, I am right back in Eastern Europe. For me, it's the only vacation I ever get.

For reasons only my travel agent will be able to explain, I am here 2 days ahead of the event and will be departing a day after it's over. The plane (and bus as it turns out) tickets were the most expensive I've seen to date, and bear in mind I am traveling from NYC and not Texas this time. A lot of things happened while I was there. I played and hung out with trombonist Noah Bless and drummer Richie Barshay for the first time, as they were on this date and not familiar with the Brotherhood of Brass show. I got to stroll around quite a bit with Merlin Shepherd whose entertaining company I have missed a great deal. And I had my mind completely blown by a series of events that I am, for now, choosing not to share here. Rather I will simply give a quick photo play of the positives. Like food, which was uniformly trayf and wonderful.

Like many E. European hotels, it has a cafe attached and this trip food was on the Festival, so lunch and dinner were had quite handily.

Here's the house Garlic Soup, which has a chicken broth base rather than the creamier version I am used to. Big honking croutons and goat cheese to top it off. Followed by,

Chicken cutlets, lightly pan fried, covered in cheese and served on a bed of cucumber and tomato salad. It was listed as an appetiser, so I sprung for the french fries on the side. It was quite enough by itself however.

What you learn quickly when you travel over here is that the staples of the local diet, meats and vegetables, are just so much better than what you find back home. Here they are don't mess around with fancy antibiotics for the cattle, genetically altered grains or heavy pesticides. It's mostly "organic" by default. And people, here the simple flavor of a diced tomato just blows up in your mouth, and I mean that in a good way.

On to lunch the next day,

Evidently the locals like to stuff chicken breasts with all manner of things and then fry them. At the all night bar and grill down the road I treated clarinetist Matt Dariau (dude, you owe me) to a few rounds of Pilsner Urquell and a breaded, pan fried, chicken breast stuffed with cheese and sausage served with the ubiquitous cucumbers and tomatoes. Today back at the hotel I opt for a similar dish, this time stuffed with cheese and a pear. Not appetising on paper maybe but quite delicious I assure you.

Merlin went for the "Pork Parts Platter" as we called it.


This is indeed a Swine based food culture.

Random photo play:
On of several Slovakian youth seen adjusting their "Nigger" costume in anticipation of a set from the Wu Tang Clan. Please note actual black face.

There is so much more I could share about this sight and many others. I have in fact written it all down, but I'm not sure that I'm comfortable airing those experiences in a public forum. You may contact me offline should you wish to inquire further. Let's just say I'm not adding Slovakia to my travel plans again anytime soon.

Note please a damn decent Kolache served in the backstage area. This is the first kolache I've been presented with in it's native land and I must say the mix of cream cheese, poppy seed and cherry (the 3 customary fillings) all together in one serving was mighty fine indeed. Take note you bakers in Caldwell Texas for next years Kolache Festival.

Here I am meeting Mustapha, Boban's new bass man. My mentor Sasa Alisanovic has disappeared as if into the ether, and in an almost Mafia like silence no one will dare share with me the details. (Word on the street is that he has since returned to play for a rival group so that he can tour with his son, but it's all hearsay at this point.) The new kid is like every Serbian Rroma tuba player I've encountered, stunningly talented and funkier that the funkiest bass player you ever heard. He's nimble and facile, but he lacks the power and authority that Sascha threw down. I'm sad, but I'll give Mustapha a break as he's stepping into a giant's shadow.


Here's Marko Markovic jamming out with Nelle backstage. Yes, Matt, that's your clarinet, no he didn't ask your permission and that's what you get when you leave things laying about backstage at a Boban gig. BTW: Marko can kick ass on clarinet which is astounding when you realize what an incredible trumpeter he is.

Some pre-gig jamming backstage with Noah getting his first taste of the Boban i Marko throwdown.

Here's Richie with the giant projection screen behind him. The big round thing is Mustapha's Helicon bell which will be in my right ear all night. Did I mention they had smoke machine for the gig?
Here's what Richie had to contend with the whole gig long. He's in there, I promise, I could hear him....

Here's some of the estimated 20,000 folks who saw the show.

So we get a day to walk around the Festival, where I do eventually find Samo and spend an evening surveying the immense old Soviet era air force base that the festival is held on. (Samo is sweet kid and leads a great band. He's getting married soon as well. I wish I wasn't so out of it, but I did enjoy his company very much.) There are literally thousands of people set up in a huge tent village and as anyone who's been to Banaroo or some such will tell you, these people have to shit someplace. I blow my last Slovak Crowns on a Klobasa and Fries, check out Konono No. 1's amazing set and find a driver to take me back to the hotel.

We are to be picked up at said hotel at 5am so we be driven across the border into the Czech Republic to catch a Czech Airways Bus from Brno to Prague. No problem really, except for the wedding party that is going on across the Vaha River from our hotel. It's a traditional Slovak affair complete with I'd reckon a 15 piece brass band. They are pumping polkas and waltzes, all sing a longs evidently, until 4:45 am I shit you not. Now, I personally would have gone over and joined in the festivities, but the only bridge to cross the river was nearly 2 miles away and they would have wrapped up before I even got there, I imagined. So, I stay up and meet the driver.

Along with Noah and Richie, we pile into the Mercedes and peel out into the Slovak countryside which is in a word breathtaking. A short stop at the border and we're off to Brno at what looks to be just in time to comfortably make the bus. Our driver pulls into the Brno Civic bus station at precisely 7:15 am, helps us take our stuff out and bid farewell as he must do this all over again for someone else.

Something tells me that we're not at the right place, so I rush over to the ticket counter. Nobody speaks English, but when I wave my ticket at them they say "City Zetrum, Hotel Grand, that way" pointing north. Oh crap. We have but 15 minutes to find the City Center and the the Hotel Grand. I hassle a cabbie in my worst German and he says it's about 10 minutes walk, head north. If I had either Slovak Crown or Euro I would have employed him. But no, we sprint as fast as our luggage (I'm hauling a tuba remember) will allow. I tell Richie, the smallest and most fit of our party to haul ass ahead. Through combined effort we suss out both the City Center and then the Hotel Grand, across from which we see a whole other bus stop and one with a gleaming new Czech Airways bus idling. We rush up to the open door just in time to hear the last call, stuff our gear into the overstuffed compartments, give our tickets to the stewardess (yes, on a bus, she served us drinks and a snack as well) and collapse into the last 3 open seats. The stops on the way out of town and drops off the stewardess and we're off to the Prague Airport. I fall asleep, for the first time on a moving vehicle in a long time.

I awake to find us at the Airport, but arriving right at the time we should be boarding. Another series of combined sprinting and hauling and we find ourselves at the ticket counter. Richie is cool and get's checked in. I have no hassle. But Noah's ticket isn't there. In the confusion of being late, the bus stewardess has taken Noah's Flight Coupon rather than his bus ticket! Most places this is a no-brainer, as all his info in in the computer and it's a non-problem. But here is Former Sovietistan, 13 years after the wall falls and they still can't move or even think without consulting a supervisor. This too wouldn't be an issue, except OUR PLANE IS BOARDING. Long, upsetting story short, he's issued a boarding pass and we're all on the plane. Again, for the first time in my life, I fall soundly asleep on the plane. This time passing on the crappy local booze and the tuna salad.

When I return to JFK I realize I had not made any arrangements to crash with anybody and I can't get anybody on the phone. As hot and tired as I was I make the decision to simply hit a hotel near the airport, loathe though I am to afford such. I negotiate a price with a Best Western, check in, set the AC to "stun," called out for a pizza and slept 18 hours. Recharged and refreshed, I set out to the Workman's Circle building to stash my horn at the Living Traditions basement office and seek out something to do before I headed off to Block and Hexter for the KlezKamp Roadshow.

I headed off to Brooklyn, a place I didn't know so well, even having played for it's celebration of late.I am grateful to the Sokolov-Gottesman's for putting me up in Brooklyn and for a pleasant dinner with Joey Weisenberg. And to Matt Moran who took me out for a drink and live music even after attending the memorial of his good friend. On Tuesday, I observed Tish B'Av by reading magazines at the Barnes and Noble and then seeing "Live Free or Die Harder" at the neighborhood cinema.

It's a good time as any to reflect that the things we may have around us pale in the comparison of the friends and relationships we form. Away from Texas and my relatively comfortable surroundings I note that it is only through my friends that I have been able to experience the things I have. Those experiences and those friends made along the way are more dear to me than any thing I could possibly posses.

May I also share with you this little secret. If I should, heaven forbid, pass from this Earth for any reason anytime soon, I want anybody reading this to know well that I have had a wonderful time and it's all OK. No, really, it's been a solid blast. I may be broke without a pot to piss in, but screw it, the saddest folks I know have plenty of money. My version of a mid-life crisis now is that I need new goals, as all of my goals up to now have been attained. And that, friends, are the words of a very, very lucky man.