Category Archives: Thailand
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!
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