Monthly Archives: September 2011
Hello Earth Stringband followers,
This is Sam checking in from Timor-Leste. Today was our second full day here in this beautiful, sunny country, and after a late wake up call we had a full day of music ahead of us. After all us boys went out for lunch at the Castaway (our favorite ex-pat-friendly restaurant here in Dili) we came across a local artist selling beautiful handcrafted wooden sculptures and each picked out something to bring back to Brighton. We then went back to the hotel and worked up some fresh new repertoire and geared up for our concert at Colegio Sao Jose, a high school here in Dili.
The energy that we felt from the kids at Sao Jose was absolutely incredible! Even though they were sitting down, the 200 or so highschoolers really got into the vibe once they heard some good ol’ stringband music. The entire time we played the kids were smiling, screaming, and throwing up devil horns and we all had a great time pickin’ and singin’ for everybody. Once we finished our performance some students presented us with traditional Timorese ties and we spent some time passing out Lincoln center swag, signing autographs and taking pictures with everyone before we had to rush off to the next gig, a concert at the International Stabilization Force compound.
Playing for the Aussie and Kiwi soldiers at the ISF was a great experience for everyone and also our way of saying thanks to all the men and women who sacrifice so much to serve their countries. We also had the privilege of eating with Glenn, a 32-year veteran of the Australian army. Not only was the food some of the best we’ve had in the country, we got to pick Glenn’s brain about the military history of Timor and life at the ISF. We played a concert on the back of a huge truck in a hanger on the base, and got to play Soldier’s Joy for an enthusiastic group of Australian and New Zealander soldiers. We had a great time getting to meet lots of the folks at the ISF after the gig and even though we couldn’t bring them any beer (most military bases are dry, and most military folks would love the occasional brew) we were glad to be able to bring some music and provide a little entertainment. Although we’ve only got one more day here in Timor, we’ve got another full day ahead of us tomorrow so I’d better get some shut-eye!
Thanks for reading,
Today, we woke up in Timor-Leste, the youngest democracy in Asia. Epic vistas of mountains greet the ocean in a sweeping, beautiful way as they both meet the pure blue sky. As opposed to our experiences with monsoon season in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, here it is hot and sunny with very few clouds. In fact, it hasn’t rained since June and the locals don’t expect any more until December. It’s the dry season here for sure.
In a meeting this morning with Ambassador Fergin, we learned more about the turbulent history of this part of the island and the resilience of its people. Right now is the longest period of peace in recent memory. We are the first American band EVER to tour in Timor-Leste. What an honor!!!
This afternoon, we played for 8-11 year olds in their schoolyard at Farol Primary School. They learn their schoolwork by ear, mostly without books. As we laid down the Earth Stringband MASH under a grass hut, reactions varied from huge smiles to groovy tropical dancing. While some preferred the scattered shade in other parts of the yard, many braved the heat to become part of the show right up front. Growing up in a new country cannot be easy, but these kids are forming their identities and they will be the future of Timor-Leste. We see strong hearts and bright futures!
Once evening hit, we played a concert at Ambassador Fergin’s residence to one of the most incredible collections of people we’ve ever seen. The invite list was tailored to bring mostly Timor-Leste people who are actively working for a better future in this new country and it showed; the attendees included university students who contribute to peace and stability, Rotary members (big and very helpful in this part of the world), people who work for NGO’s, student council members, artists/musicians who we’ll jam with on Friday at Arte Moris, and USAID workers.
The Earth Stringband has been on tour for a while now and it’s starting to show. We’re finishing each other’s sentences in song, together in unison, and playing and listening to each other better than ever. This really translated tonight and the audience got way into our vibe. Ambassador Fergin was dancing up a storm, the Timorese were dancing up a storm, and everyone had a great time celebrating life and music and togetherness between peoples!
in Dili, Timor-Leste
PS. Our internet access is limited so please forgive the lack of extensive multimedia, but we’ll do the best we can!
Andy here! Sam and I had an epic day in Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat and many other surrounding temples. Here’s a tiny snippet of the epicness from over 1000 years ago, all built by man, stone on stone, without mortar.
We also want to send a big shout out to Roger and the whole team at The Blue Pumpkin Cafe in Phnom Penh for being so hospitable and friendly. It was the first place we played in Cambodia and we ate there every day of our trip. Delicious! ~~~ www.tbpumpkin.com
We are now on the way to Timor Leste via Singapore. We’ll be posting the evening after we start workshops and concerts, coming up. Stay tuned and thanks for all of your support and positive thoughts, we feel them!
Note from Stash: Eric and I visited the very powerful Tuoll Sleng Prison and The Khmer Rouge Killing Fields just outside of Phnom Penh. This was definitely a real experience and I encourage anybody and everybody to read about what happened between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia.
Today was a fun final day of work here in Phnom Penh. It’s been a huge success, especially considering that the embassy coordinated all our workshops and concerts within about one week’s notice.
We played our final workshop this morning at the Angkor Music school for a class of about 40 students and some of their parents. The majority were violin students, and also included one bass student for Sam.
Andy led the class through some chopping and a beautiful symphonic version of “bile them cabbage down.” I must admit that I was particularly tired this morning and I want to thank Michelle from the embassy here bringing some extra coffee in to the school.
Even though it took some time to wake up, the good dose of cute kids, coffee, and singing “BILE THEM CABBAGE DOWN BOYS, MAKE THEM BISCUITS BROWN BOYS” forty times at the top of my lungs definitely got the nerves reacting again.
The third floor of the Angkor Music School (under construction) had the most ridiculous echo ever, check it out:
Ay ay ay! Andy and Sam took a plane today to Siem reap, the former capital of Cambodia. Only a few miles north of Siem Reap is the epic Temple complex known as Angkor Wat built for the King of Cambodia in the 12th century (!). I can’t wait to see some awesome pictures when they get back tomorrow and I’m sure they’ll have a whole set of wild stories.
After they took off, Eric and I went on a tuk tuk ride around the city playing music for a webcast program called the “tuk tuk sessions.” It combines scenes from the colorful streets of cambodia with music and the cozy vibe of a tuk tuk. We’ll post the video as soon as it’s released! Thanks to Dustin for helping us out and filming and of course Michelle from the Embassy for holding our instrument cases on the Tuk Tuk.
Stay tuned for some awesome new videos and pictures of the day off tomorrow. We have a night off in Singapore on Monday and will then be moving onto East Timor the day after for a grueling schedule of awesome concerts and workshops. It’s wild to think this trip is about half-way through! Until next time
Eric here- Busy busy busy in Cambodia today folks! We started out with an early morning visit to Mith Samlanh- a center for street children. The raw energy and enthusiasm of the kids was incredible and infectious. After we played a couple of lively old-time tunes, Stash and I jumped off stage to demonstrate the instrument roles while Andy and Sam held down the groove. They quickly started thumping the bass notes with their feet and pitter-pattering fiddle melodies on their chests, clapping on mandolin chops and playing air guitar- screaming wildly the whole time. Even though is was a fairly short set, it’s safe to say that by the end we were all the most exhausted we’ve been after anything on the tour so far! Truly rewarding experience- video below!
A short rest and some lunch at the hotel, and then we were off to Cambodian Living Arts for an intimate musical exchange with some AMAZING traditional Cambodian musicians between the ages of 18 and 22. These guys were straight killin’. I was immediately excited when the first musician walked in with a “bangjo”, which was like a mix between an asian lute, banjo, and mandolin. Then poured in the “tro”, “thon”, “khim”, and “roneat thung”, which are basically fiddle, drum, hammered dulcimer, and xylophone. They played for us, we played for them. Everybody was stoked. Then the jamming commenced- we learned some beautiful cambodian tunes and taught some traditional American music. We also taught them “Stingray Stew”- which is a comprised of music we heard in Laos that we put to an old time groove. So we played Lao melodies to an American groove with Cambodian musicians. Now THAT is what I call an Earth String Band.
We ended the night with a concert on the street- check it out!
Hello there Earth Stringband followers, Sam here reporting on our first full day in vibrant Cambodia.
We woke up this morning in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, a city that seems to embody the “anything-goes” nature of the Khmer people. It is not uncommon here to see 4 or 5 people crammed onto a motorcycle weaving in and out of traffic, and apparently it’s not illegal either, provided the driver is wearing a helmet. Our first and only official concert here in Cambodia was at a busy Café right along the mighty Mekong river called the Blue Pumpkin. The show was a blast and the audience, a healthy mixture of Khmer locals and American and European ex-pats, seemed to really enjoy the Stringband energy. The folks from the Blue Pumpkin treated us to a delicious lunch and some of the best coconut ice cream any of us will ever enjoy here on earth. It is safe to say that the boys will be back for some more before we leave the city!
After lunch and a brief respite back at the hotel we headed out with Craig Gerard, one of the Public Affairs officers from the embassy (and a pretty darn good guitar player, I should add), to do a workshop at the Music Arts School in Phnom Penh. Although at first the audience seemed a little reserved but once we raged a few quick Oldtime tunes they opened up and it became clear that we were going to have an amazing musical exchange. There were kids of all ages there ranging from babies to 25 years-olds and although not everyone had an instrument it was clear that everyone had a deep appreciation for music. The 7-month-old son of Drew the school director was mesmerized by the bass, and apparently for the first time in his young life he started clapping along with the music (what a special moment!). We taught about the history of Bluegrass music and its influences and also about the roles of the instruments within the band. It was a blast seeing 30 smiling Cambodians stomping along with the bass, clapping with the mandolin, and beating on their chests along with the fiddle. Toward the end of the workshop Drew and Andy the two ex-pat directors of the school invited a group of the more advanced musicians to perform some traditional tunes for us. The Khmer melodies were beautifully haunting and everyone was completely enthralled by the music. The second tune that they played for us was a traditional Khmer song that was so similar to “you are my sunshine” that all the boys simply had to join in. This opened the door to a really incredible impromptu jam with the Earth Stringband boys learning a few Khmer tunes and teaching a few American tunes (angeline the baker, and boil ’em cabbage down) with everyone who didn’t have an instrument singing along and getting into the groove.
Although we love playing concerts, some of the most profound experiences we have had on this trip have been in workshop settings where we can really get to know people and share our music with them while also learning a lot ourselves. It is always amazing to communicate with someone who does not speak the same language on a purely musical level, and there is an immediate connection that is made that cannot be made with any other sort of dialect. I feel like I have made a lot of good friends here in Cambodia and I can’t even speak the language beyond sues dei (hello) and aw kuhn (thank you)! We are looking forward to the rest of our adventures here in Cambodia but for now I’ve got to catch some z’s for a long, music-filled day tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!
Tonight, The Earth Stringband played at the USA Ambassador to Thailand’s Residence for an audience of over 200 people. It was a huge honor and we met so many amazing people it’s hard to fathom. It capped the entire Thailand section of the tour for us, as we are now preparing to board a plane to Cambodia tomorrow morning (just a couple hours away!). What an incredible way to bid farewell to all of our first times in Thailand, Bangkok, Phitsanulok, Chiang Rai! It felt so great playing in the city in such an intimate and welcoming environment.
On the foodie front, I have to say I have of course been impressed with all of the Thai food we’ve been eating. There are many dishes that we’ve never heard of in America that are truly amazing, from fiery omelettes to insects to simple noodle soups. The culture and the food go deep together and we have all been getting deep into the spicy food (see recent posts for chili pepper reactions). I’ve learned how to order things seriously spicy and just like in the US, once you convince the Chef that you’re serious, they will really bring on the pain.
While we have been diligently blogging, there are a couple of really cool moments that haven’t been featured, so below you will find a couple of captioned pictures of really cool things that happend along the way:
Hello from Chang Rai, Thailand! The Earth Stringband woke up today with a hunger for some picking and singing. The rest day yesterday was awesome fun and very much needed but we’re all glad to get back to work and share and learn some music with the Thai.
We started with a workshop at the Mah Fah Luang University in Chang Rai and were introduced to both students from the school and members of the Chang Rai youth orchestra. Most of the students sported violins, and were also flanked by a few upright bass players and guitar players. We picked a tune for them and then sat and listened to one of their traditional Thai melodies. We also heard a rendition of a popular Coldplay tune as played by the local guitar duo in the workshop.
The Earth Stringband then split into a few groups and focused on teaching one tune, Seneca Falls Square Dance. Even though we love teaching together, it’s cool to see each of the guys’ personality come through in the teaching. Andy led his vioin orchestra through the melody phrase by phrase and implemented some fiddle-chopping techniques while Sam was in the room next door honing the bass flatpicking techniques he himself has been mastering over the years. Eric was hanging out with everybody, picking with the bass guys and jamming with the violins.
He came into my room later on to help out with some of the vocal improvisation my group was working on. I learned that we also had piano, saxophone and drumset players present on top of just guitar players so the melody in my group was taught through voice. After learning to sing the whole melody, we delved into melodic conversations, switching off everybody’s version of the A part of the Seneca Falls Square Dance.
One of the guitar players’ Steve Vai influence was apparent as he improvised his own little twangs into the Seneca Falls melody. We also encouraged each person to imitate their specific instrument as they sang the variations. There’s always a little place for distortion and whammy bars in fiddle tunes.
We returned to the hotel after a nice lunch at the local hospital. We thought this might be the best place for Sam to try exotic fish which he’s mostly been avoiding due to allergic-reaction-potential. We thought there’d probably be no better place to have your throat close up than the local Thai hospital(health tourism is huge here!). Sam still avoided the seafood however, probably for the better.
After the lunch and a short break we geared up for sound check. The concert tonight ended up being a huge success. Between all the publicity help we got from the Mah Fah Luang university, the city of Chang Rai, and the US embassy we were able to practically fill up a whole 1400 seat hall. Tonight was also my personal foray into the thai language arena.
We totally appreciate the translators who have helped us at all the gigs, but there’s no greater feeling than uttering a few seemingly meaningless syllables and hearing the crowd react with a radical passion. The music tonight also felt really inspired between the band members. We’ve decided to use microphones and put them all really close together to match the same kind of vibe we have when we’re playing together in our rooms back home in Brighton.
Even though we can’t crank the volume like we can with pickups on the instruments, I felt that the intimacy of the stage setting allowed for a nice connection between us and the big audience.
The show was followed by a warm meet-and-greet. We got to talk to people of all ages and everybody was so gracious and welcoming.
Learning so much about the language and being able to share all this music in Thailand was a great reminder of the good times that are yet to come. I think we’re all starting to gain a true appreciation for the workshop environment and seeing how between music and select phrases in the local language you can communicate an infinite amount of information. Tomorrow we play at the ambassador’s residence in Bangkok and then we’re off to Cambodia! Til next time…
Beautiful song played by a long neck woman near Chang Rai
Hello folks this is Eric here to tell ya about our last couple days in beeeeeautiful Thailand! We finished our time in Phitsanulok with a live TV broadcast on saturday afterrnoon- big thanks to our intimate studio audience, radiantly friendly host, and sound/ film crew for a great show! Big ups to Izaak from the US embassy for killin’ the interview. After the show we changed outta our fancy clothes and geared up for the five hour drive to Chang Rai- on our way out Dang, Administrator at Pibulsongkram Ragaphat Univerisity, gave us two big bags of small bananas for the drive (it seems like the longer we’re here, the smaller the bananas get and the smaller the bananas get, the better they taste!)
Driving through the mountainous Thailand country was a nice break after all the gigs, and we stopped at the nicest little outdoor restaurant for come chronic home cookin. We were the only people at the place and toward the end of the meal, I thought it was about time for a chili pepper eating contest. I’m not one for super super spicy foods, but Andy and Stash were ready to compete to see who was the real man of the Earth String Band. I took to the position of referee/ cameraman and ohhh boy did I get some footage (check out the video below).
We awoke in Chang Rai this morning for our day off and set out to ride Elephants through a little village, the name of which I can’t remember or probably spell. After a half hour boat ride, we jumped onboard the elephants (never thought I’d get to say that) and began our hour long journey, though it wasn’t long before some serious turbulence. We were on four elephants marching in a row when suddenly the first elephant was scared by some chickens, which caused the second elephant (Sam and Izaak) to charge at the first, which then caused the third elephant (me and Stash) to turn around and run in the other direction. It was terrifying and totally awesome. We continued through the village for an hour and then fed the elephants bamboo and bananas upon our return.
We departed the elephant camp to check out the Longneck Hill Tribe- I’ll let the pictures and videos speak for themselves. That’s all for now, I’m all full of fried Thai street food and coconut ice cream, and we wake up early tomorrow for a music school workshop followed by an evening concert at Mae Fah Luang University. Ra tee sa was! (good night!)
Hello dearest Earth Stringband followers, on Thursday we bid adieu to the beautiful city of Vientiane and the great people of Laos and hopped on a plane to Bangkok! So far we have been hitting the jackpot with the help we are receiving from U.S embassies (Pam, Saeng, Mike, Kaman, and Poung in Laos, and Izaak, Kelly, and Simon here in Thailand) and we were whisked through both airports by expeditors! Once we arrived in Thailand we crept slowly through the infamous Bangkok traffic towards our ludicrously luxurious hotel, the Bangkok four seasons. It is safe to say that all the boys felt pretty out of place in a five star hotel, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t make the most of it (I’ve got all the stationary tucked away somewhere in my bag, and I spent the better part of Thursday night in a bathrobe and slippers!). After we unloaded our gear we all went to the famous MBK mall for what have got to be some of the best food-court vittles known to man (both the green and red curries were to die for). The MBK was a complete sensory overload, we each had a few items on our list but it’s not so easy to decide where to shop when there’s an entire floor devoted to each thing you are looking for. We walked past what seemed like a quarter-mile of Camera shops before we found stash the right battery, and another quarter-mile of clothing stores before I could decide on some socks to buy!
Yesterday was another travel day and then we had our first performance here in Thailand. We flew to Phitsanulok on a prop-plane painted like a bird, and were greeted with wonderfully fragrant garlands by Dang, one of the department heads at the Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University where our performance was. Dang took us to a wonderful little noodle house right on the river where we all dangled our feet off of the edge of a pagoda and scarfed down some of the best pork noodles we’ve ever encountered (this wasn’t the only incredible meal Dang would treat us to that day). After lunch we dropped off suitcases in the hotel and headed to the University for soundcheck and a concert. The concert was in honor of His Majesty’s 84th Birthday and I asked Dang to help me say “we would like to take this opportunity to wish His Majesty the King a happy birthday” in Thai. Stash deemed my little oration “the king’s speech” and it was received with an uproar and a few hundred smiling Thai faces.
Although we didn’t know what to expect as far as audience reaction, people really enjoyed the music and the energy of the band and by the end of the concert people were hootin’ and hollerin’ and the Vice president of the university got up out of his chair and started dancing (I think this thoroughly impressed all of the students). The show was followed by a meet a greet the likes of which none of us had ever experienced before. We rushed off stage to put our instruments in the green room and as soon as we stepped out we were met by a mob of ecstatic college kids and an out-pour of adoration that none of us knew exactly how to handle. We spent a half an hour surrounded by the students signing autographs and taking pictures until there were spasms in our cheek muscles but we loved every minute of it (stay tuned for pictures), it was our own mini-Beatlemania.
After the concert Dang took us out for the most incredible Thai meal any of us have ever had at one of the best restaurants in town. He did all of the ordering and all of us were thoroughly impressed not only by all the food but by all of the knowledge that the Thai people have of what goes into the food and also what to goes well with everything. I think we will delegate the rest of the ordering on the tour to Kelly Jitjang the Cultural Affairs specialist who is traveling with us and any other Thais who we meet along the way! The highlights of the meal for me were the bean salad with shrimp, the pork leg, and the green curry but I heard from the rest of the boys that the serpent-head fish and coconut soup with fish balls were also to die for. The Thai food here is so delicious and vibrant I don’t know how I’ll ever go back to eating it in the states but I’m sure life will go on. After dinner Eric and I went back to the hotel and each got a 2 hour Thai massage! We were both so relaxed after the meal and massage that we had no further recourse but to pass out (explaining the tardiness of this blog). We are all loving Thailand and the Thai people and we can’t wait to see a lot more of this incredible country this week! That’s all for now. Stay posted for more pictures. Thanks for reading!