Swedish Blog2 (Dallas Smith)

We’re three concerts into the tour now. It’s actually quite amazing that Christian managed to set up 27 performances in 19 days. One day we have three school performances, which is why the number of concerts is more than the number of days. Today is actually the only “free” day of the tour. We will spend the day in a local recording studio, recording some more tracks for our new CD, due out next year for the Mynta 30th Year Celebration Tour.

Stockholm Concert

Our opening concert was in Stockholm’s premiere jazz club, called Fasching. The club has seen lots of famous and less-famous performers. The late great saxophonist Michael Brecker’s photo hangs on the bulletin board in the green room. The sound man, whom I’ve met again every year, is a Polish guy named Pavel. He has an extensive library of recordings made at the club of many performers now deceased. I commented that this archive could turn out to be quite valuable to him someday. After all, the single biggest career move an artist can make, to bring move value to their work, is to die.

The Fasching performance was with Mynta’s back-up tabla player, Suranjana Ghosh. Coincidentally and luckily for Mynta, she had arrived in Stockholm from India the day before and was able to substitute for Fazal, who was delayed by the American embassy in Bombay. Fazal’s famous brother, Zakir Hussain, is mounting another American tour of eleven Indian Masters of Percussion. In order to process everyone’s visa, the American embassy required all eleven performers to appear at the same time on a given day for an interview. That day happened to be the same day as the performance he was booked to play with us at Fasching. The embassy officials were unwilling to make an exception for Fazal, who already had purchased his plane ticket to Sweden for our concert. Unfortunately, I have heard time and time again from my foreign friends, that since 9/11 American embassy staff seem to want to just make it unpleasant to apply for an American visa. Luckily, Fazal was able to change his airline reservation with a minimal change fee, and Suranjana played wonderfully with us. We had played with her most recently in Bangalore in January, at our big concert with superstar singer, Shankar Mahadevan. Fazal had had a booking conflict on that date as well.

A Desert Gig

The day after our Stockholm performance, we drove around five hours to a small town in South-Central Sweden called Eksjö (pronounced “ek-sher”). We have a piece in our repertoire called Desert Jig, composed by our guitarist, Max, which leads to talk of a “desert gig”. The wordplay concerns the definition of a desert gig: bad hall, bad audience, bad food, bad accommodations, etc. Unfortunately, Eksjö fulfilled many of those conditions. Our accommodations were at a converted military barracks, which after a century of housing soldiers now houses an arts center. (I consider this the best possible conversion.) There were no televisions…some of the rooms didn’t have private bathrooms. (Mine did, lucky for me.)

When we arrived at the concert hall, we found it to be on the third floor of an old building with no elevator. So we had to carry up our instruments and the PA system up three flights of stairs. We worried about whether anyone would attend, but it turned out that around fifty people came. Their response was very good. After the concert, some audience members helped us carry our gear down the stairs again. Since all the restaurants were closing before we could finish packing up, the organizer brought us take-out Chinese/Thai food to eat back at the dormitory/barracks. The food turned out to be pretty good, or at least we were hungry enough to enjoy it. We made the best of this Desert Gig.

A Dream Concert

By contrast, our concert last night was just the way we wish they all would be. Kristianstad is a medium sized city on the Southern coast of Sweden, a three hour drive from Eksjö. Our hotel is good, complete with internet, which allowed me to conference myself via Skype into an HHS office meeting back in Reno. Our performance was in a small concert hall, which was filled to overflowing with around 130 people. The sound man had a great speaker system and extensive microphone selection. He had received our stage plot in advance and had all the microphones plus monitors set up when we arrived. (Thus, we didn’t have to unload our sound system.) The sound man recorded our concert direct to two CD’s, which he gave to us after the concert. And finally, he ran my small video camcorder, which recorded the concert. This was the opposite of the previous night’s Desert Gig. In addition, we managed to present decent performances of two new compositions of mine that I had introduced to everyone for the first time just three days ago. We will try to record them in the studio later today.

Swedish Cultural Observations

1. During my first days in Sweden, I spent a pleasant evening at the new house of an old friend just outside Stockholm. His heating system was remarkable in my experience, though it is apparently quite common in Sweden, namely “underground radiant heating”. It turns out that one can dig down 300-500 feet and tap into hot water/steam far underground. This heated water is then routed up and through pipes around the house, providing endless heating, including the common practice of heating the floors, which is very pleasant since it is common to take off one’s shoes in Swedish households. My friend Micky said that the system cost him about thirty thousand dollars. (This is around the same price of a solar power generation system that I priced in Reno.) But what strikes me is the fact that Reno is located right over an active geothermal area. It wouldn’t be necessary to dig so deeply around Reno to reach the scalding water. Everyone in Reno is familiar with the geothermal power plant located at the junction of highway 395 and the Mt. Rose highway. Steam can be seen coming out of the ground around there. This area was formerly the site of therapeutic steam baths, which were razed years ago because of the owners’ non-payment of taxes. I don’t know why we Americans are so slow to embrace ecologically practical solutions to our energy needs. The technology for underground radiant heating is so common in Sweden, I challenge any of my Reno readers to import this great business opportunity into Nevada.

2. Perhaps this service already exists in the states…maybe I’m just not aware of it. In any case, in Sweden one can call directory assistance on one’s cell phone, and the live operator immediately sends the number back to your cell phone as a text link. All you have to do is click send/dial, and with one click you can connect to your desired party, all while driving. Can anyone enlighten me?…Do we have this service at home?

3. Perhaps some of you have read about London charging drivers who want to enter the inner city with their vehicles. The intention is to reduce traffic and ease the demand for parking. New York City is considering the same plan for the same reasons. Stockholm has instituted a system in which drivers are given an electronic ID card to keep in their cars. If the car passes certain bridges which are the access points to Stockholm’s center, then the driver is automatically charged ten Swedish kronor (about $1.60), which is charged to the driver’s bank account. When Christian and I drove to his parents’ place to pick up the PA system to load into the trailer, on the way back as we crossed a bridge, Christian said, “I was just charged ten crowns.” However, Christian likes the system, because traffic has noticeably decreased since the charges were instituted. Drives that used to take a half hour due to heavy traffic now take only ten minutes.

4. Driving through the Swedish countryside, one is struck by the orderliness and the beauty. There are no billboards to disturb the landscape. (As far as I know, only Hawaii has a billboard ban in the US.) There are now slums or broken down neighborhoods. Actually, there are relatively few people on the streets. While Stockholm has over a million people, the whole country only has nine million or so. One other pleasant feature is the wide use of traffic circles instead of stoplights. Thus, we are able to drive through the many small towns, mostly without stopping, due to the traffic circles and the resulting absence of stoplights. They really make traffic flow better. Reno has a new traffic circle at Kietzke and Neil Roads, which works well.

5. The hotel here is Kristianstad is the first place I’ve had the chance to watch CNN. I also watch the BBC, which I’ve always appreciated. I realize that I’ve not suffered for the lack of US news. It’s such a waste that the American news is consumed with the competition between Obama and Clinton, which seems to be helping McCain. Everybody here is scared of McCain, just as I am, for his intention to prolong and expand the Iraq war, perhaps to “bomb Iran”. Nobody here sees the point of the US continuing to occupy Iraq, perhaps for years. Nobody here believes the Bush line that we “have to fight them over there so we won’t have to fight them over here.” The net effect of the Iraq war in Europe has been to reduce America’s stature, both politically and economically.

Meanwhile, I read in the NY Times that the war receives only 20% of the coverage it got from 2002-2004, due to the preoccupation with the sagging economy and the presidential race. Out of sight—out of mind—the Bush administration probably prefers that, since the news is uniformly bad from Iraq and Afghanistan. When will we learn? Will the next election be about “personalities” rather than issues? Will the latent racists derail Obama? Will the latent sexists sink Hillary? Or will the desire of the American people to hang on to past glories give McCain a blank check to expand the war for the next four (or eight) years? What will our economy do when petroleum reaches two hundred dollars a barrel? In the tough economic times ahead, will I still be able to afford to fly to Europe or Asia to tour with Mynta???

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