Category Archives: Andy

Youngdong Nangye Traditional Music Festival

Andy here for a quick update!  The tour is nearing its end, and The Earth Stringband is still cranking out tunes harder than ever!  Our schedule has been so full of playing and traveling it’s been hard to post as often on here as we’d like!  Yesterday in Youngdong, we played at the epic Nangye Traditional Music Festival.  I had a chance to sit down and do some tuneswapping with the local musicians, alongside with the DCM (2nd in command to the Ambassador) of the US to South Korea, who had spent time here learning to play the Gayageum.  Today we did a recording for a studio audience back in Seoul… meaning Koreans in the present and future who were unable to see us live will be rocking out back in their own homes!  On another foodie note, they make an incredible drink here called Makgeolli – an unfiltered rice wine very low in alcohol with a ridiculous amount of yeast left in to shake up.  Great source of vitamin B!  It’s funky and delicious.  The next 2 days hold plentiful gigs, and we are so excited for them, but, we are feeling the wear and tear of the road and we can feel our long flight back to the US looming.  Until next time, check out this unbelievable video of HoJoon Lee playing a tune he showed me on his gayageum!

Come! Up go, let’s play!

Andy here – yesterday we left Seoul to travel south to Jeonju for the Jeonju International Sori Festival.  Beautiful mountains, countrysides, and big apartment buildings flew by as we zipped across the country.

We arrived at a traditional Korean residence, where we sleep on mats on the floor under pagodas.  After a quick change into our swank gig clothes, a quick drive to the festival brought us to an epic amphitheater area with steps that seemed designed to make you fall if you’re not looking.  The theme of the festival was “Come!  Up go, let’s play!” which is apparently a very clever play on both Korean and English words.

We had a great tent area to warm up and get our instruments out, and were able to meet with Kim Hyung Suk, a producer, composer, film-scorer, one of the chairs of the festival, and THE K-Pop Wizard!  He was a great vibe and we really enjoyed talking to him about music and the music business.  After a sweet jazz orchestra, we played one set and had a ridiculous amount of fun playing with all the positive energy flowing back at us from the audience.

After our set, a saxophone group was followed by a beautiful collection of traditional Korean musicians, playing a combination of bowed strings, plucked strings, flutes and buzzing reed instruments, guitar and drums.  Their musical interactions were transfixing and they sat in a semi-circle, legs crossed, creating quite a spiritual vibe.

In a nearby theater, a huge production of a folk story, done in a new way, infused korean trad. music and dance with a pop band and orchestra of traditional instruments.  This featured incredible expressive, gritty, soulful singing, and epic dancing, characters, and a sensory overload of fog, lights, sound.  One of the singers was a national treasure, and it was truly a pleasure to see this performance.

Exiting the theater we were greeted by a traditional Farmer’s dance music parade featuring drums, gongs, flying streamers and incredible costumes.  For me, it seemed highly reminiscent of the Banished Fools parades in Providence over New Years!  As the group worked its way down the steps towards the stage, they began circling in a giant pulsing ball of incredible energy and some of the crowd including us made it down and danced with all of the performers.  As we were catching our breath, one of the most amazing fireworks displays I’ve ever seen shot off of a nearby roof.  Are you kidding me?  This was an amazing experience.

As if the arc of the night couldn’t possibly get more insane, the festival after-party featured delicious food, and super loud cheers we couldn’t fully comprehend, though we appreciated their enthusiasm!  The vibe was celebratory as all of the volunteers made the whole festival possible and we can’t thank them enough for their help.  On the spur of a moment, we grabbed our instruments for a raucous acoustic encore and that rounded out the night for us to return to our comfy pagodas.

Today was a great day for food – we got up early for traditional Korean breakfast of rice, spicy beef, kimchee, fish, fermented miso soup and a more!  Lunch was a vast array of the most dishes we’ve seen put on a table so far with bulgogi – marinated beef with mushrooms and onions as the centerpiece.  We followed all the amazing food with a cultural exchange where we listened to music from Ladies and Gentlemen, a Korean Indie-Rock band, as well as their fusion with traditional music.  We shared our music and then listened to an unbelievable Gayageum player, who taught us Arirang – a popular Korean folk song.  What a day what a day!  I’m sitting here in our little pagoda village with Stash and Eric, editing videos and writing this post.  I hope you enjoy!

with Kim Hyung Suk

Dili, Timor Leste

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!

Angkor Wat

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.

These stairs are 75 degrees to make you humble. CRAZY climb.


with our guide Mr. Sopheap

... just a piece of 50-100 meter long stone carvings of Hindu epics at Angkor Wat

these dancers will be dancing as long as Ankor Wat stands

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!  ~~~

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.

Farewell to Thailand at the Ambassador’s Residence

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:

The Earth Stringband visits a Buddhist Temple in Phitsanulok, Thailand


a plate of one of our epic Thai meals


...and the family who made our epic roadside meal


Hill Tribe Villlage Rooftops


Mah Fah Luang University Workshop Musicians!!! (Chiang Rai)

Sihome School / Cultural Hall Concert

Today was a life-altering experience for The Earth Stringband.  Still in Vientiane, we began our morning with a workshop / concert at the Sihome School (Sihome means ‘beautiful fragrance’.)  These kids were far younger than those at the workshop yesterday.  This was a true cultural exchange – we shared our music, and when we were done, they shared their music and dance.

We took off our shoes and sandals when we came into the library to show respect for their culture.  It’s easy to offend if care is not taken to respect these differences.  For example, our signal for “this tune is about to end” is lifting our foot casually.  We’ve been performing this action our whole musical lives and it is second nature.  In Laos, we have learned that feet and especially showing the soles of your feet or shoes is a very sensitive and potentially very disrespectful action.  To choose to take off our footwear, even though our translator offered to explain that it was because we were American and we are not familiar, was to set the tone of respect right from the beginning of the workshop.  That tone grew warmer by the second as we began to play music and interact with the kids.

The Earth Stringband is a vibey band.  While we’ll play and be happy in any situation because we love playing music together, when we are able to really engage our audience and there’s energy coming back, we feed off the vibes.  The energy flowing in the library of the Sihome School was explosive, in the best possible way.  While we did not speak the same language, music and dance functioned perfectly as a universal language.  These kids had such great energy and we really connected with them on a human level.  We fed off their energy as they fed off our energy, whether it was jumping up and down to the Old Time “Wolves ‘A Howling” or meditating to the Cajun waltz, “Chez Seychelles.”  Watching the expressions on their faces as they reacted to our traditional music moved us deeply.

When we sat down on the floor to watch some students perform traditional Lao dancing, there was a moment before the dancing started in which a boy was rolling a die (singular of dice), enthralled by the results.  He would hold up his fingers with the number it landed on and give a look of true excitement.  Entertainment is relative.  This is one of those little things that put a lot of other things in perspective for us.

Watch a video of these beautiful dances by clicking here 

We followed Noi Sengsuriya (who introduced us to the school today and also happens to be one of the most prolific people we have ever met) to one of her favorite Lao restaurants.  From exotic vegetables to stomach lining soup to mysterious bitter sauce and really spicy papaya salad (I’m leaving out a Lao-t) this meal of traditional food, prepared by the multi-generational family who ran the restaurant, was off the charts delicious.  While I’m in the foodie portion of the blog, I will mention that we really love Beerlao, the National Beer of Laos.  It is a crisp, refreshing, balanced lager in the vein of Czech pilsners.  The delicious hop flavor especially shines in Beerlao Gold, my personal favorite.

Later on, we performed in the Cultural Hall for the general public, all were invited.  The American Ambassador to Laos, Karen Stewart, introduced us and we played two sets of music.  After our first set, a group of Lao musicians who were students at the National School of Music and Dance (who we worked with yesterday) played a couple of traditional Lao tunes, followed by the culmination of what we learned from each other: they jammed on Cotton Eyed Joe with us (and even took raging solos!) and we jammed out with them on Cham par meuang lao (a beautiful song about the national flower) as 3 beautiful Lao dancers moved gracefully to the music.

Now, about to leave Laos tomorrow afternoon for Thailand, new adventures await.  We’ll be moving forward with a great appreciation for the people and culture of Laos, and we will never forget these experiences.  The Earth Stringband loves it here and we all hope to come back soon!

Traditional Lao food:

The culinary family:

So much has happened in the past 2 days, I just have to post these pictures from yesterday’s workshop and two more videos of Lao traditional music and dance performed by very young and very good musicians.  Here we go:

The Earth Stringband eats crickets in Laos

Fried, no batter.

The band strolls through Vientiane, Laos:

In Transit

We are in the Bangkok airport, in transit! This post was written in my music notation Moleskine notebook which you can see below in this picture of my airplane tray table.

MN to Japan was my longest plane flight ever, for sure.  We took a bus into the center of Narita (city near Tokyo where both the airport and our hotel were) and poked around a couple blocks. An entire flock of some small but very vocal small birds were gathered in the trees above us. Besides the birds, everything seemed very quiet. Commuters, students.. We had trouble finding a restaurant until we walked up to an elevated walkway that led to a train station.  Through the other side was a whole other world, much more like the Japan I had imagined – flashing colored lights, cute looking tiny bars, little restaurants.. After a popular place was full, a couple steps further brought us to a beautiful medium sized restaurant with a sliding door entrance (couldn’t figure out how to get in for a moment). The entire kitchen staff greeted us with a loud unison friendly welcome! After getting through couple language barriers, we were able to order a pitcher of beer and some food. I don’t think the cold udon noodles on ice were exactly what my bandmates had in mind but it looked really good. My rice box (see my last mini blog) was a large, hot, splintering, wooden box filled with steamed rice (perfectly cooked), tender grilled salmon, and plentiful salmon roe. The wasabi was the freshest ever – a whole other world of wasabi. The beer in Japan that we were able to taste (I know for a fact the rabbit hole goes deeper but we weren’t able to find any Japanese craft beer) is not very flavorful but tastes very real. Extra light malts with herbal, mineral-like hop bitterness with extremely clean yeast profile.. refreshing and delicious!

As I sit here on the plane to Thailand (en route Laos) I’m left wishing we could have seen Tokyo proper and spent more time in Japan. Aside from a little noodling in the hotel room apres dinner, we did not get to play our instruments. I hope to come back, with a gig next time!

Update from Bangkok airport: Did I mention how excited I am to play music in Southeast Asia?! Not to mention the food which is amazing at every turn! So far the beef curry on Thai Royal Airlines has set a new bar for best airplane food ever. I sat next to a Japanese businessman, also 25, who runs a business selling orchids internationally. He was eager to practice his English and we both worked on how to order Thai food at the desired spice level. The snacks – mix of rice crackers and dried fish and the green tea ice cream add to my high rating of this flight.  The seats were brightly colored, and you quickly see that the Thai culture is a very colorful culture.  The vibe is very inviting.  Now we’re in the airport, waiting to fly to Laos. Our first concert is on Monday!  Even if this seems like a food blog right now, the music and cultural exchange is about to hit really hard and we are so ready to start picking tunes!  Thanks everyone out there listening!

Below: Eric Robertson keeps calm on our flight

Narita / Tokyo Airport tweet

Hey friends!  We made it through the longest flight ever to Narita / Tokyo airport in Japan.  We are alive, well, and beyond excited!  Monak from Jazz at Lincoln Center is traveling with us through Laos and Thailand.  Speaking of Laos and Thailand, tomorrow early morning we fly from Japan to Laos via Bangkok.  travel travel travel!  This picture is of a cooked salmon / salmon roe rice dish from downtown Narita.  Deeelicioius!

Welcome to the Southeast Asia tour Blog!!!

This is Andy Reiner from The Earth Stringband!  We’re all beyond excited to travel to Southeast Asia on The Rhythm Road produced by The State Department and Jazz at Lincoln Center.  If you are reading this, you are in the same place that each member of the band will be posting text, videos, and pictures of the people we meet and the places we go.  We’ll be travelling to Laos, Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), East Timor, and South Korea.  We hope you will follow our travels as well as download our free album (though please feel free to donate!)  We’re leaving on September 8th and returning on October 11th so expect this site to be updated with new posts every chance we get!  Thank you and come back soon for updates!

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