Report from Klezmer Festival Fürth

Last month I had the great pleasure of joining the teaching staff of the bi-annual Klezmer Festival Fürth in Germany. It's a lot like the other Klez Kamp knockoffs that have sprung up around the world, but this one is only a weekend long and hyper intensive. Josh Hororwitz leads the staff and I was tapped by Alex Kontorovich to perform with a German Goldenshteyn tribute ensemble.

It was a LONG flight from Austin to Atlanta, then Paris, finally to Nurenburg and then a short drive (with a wonderfully pleasant driver) to the old town of Fürth. Lucky for me, the event was run with typically European efficiency; a mixture of respect, conviviality and payment in a currency that isn't tanking a little bit more every day. I was also pleased to find a bar with a fine selection of Cuban cigars, which I relished smoking at every free moment. Yup, they really are that much better than the Dominicans we poor Yankees get now.

High lights for me included playing and hanging out with the Hungarian members of Budowitz, who by the way sounded simply amazing at their Thursday night concert. Along with the estimable talents my old pal Cookie on fiddle and Christian Dawid on reeds, Josh's early music approach to Jewish music was made all the more relevant and vibrant by this "Mutt & Jeff" trio of Tanzhaus musicians. Besides being some of the finest players I've been around, and I'm referring to the rest of Budowitz for instance, these cats bring a joi de vrie to their playing, on stage and off, that is simply inspiring. I sat in on their workshop when I wasn't teaching and as per usual learned more myself than the students, maybe. (Their names are Tamás Gombai, Sándor D.Tóth and Zsolt Kürtösi in case you were wondering No, I can't pronounce them either.)

For the first day I was teaching ensemble performance along side Aaron Alexander and Dan Blacksburg who as usual did most of the heavy lifting. They had to split the next day, so it was left me to to rehearse the student ensemble. These students I found to be at turns eager to learn and techincally quite advanced not only on their instruments, but in style and repertoire. Jewish music has really made deep inroads in Germany, with repercussions I can hardly imagine.

Well, after a day of teaching from 8am-5pm, it was back to the hotel, and quick bite at the venue's own restaurant and then straight to a performance. The German Goldenshteyn ensemble featured all but 2 folks who played on his CD, and in their absence the addition of all the members of Budowitz. It was a mighty big band, but with almost no rehearsal (adhering to the Frank London school of "it's all in the casting" style of band leadership) young Kontorovich did an admirable job of intoning German's material. Hard to do when the tuba player was weeping uncontrollably between sets.

OK, so the next day it's more 8-5 teaching offset by a lovely lunch with a new best friend, Vira Lozinsky . She was born in Moldavia and raised in Israel, she came as vocal instructor. She's a "keeper" as we say back home, a fine combination of wit, skill and talent. This is deep praise, as many of you know how much I don't normally care for singers. But I hear she cut a record with Toronto's Beyond the Pale, and I'll be looking for it.

So then there was the student concert. I'll let the local press take it from here:

Ok, so it's in German and small, so here's a translation from Josh:

"The eleven teachers gave their all to take the 55 students under their wing. The spontaneously formed combos sounded as if they had already been playing for ages with each other. Perhaps the secret was to choose pieces that lay well, often ones in slower tempo, but in the completely full hall of the Klangforum (Culture Hall,) one didn’t notice that. Mark Rubin, one of the few musicians who waves the klezmer flag high in Texas, distinguished himself virtuosically amidst his students...."

The smiling clarinet player from the newspaper photo, Katrin, is who sent me the clipping. After the show, she told me she felt terrible and that she and her fellow students didn't do a good job. I assured her that nothing could be further from the truth, and I promised her I wasn't lying. I very glad to see the local reporter backed me up on that point.

With any luck I'll see some of these same folks at the Klezmer Week in in Weimar, where I'll be on staff as part of the Other Europeans' project.


Canadians at SXSW

So out of the blue the other day my old buddies Katie Moore and Josh Doglin (aka DJ SoCalled) give me a ring to tell me that they at the SXSW Conference site and are literally begging to be picked up and "rescued." This is not an uncommon experience for me actually, so I have a game plan all laid out for the out of town guest who has become overwhelmed by the crush of the conference. I haven't see either of these folks since they were on the bill with me in Krakow last summer, so we have a lot to catch up on.

The enchanting Ms. Moore wrote of the evening's hi jinks at her blog at the Montreal Gazette entitled "Drive By Mariachi" and Josh at "Austin Heats Up."

For the record, it's Sam's BBQ, Mariachi Relampago, and James Invelt sat in for the ailing Dale Watson.


Bad Livers inducted into Austin Music Hall of Fame

Yeah, I was surprised as the next guy. See what happens when you walk away for 8 years? I put on a clean shirt and headed down to the Austin Music Hall to pick up the honor, which is chosen by the readers of the Austin Chronicle. I'm a well documented blow hard who talks way too much on stage, so I asked Danny to craft some thank you notes which I read at the awards ceremony. Here they are:

"I would like to thank the Austin music fans and musicians that saw fit to honor the Bad Livers in this way. I just wanted to say that the band worked so very, very hard.

It would be difficult for someone not directly involved to realize the magnitude of this statement. We really believed we were changing things for the better. We were trying to infect the world with our passionate love of all things music, and our desire to make something "happen." We put in untold thousands of hours, wore out more than one van, and even endured several near death experiences.

It makes me feel proud that you guys are recognizing the efforts of the Bad Livers. I think I can speak for the band and say we always felt like we were doing something really great. Thank you for letting us know that you felt that way as well. My sincere hope is that others will come up with their own idea of music, ignore alien orders and develop the concept as far as possible. "

- Danny Barnes, 3/12/08

I do indeed agree with all that. I mean, have you ever found yourself on stage in some hopelessly crappy dive, say in Universal City Texas (thanks again Nancy Fly Agency,) grinding out a $30 a man gig in front of an increasingly hostile audience, thinking to yourself "what the hell am I doing here? Is this are there is?" Folks, we literally risked our lives daily out on the highways of these United States just trying to get from Lawrence KS to Iowa City IA in time for a sound check, (which is silly really as sound checks never help but you have to play ball and go through these silly rituals in the music biz .) And hardly anyone shows up and you break a $125 bass string, and then beg the sound man for a place to crash.

You have to really, really believe in the validity of what you are doing to accept these, and lo so many more inequities to present original musical thoughts out into the world. We toured well nearly 500 dates before we released our first CD for instance, entirely counter to accepted wisdom. We passed on crappy record deal offers from the usual suspect folk labels, and went with a wonderful punk rock label who was as surprised as us that we asked to be on their roster. Over the years we employed graphic designers and t-shirt makers, booking agents and publicists, all of whom we accepted as part of our creative team.

We didn't do it for the chicks (we were married or much like it and always loyal,) we didn't do it for the dope and beer (we were stone sober, Danny was a youth minister at his church for a time) and we sure didn't do it for the fame, which really never shone on us, even after we scored every good break an artist could ever hope for. We were passed over time and time again by big time music biz managers who took meetings with us and passed, considering us "un-manageable." We wore out 4 booking agents, 3 vans and a fiddler. And starngest we're still around to talk about it.

Year later I am proud to state that when a decision needed to be made, the answer was the one that best served our music and not "career" in the business. We committed ourselves to our music alone. It was, and seems to still be, a revolutionary concept.

For my part, I was always sure that what Dan and I were doing was important. That even if we weren't catching the ear (or the pocketbooks) of the people today, someday, maybe long after I'm dead, the body of work we created would be fully appreciated. Seems as though we had a positive influence out in the world, if only evidenced by the number of amazing young traditional musicians of every stripe which cite us as an inspiration.

But with this little gift of public validation, I am reminded that yes indeed, it is possible that my misspent youth out on the road may actually have amounted to something. I'm also blessed to be around to kvell, even just a little bit.

Oh, and what I forgot to say at the Awards show is that we have a couple of dates on the books for this year. We've been invited to perform at the Pickathon up in Oregon in August and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in SF in October. If schedule and interest allow, there might be a few more. Who knows?

I never imagined I'd be in a Hall of Fame anywhere either.......


The ugly rumors are in fact true...

Bad Livers have in fact booked a couple of dates this year. Dan and I have been invited to perform at the 10th annual Pickathon up near Portland in August, and then down over to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco later in the year. Bob Grant has signed on to be the third leg (from the "popular Sugar Hill era line up" according to the Pickathon website,) and I'm going back and trying to find old copies of our recorded output to woodshed our old material.

I'll be honest with you, I'm just as interested in attending these events as playing them as the line up of acts are just killer.

And for the record, I don't really recall ever "breaking up." I just remember nobody booking us for any more gigs, and me not minding so very much about it. Its what my jazz playing buddies in NYC call it taking a "quiet time," which in our case lasted damn near 8 years. Dan's been out there busting his ass on the road ever since I dropped out, so I guess I can thank his diligence for the renewed interest in our oeuvre.

And I always selfishly thought that we had a hand in changing how people thought about American traditional music, and in a good way too. Here in Austin, and out on the road in far flung places like Belgrade and Genoa as well, I meet young musicians all the time who were influenced either by our live performances or our records. Many a nice person has dropped me a line to tell me how meaningful this gig or that tune was to them. Many of them were still in Middle School, or younger, when we stopped working in fact.

The prospect of one of these aging punk rockers out on a "reunion" tour is not my idea of fun, I am after all already fat and cantankerous. But....they did call us and ask politely. So might as well come out and see what the kids are up to these days. I like to play music. I like Dan's material, which holds up very well over the years. Bob's a fine guy to hang around with. What's not to like?

Oh yeah, and to answer the inevitable question: are you going to play my town/festival, ect..let me direct you to Barnes' blog and follow those instructions. As Danny likes to say, for nearly a decade, we held up our end of the touring-performing thing.