Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kamelot 2009 Euro Tour – March 22, 2009

It is 9:30 PM. I am in the upstairs back lounge of the bus and we are on our way to Wolverhampton, UK which will take all of tonight and all of tomorrow (when you include the mandatory 9 hour rest stop for the bus driver required by law in Europe). We've finished 2 very successful shows and here's the story so far...

March 19

After several days of pre production and rehearsal in Pulheim, Germany, the huge double decker tour bus arrived to pick us up. This tour we have a top of the line “Red Car” bus with 16 beds upstairs (2 up front with private lounge) and a huge back lounge, also upstairs. Two of the beds were removed to provide a giant wardrobe closet... very nice. Downstairs has tables and seating for 12, a couch and galley with 2 small refrigerators, a Euro coffee machine and an ice machine. We have plenty of beer, water, juice, snacks and sandwiches oh and yeah, there is a bathroom (for number 1 ONLY please). This bus is beautiful and so big that there is more than enough space for all 14 of us. Our driver, Bjorn, from Sweden is a great driver and keeps the bus immaculate. I love this bus.

As is normal for a Kamelot tour, we are carrying a fairly massive lighting system which arrived taking up half the trailer and as always, we managed somehow to fit all the gear in as well. I can always expect very serious physical workouts on these tours. We finished the pack job and walked a few blocks to a small Italian restaurant for dinner. I had spaghetti, salad, bread and beer and then we boarded the bus and drove off into the night. After a few beers I climbed into my bunk and slept...

March 21 – Tilburg, Netherlands (Holland)

I woke up about an hour before load in and we were parked outside the venue (013) in Tilburg. Raymond, our front of house sound man was waiting there as was Pako, the band photographer from Spain. We wandered into the venue, had the customary look around and made our way downstairs to catering and the dressing rooms. There was a room for the band, one for the girls and wow... one for us... the crew. The usual Euro breakfast of breads, meats and cheeses was waiting as was fruit, coffee, juices and a ton of candy bars. Our dressing rooms had cups of nuts, beer, water, juice, sodas and towels. An hour later the equipment was loaded into the venue and another hour passed before the risers and lighting was assemble enough to actually set up the equipment. A few more hours of set up and testing passed before the band arrived for sound check. Everything worked perfectly. Next the into video was tested and finally what we all were waiting for... the test firing of the pyro flame throwers. Everyone loves a good fire, especially in a place where there isn't supposed to be fire... like on a stage, in a building and especially fire that blasts into the air in multiple colors. The 2000 seater was sold out and the show went off perfectly.

March 22 – Essigfabrik - Cologne, Germany

I woke at 11:23am, almost a half hour after the scheduled load in. That is very unusual for me as I am normally the first to rise every morning. I assume my over sleeping had something to do with jet lag. Fortunately load in was delayed an hour while the local crew assembled staging and sound equipment. A huge German breakfast of the usual bread, meats and cheese, fruit, yogurt and colored hard boiled eggs was waiting for us at catering. Again, the show sold out and was flawless.

The Hard Rock Cafe' had scheduled an after show party for the band and fans so after load out, Linda (merch girl), Roger (drum tech) and I were taxied to the event. I was greeted by a round of applause from two tables of fans who recognized my trade mark “skull” cap (and friendly smile, of course). I've always made it a point to be friendly with fans of the band, give them set lists and picks when ever possible and just be a nice guy in general. That's not hard to do and besides, I'm having fun and if it weren't for them, there would be no tour and I wouldn't be in Europe. So, yeah... I love the fans of any band I'm working for!

The club set us up with free drinks. Yay! The band was nestled in a well lit corner surrounded by adoring fans who clamored for autographs and pics. I said hello to the Kamelot France fan club which consists of a MySpace site and two girls who followed us around the US last year. I'm pretty sure there is one guy and maybe another girl but I'm not sure. I know that I know two people at least enough to say hello and take pics with. Though I'll never understand exactly why anyone would travel to so many shows, make wonderful hand made banners and maintain a web site, I certainly love them for being so dedicated and always try to give them picks, water and set lists. Not much of a reward but, it's the “little things” that count. Around 3 am we left the Hard Rock and Thomas, Linda, Roger and I walked a few blocks and found another small bar that was closing. They served us beers and had no problem making Thomas some food, give us more beer and let us stay while they cleaned and performed the nightly closing ritual. I remember one bartender being quite talkative and friendly though by then I was very officially drunk.

March 22

I woke the next morning in my bunk not remembering much about the taxi ride back and having no idea whatsoever how my contact lens was removed or what happened to it. It was a good night.

Today was the first of 2 days “off”, I use that term loosely as there usually ends up being something that needs to be done. To save money, the bus stayed at the venue parking lot for the day. We had a few “day rooms” booked at a nice hotel in town and were taxied in to take showers, eat, etc.. After a nice shower, a group of us went out to a Texas style steak house/bar. To save money, I had a burger. I probably won't order another here in Europe... didn't much like it.

By 8:30 PM, the bus left the parking lot and we were off. We drove to Esenhoven, Holland and stayed the night on the bus parked behind Raymond's (front of house sound man) house where we had Internet and power for a while. Thomas, Linda and I hung out in the huge upstairs back lounge of the bus, drank beer and played on line with our computers. I chatted with my girlfriend, Sarah, and sent her some pics before the Internet on her end went down. I stayed up way too late.

March 23

I woke up on the couch in the back lounge to find my computer battery had died. 15 minutes later the bus engine cranked up, power was restored and I plugged my computer in to see if my download had completed. To my delight it had! The two hour final episode of Battlestar Galactica was mine! My collection of all 4 seasons was complete and better yet, I could now see how it all would end. In case you are wondering, yes, I did watch it immediately.

By 9 AM we were on the road. We made a stop at a metal yard to weigh the trailer. As we feared it's payload was overweight... by at least half a ton. So, we drove to a cartage company and dropped off a few of the lighting cases, a guitar cabinet, moved ALL the merch to what was once the beautiful upstairs back bus lounge and the guitar heads and keyboards to the bus bay. It worked. The trailer was weighed again and was only 180 kilos overweight, an acceptable amount. Unfortunately load in and out for the remaining 10 shows will be a bit difficult but it has to be done so that's that.

Onward we roll...

March 31

Today is my birthday. I don't know for sure where we are right now. For that matter, I have little idea where we are but it is early in the morning, 6 or 7:30 but even that I can't be sure of since the time changes between countries. What I do know is, yesterday we were in Pulheim, Germany on a day off where we returned to Ingo's studio to pick up another 14 boxes of merch, took showers, walked around, ate and eventually returned to the bus which left town at 1am though as you might have guessed, I can't be concretely certain of that either as I was in my bunk asleep. What I do know is, we are on our way to Pratteln, Switzerland and it is my birthday so I got up early so I could sit alone in the downstairs lounge of the bus with coffee and chocolate (some yummy Cadbury “Dairy Milk”, bite size candies taken from a dressing room in the UK) and look out the window. Of course, I am typing this as well.

I was Switzerland last summer while on tour with Morbid Angel but didn't officially stop there, only drove through on the way somewhere else so I thought it best that I get up early today so I could look out the window. As of right now I can report that the view is very boring. There are a few hills but mostly scraggly trees. The highway is bumpy and packed with morning trucks and commuters. I guess that means we must be somewhat close to a city. I was kinda hoping to see the Swiss Alps or something. Until the scenery gets better and pulls me away from my little netbook, I'll write and since I skipped a week, I digress...

March 24

Today is my Dad's birthday (my Mother's was 2 weeks ago, my niece and half brother had there's about a week back... ). We did a show at Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton, England. I love that place, great stage, great people and great food. The show was packed and went flawlessly as have all the shows on this tour so far. This was the first of our UK shows. Getting to the show was the interesting part. Sometime the day before, after a long drive we reached the border, perhaps I should say, coast of France, got off the bus, went through customs for casual personal interviews with crossing officials who check us for UK work papers, criminal records, etc.. Sean wasn't feeling well and ended up hurling in a rest room toilet just before we got back on the bus. For some reason that delighted our passengers from Holland and Germany. I'm not sure why but apparently they don't like France much. We piled back on the bus and, this is the interesting part, boarded a train... that is, the bus drove into a sealed train car. Huh? Instead of a ferry, we took a high speed train (I was told it travels at 250 kph) through a long tunnel drilled UNDER the ocean between France and the UK. I suppose I should refer to this ocean as the English Channel but “ocean” sounds way bigger. Unlike riding a ferry, there is no scenery, lounge, restaurants or even windows to look out. No, you just stay on the bus or walk around the cars but that's it. You are sealed in until you get to the other side which takes an amazingly short time. I'd guess it was about 45 minutes instead of the 2 hours or so the ferry would take. The ride is very quiet and smooth but a bit unnerving since you have no idea what's going on outside and you DO realize that you are under the ground, under the water... in a tunnel going really fast... doing something as unnatural as flying and have no control of anything. We took the same train on the ride back to the mainland of Europe after the UK dates only that time I just laid in my dark bunk on the bus, felt my ears pressurize and the swaying and tried to keep myself from worrying about exactly what a derailment might be like...
We arrived in Wolverhampton the night before the show, parked the bus outside the venue and stayed there until morning. We managed to hijack an unsecured wireless router from someone's apartment across the street and checked our emails, etc.. I would assume that person wonders why their high speed Internet is always so slow every time a band tour bus is in the area. Thank God there are people out there that don't password protect their routers or I'd almost never be able to get on line in Europe. Fortunately most venues do have Internet. I must say that cell phone and cell Internet coverage is as good or better in Europe as it is in the US but the big problem is, every country has a different provider and traveling in Europe involves passing through many countries very quickly so cell usage can be very expensive. Back to the story...

Following the Wulfrun show, we drove again and this time took a ferry... yes, the bus also, to Dublin, Ireland. Fortunately there were plenty of loaders waiting for us as the bus and trailer literally blocks the thin road while we load in. I do mean stops all traffic until we are done. Needless to say, we got the stuff off the bus as fast as possible and then Bjorn drove away, to where I do not know (you might have noticed that this is pretty much the theme of touring, not really knowing much about time, position or anything other than the job and where the food and toilets are at each venue). The stage was a bit small but the venue (The Button Factory) was quite nice and the sound was excellent... like amazingly good there. The load in, as would be the whole of the UK portion of the tour, was a bit hard but nothing like what was to come. The local hands were great.

After set up and sound check, Casey, Roger and I took a little walk to take pics, film a little video for the band's Nokia, “on the road” web site thing and most importantly, find a real Irish pub for a Guiness. That was really easy to do in the middle of Dublin. We ended up about a block from the venue at the Temple bar, I think it was called. Mission accomplished. The show was great. After sandwiches wiith the local crew and the hour wait for the bus to arrive, we loaded up and parked a short ride away for a few hours and went out again to drink Guiness and take pics. It was a good night.

Early in the morning, after 2 or maybe 3 hours of sleep, we were forced to get off the bus. Again we were on a ferry heading this time to Glasgow, Scotland. Really, a lot of this travel is just a blur to me. I don't remember much but later that day we arrived in Glasgow, parked the bus a mile down the road from the hotel and did the usual one room for the crew to shower in thing. This time though, Ingo and Holger got their own rooms. Roger ended up rooming with Casey and Jerone and I stayed in the crew room. I did make one walk to the bus for food but other than that, I mostly just lounged after taking a few pics outside. Later that night (it was a day day off so no show) Roger and I had noodles at a Chinese fast food place and he took a taxi to the Metalica concert to visit friends who were on tour with them. I could have gone but decided to rest instead. The next day was the show which, in the interest of saving time, was great but the load in up the flights of stairs would have been impossible if it were not for the loaders. The load out was worse. The club turns into a disco and the stairs are packed with people. Load out was done down a combination of fire escapes and a short tunnel through urine (leaking from the toilets above) and down a final stair case to the crowded street. That really sucked. Though I stay away from the heavy cases, leaving that for the loaders (hey, they knew what they were getting into when they signed up for the job), I do end up personally carting the guitars and smaller items up and down the stairs. Also, loading onto a packed sidewalk of drunk Scots can be a bit difficult in itself though I must admit, the girls party outfits were interesting to say the least. I felt like I took a trip back to the 80's. Outdated skirts with leg warmers... and the colors, bright blue, orange, fluorescent greens and pinks were well... colorful. And everyone was absolutely hammered! One idiot completely head slammed his girlfriend onto the concrete while attempting to hoist her in a pretend standing sex act. I was amazed that she eventually was able to stagger away but I'm sure she didn't make it to work the next day.
The following morning we woke up in Leeds, England and after receiving a parking ticket, assembled the completely unprepared loaders for the worse day of their young lives. This load in again was inhumane. On top of that, our loaders were very young, skinny “emo” boys who had no idea what a day's work involving hard labor was. Though I actually felt guilty watching them desperately try to get the heavy cases up the stairs, again, they signed up for battle willingly and though they had most certainly realized the gravity of their error, it was too late to turn back. To make matters worse, they weren't even getting paid. Our support act, “Serenity” canceled the remainder of the UK shows due to illness so the venue got a local band to fill in. They were very young, were really excited to be there but didn't sound too good really. As payment, they got to help load our equipment out at the end of the night. That's not a joke. I'm serious. They had to agree to be loaders and in return they could open for kamelot. Ahh... the music biz... So, the show was great and the load in and out were horrendous. Next stop, London.

After the usual overnight ride, we arrived in London. Today's venue was Islington Academy, a proper venue with a reasonable load in. It was Jerone's birthday and he and I found a grocery to buy a few cakes. He bought me coffee at Starbucks (no, there is no escape... they are everywhere) as well. Returning to the venue, to my surprise, the first loader I meet is Nick Barker who I toured with last summer. Nick is a famous death metal drummer but as of late is playing with no one and has been working as a drum tech or local hand. It was good to work with him again. Damn... I forgot to take a picture!!! The show was sold out and one of the highlights so far.

After, I talked to the French Kamelot girls, took pics, ate a sandwich and away we rolled. Bjorn took us on a scenic ride through London with the grand finale being a 5 minute stop at Big Ben where we all piled out of the bus and took pictures. Ahh... at last I get to actually see something! It was wonderful. A few minutes later we were back on the bus and heading towards the coast for the tunnel train back to France and the drive to Pulheim, German for the “day off” which is where I began this writing today, my birthday, March 31.

I still don't know where we are. It's now an hour later. Everyone is still in bed which is where I'm going to return to. The scenery is farmland with some mountains in the distance. Hmm... where are my Swiss Alps? I need more sleep...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kamelot Euro Tour 2009 - And So It Begins...

Kamelot 2009 Euro Tour - March 17 and 18, 2009

And so it begins... or maybe it began 10 hours ago when my phone alarm woke me... wait a minute, the phone alarm didn't exactly wake me. I woke up a little earlier but the alarm DID go off exactly when I finished doing what I was doing and at the precise time I set it before I went to bed. But that's not important. You don't need to know what I was doing when it went off or why I woke up before the programmed time. Zoe knows but she can't talk. She's a dog and besides, it's none of your business, which makes no sense since, obviously, I didn't need to mention it here. Oh... forget it... on with the story...

I pried myself out of bed at 7:35 AM, (that would be 5 minutes after the alarm went off) took a bath, checked my pack job from the night before and was picked up by SuperShuttle promptly at 9:30. Two seconds after being dropped off at the airport I realized I had left my cell phone on the seat of the van and watched in horror as it drove away. Now, this is a really big deal... a damn big deal as I am a techno geek. I don't just have a “cell” phone. I own an EVERYTHING phone. My whole life, past, present and future is on my mobile phone. It's not a crummy iPhone either. No sir. They suck. I access email, Internet, program my contacts, driving directions (yeah, I actually have the whole of the world in GPS maps on there, including western Europe, where I'm headed right now), Bluetooth my laptop to it to get on line... I do indeed mean that everything that is me, is on that phone... the most technically advanced phone that exists. I CAN'T LOSE THAT PHONE and certainly not even before the adventure begins!!!

I did step into the road and wave, like “that guy”, you know, that guy who just lost his phone, at the van as it drove away. Damn. Like the dude driving would actually see me. Of course all the people around me saw. He didn't. It reminded me of the time Igor, Anthony and Emmanuel got out of the cab in Barcelona (if you don't know where that is I'm not going to tell you because you are laame and don't deserve to know) and 5 seconds later realized that we left the cam in the taxi. Anthony actually ran after it waving and yelling but that didn't help. 100's of wonderful photos were lost forever. Man, there were some great pics on that thing... me playing guitar on the plane that was diverted to Madrid when the Barcelona baggage handlers went on strike... all the pics of the beginning of our trip, Anthony and I at a locals cafe's posing and pretending to cut embaraco (I don't think I spelled that right but it's a leg of a certain breed of wild boar that is displayed and thinly sliced and very tasty. But yeah, I flashed back to then and I was really ready to kill myself for being so stupid.

So... I ran down to the SuperShuttle reservation desk, told them of my dilemma and thankfully they were able to call the driver who returned my phone to me within 10 minutes. I felt a little guilty about not tipping him again (I did give him $5 extra for the ride) but decided it would probably be better for his soul to have done a good deed for no reward (shut up... I would have been happy to do the same for him).

The flight to ATL was uneventful except for the fact that I ended up sitting next to a really big guy that was seriously in my space. We had a nice conversation and the flight to Atlanta was only an hour. No big deal.

I got off the plane, took a leak, walked to the “Gate E” terminal and started looking for a currency exchange booth and an ATM. I found both pretty quickly. For $215 and change I got $140 Euros and another $60 of US cash from an ATM. I found a nice quiet place and got on line (using this wonderful little computer) for a few minutes and very shortly after, got a call from Casey (Kamelot's drummer) who had also flown into ATL from Tampa. We met at a bar next to our gate and had a few beers and then boarded the plane... Delta Flight 24 to Dusseldorf, Germany.

About a month ago I selected my window, exit row seat for my flight to Dusseldorf and what the fuck... I get on the plane and there's another huge dude in my space. I give up. Fine, I moved. So he has the whole fucking leg room space to himself... lucky fuck. I personally have the middle front row section of the plane... the first row. That's pretty cool but the arm rests don't go up and I can't really stretch out but at least I'm alone so hell with it. I can't believe it though. The guy is still awake and playing card games on his MacBook. I will admit, I am impressed that his computer still works. If it were a PC there's no way his battery would still have power but I'm pretty sure my new little netbook could take his machine. I have a 9 hour battery life on this thing. Funny though... he has his screen dimmed just like me, to make the battery last longer. It's been about 5 hours into the flight so far. Hmm... my machine says 6:44 left. No way he has that much time left... silly card player. Why don't you just enjoy all that leg room... my leg room...

Back to the story... A few hours ago I had dinner... on the plane... “Chicken or pasta”? “Chicken please”. I just finished eating. DAMN!!! Someone just farted. It's times like these that I just wish they allowed smoking on the plane. Fuck. Fortunately most everyone around me is asleep or they'd think it was me but it wasn't. It was the elderly lady behind me. I know it is because it happened several hours ago and she jumped up to use the rest room and stayed in there way too long to just be taking a piss. I digress...

There's a movie playing. I think it's called, “The Secret Life Of Bees”. Fine. Whatever. I'm flying to Europe and I don't have my own little TV in front of me? What the fuck is up? All I know is, it's obvious that the actresses in this movie are famous, black pop stars... female but the sound doesn't work in my seating row so I can't watch the movie. I put my complimentary earbuds on my food tray which was picked up by the airplane waitress for disposal. The cool thing is, I

actually have the front row seat and the video display is right in front of me. But, I can't hear it,

of course so it's pointless and serves only as a blazing light to disturb me in the darkness of this overnight flight to Germany. I do wonder if this is a good movie I'm missing. I have my own entertainment so I watch last week's Battlestar Galactica... again.

I can't sleep on this flight. At about 1:30AM Eastern time we land in Dusseldorf. It's 6:30AM there. Casey and I (and everyone else who was on the plane) wait for just over an hour before the luggage finally starts to trickle in on the conveyor in the baggage claim. Yeah... over an hour, for real!!! Once the first pieces come out, it takes an additional 30 minutes before we have all our bags. Jeroen Brom, the tour manager, calls Casey and tells him he's waiting outside. Fortunately

he was an hour late arriving to pick us up. Eventually, long after everything else, my guitar tech box finally appears which greatly relieved me. Jeroen comes in, and I find he and Casey grabbing a TON of luggage from the belt. It turns out that we had to pick up Thomas's guitars, an amp and whatever. Unfortunately Jeroen has a typical little Euro car so guess who is sitting at the airport with a stack of luggage waiting (so far for an hour) to be picked up? Me, of course. I was

told it would take about an hour and a half so here I am. I'm really tired, hungry, very thirsty and would like to possibly take a leak. I could eat but I don't want to leave the stuff unattended to use the rest room. So... I'm just going to sit here and wait. It's been a really really long day so far, just over 26 hours. Another day at the office

I suppose... nah, I'm in Germany. This isn't another day at the office, so I push the gear over to Anadolu, a little deli cafe' and order a nice cucumber and tomato salad and a bagel with a slice of cheese and tomato on it and a bottle of water... with gas. I settle down at a little table in the middle of the walkway and eat my good lunch. I feel much better. An hour and a half has passed... and I wait...

And so begins day one of my life on the road... Kamelot 2009 Euro Tour... it gets better... I promise!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hell Mr. Guitar Tech!

Hello World!

I really don't have time to be sitting here writing this blog but what the hell... I'm a procrastinator and I like to write! "So, what is it you must do that's so important that you can't sit here and write for me?", you ask. Well... I need to pack because I'm leaving for Europe tomorrow for the Kamelot 2009 Europe tour. I am a "technician" and work for the band. Usually I'm the guitar tech but on this tour I'll be the bass guitar and keyboard tech but that's a minor detail. What's important is I get to go to Europe for 3 weeks and though it will be hard work, it will also be wonderful. If you are wondering, yes, I've been before... several times.

I have many jobs it seems. I'm a musician, I fix computers and sometimes I'm even a bookkeeper. I've also been lucky enough to travel the US and the world as a guitar technician, working mostly with metal bands since 2003. I average 4 tours a year and though I haven't really tried to make it a full time job, I find the urge to hit the road overwhelming after a few months of being in one place. I've been a road dog forever as a musician and that's a hard habit to break and besides, who would want to? You can see pics of my past travels on my MySpace page (www.myspace.com/ishmusica).

So, hello World. Welcome to my blog. Tomorrow I fly to Dusseldorf, Germany and the new tour begins. I'll be writing about it and taking pics so check in every once in a while and have a look.

I guess I better start packing...