Travel can be enough of an adventure on personal vacations. But when you need to tour for a living, there’s even more at stake. Laughing while they remember language barriers and culture shock, three Minnesotan musicians share the ups and downs of life on the road.
In 2014, I played 10 shows in the Czech Republic. The promoter linked me up with local rapper Joseph, who opened the shows and drove me around. He didn’t speak much English, and obviously, I don’t speak Czech—communication was limited, but we got the job done. But there was one moment that sticks out to me, when the two of us found a real moment of exchange.
We were driving through the countryside from one small town to the next, flipping through the radio. We stopped on a station that was playing country songs, but these were American country songs sung in Czech. My mind was blown.
Joseph explained that this was protest music to them when he was a kid, because American country music was as far away from the Soviet identity that you could go. They were so subversive they were banned on the radio for a period of time. So a bunch of these reborn American songs became part of the new Czech identity. And there were the two of us, driving a blue Eastern Bloc–issued minivan through the hills of Czech Republic, belting out “Take Me Home, Country Roads” from two very different places, in two different languages.
One time I was playing an outdoor festival in Yokohama, Japan. I couldn’t see the crowd from backstage and I figured it was very small since I couldn’t hear much activity. But when I walked onstage there were 20,000 people sitting peacefully in the grass. They’d listen to each song quietly and then clap enthusiastically after each was finished. It was so different than any festival crowd I had ever played for in the U.S.
The stage was set up beside a city harbor and during one quiet song I could hear the sound of water, and I looked out and saw small waves lapping against the side of the harbor 50 yards away. I could hear them perfectly! It blew my mind that it was that quiet and there were that many people there. Quite different from Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo. It culturally joked my mind out.
I was on tour doing a European run with Aby Wolf, and first, it became clear as we woke up after our show in Paris that I had contracted some sort of rash on the right side of my body. It started breaking out in what seemed to be localized hives, and there was no time on the tour to go to the doctor. So I took a picture of my shoulders, and I put it on Instagram, and I said, “Instagram contest: Is there any dermatologist who can tell me what is going on?” It turned out that I had contracted bedbugs in Paris, and the next stop was Milan. I couldn’t wear a lot of the clothing I had brought with me because it was now potentially infected with bedbugs, so I had to perform in the fashion capital of the world in the shirt I had slept in the night before.
Then, I sat down for my first home-cooked Italian meal, and Aby looked at me and said, “What’s wrong?” She could read in my facial expression that something was going seriously awry. I said, “Is there anything wrong with my face?” She said, “No.” And I said, “The right side of my face is going numb.” We were speaking in fast English so that our very gracious hosts wouldn’t understand. I went into the bathroom, and I saw my right eye beginning to swell shut from some sort of allergic reaction. So I called Lazerbeak, crying, asking if he could please do a bit of Googling about when a person whose eye was swelling shut should go to the ER.
Made it through the night, and the next day, I had another performance, but one of my eyes was almost swelled shut, and I was covered in flea bites. I didn’t want to take stage like that, so I went to the doctor—there was a medical tent on the beach set up for tourists who’d had too much sun—to see if he could give me an eyepatch to perform in. He gave me one, but it was huge, white, and hospital-grade. I said, “No, I don’t want this eyepatch,” but we didn’t have a lot of language in common, so I pantomimed a Mariah Carey-type diva performance. One of the nurses goes, “She’s a singer!” She said, “Sexy?” I said, “Yes! I need a sexy eyepatch.” So I took out a sheet of paper and drew, like, a sexy woman with my haircut wearing a sexual eye patch.
The doctor said, “There’s only two ways to find that. You can go to a store for bambini.” I said, “Okay. A children’s store. Pirata?” He said, “Yes. Ask to be a pirate at a children’s costume shop. Or you can go to sexy shop.” He walked me out, and he gave me directions to the nearest kink shop. I was walking there, and I realized I was going to have to walk in, obviously covered in insect bites with my right eye closed and swollen. [Laughing] I would have to ask for an erotic costume, which I think would lead the person behind the counter to believe that I was in a very frisky mood and needed just a little help to turn up the romance. I looked way less sexy than I looked contagious.
I ended up finding an eyepatch with a skull and crossbones on it from a vendor on the beach, and by the time the actual show rolled around, the medicine had kicked in, and my eye was open. But I did have my eyepatch with me, just in case.
This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and 89.3 The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.