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Berlin


September 23, 2018

“When you go places, you want to experience the culture.”

- Ken

“Yeah, but when you go to Russia you don’t play Russian roulette.”

- John

The blank page.

I think as a writer you learn to love or fear the blank page. Probably your success depends on how you react to it either way. It takes a certain amount of optimism – of faith – to look at the blank page and wonder with excitement what mystery will unfold upon it. If you write long enough, you’ll have times when you fear the blank page. You’ll wonder if you’ll ever find words to fill it. Those times can end you as a writer if you let them. I’ve been there. I’ve ended. It’s not fun.

But this isn’t about blank pages. It’s about our Euro tour, which is beginning to chug to life after something of a disjointed start. Well, “life” might be the wrong word. It’s beginning to chug to a normal routine after a disjointed start. We’re not used to having days off on the road, so having a couple right at the beginning of the tour was kind of strange. It’s like an engine revving at high RPMs in neutral. We’re ready to get busy, and things started getting into gear yesterday.

The first three paragraphs of this entry are me trying to remember yesterday morning. What city was I in? Hamburg, Germany. We were at Andreas’s place. I didn’t sleep the night before. Right. It comes back to me now. The whole day is a bit of a blur, owing to my sleeping struggles. I do remember being exceedingly goofy in the van on a three-hour drive from Hamburg to Berlin that somehow turned into five hours.

Have you had drives like that before? There was a lot of road construction, which meant speed limit reductions. You think of Germany and the Autobahn and it doesn’t make sense that you should be going 60 or slower on a highway. It was one of those drives when you seem to be moving for hours but not getting anywhere. The silver lining for me is that I really love van time, even if I’m half delirious from fatigue. I'm not sure my bandmates like van time if I’m half delirious from fatigue, but at least Ken and Deni can put on their superfly headphones and disappear into other worlds. Sarah has it tougher, especially with me sitting in the front seat.

There was some question about whether the first of our three shows in the Berlin area would happen. It was supposed to be an outdoor gig at the Sommergarten Am Muggelsee, beside a lake on the edge of the city. As we were driving in, we were getting reports from the organizer that weather the looked wet and cold. At one point it seemed as though the show would be cancelled, but Sarah decided we would turn up like professionals and get a sense of things for ourselves. Before we did that, we checked into our hotel, the Kopenicker Hof (site of today’s show), to drop off our bags and get dressed. The hotel itself is old and quiet and probably full of history. It’s quite comfortable.

Hopefully Ken won’t break the bed here like he did at Andreas’s place (which, by rock star standards, is a great road story to have, provided you’re creative with the details).

The other news of the day is that I almost – almost – got to go to a German Bundesliga match between Hertha Berlin and Borussia Monchengladbach yesterday. Alas, the timing didn’t quite work out. Disappointing, as Hertha won 4-2 in a game that was, by all accounts, pretty exciting. It’s okay, though. A tour diversion like that is nice when it happens, but really we’re here to play music. The bigger question was whether we’d be able to do that in the end.

We arrived at the venue and saw a small stage set up in a park beside the lake. There were tall old trees and little stands where people were serving up sausages and other delicacies. There were also superfans making their first appearances on this trip: our German friends Lexi, Kerstin, Nikki and Mario, aka The Rocketship Man. It was great to see them as always. Several other superfans where there as well, including Tanja, who brought us some immune boosters that her company makes. I’d say more about that, but I’m not ready to talk about viruses.

Yet.

The organizer was iffy on the show, but Sarah convinced him to let us scale down and play acoustically in a small beer tent. I’ve been around long enough to know that when shows go a bit sideways – set-ups change, crowds are smaller than expected, power goes out, etc. – they usually wind up being fun and memorable. With that in mind, we took our rental gear out of the van and set it up. It was our first go at the new PA, and after successfully finding a string of broken cables, we finally got it working. For me it was a full gig of pretending I know how to play a cajon and struggling with my voice.

Again, I’m not ready to talk about viruses.

Small, intimate shows can be really cool. Big stage, tiny stage, no stage at all, we try to bring the best show we can to whoever comes to see us. It felt cosy in the beer tent and the audience really liked us. We got a chance to work out the kinks in a couple of our new covers, as well as the new Sarah originals we’re playing on the tour. We also had the rite-of-passage moment of having the power go out mid-song. When it was restored a few minutes later, we picked the song up where we left off and played it out. That’s live performance. It’s a hurricane up there sometimes, but you have to roll with whatever happens and stay focused.

The show was indeed fun and memorable in the end. Sarah made some new fans and, equally as important, the boys in the band got to enjoy some real deal German sausages under a canopy of stars. How are you going to beat that?

Afterwards it was drinks and conversation with the superfans. And laughter. Always lots of laughter. Well, at least until The Rocketship Man told me he follows Liverpool FC because he likes manager Jurgen Klopp.

Man, you think you know a guy ….

#TheRoad #SarahSmith #Berlin

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