Thursday, 18 September 2014

Music Idols

It's not often one gets to see or even meet their music idols. In fact, depending on your taste in music, it can be nearly impossible (eg: they are no longer living...). I've been very lucky to see a few of my favourite musicians - multiple times in different countries, on opposite ends of the world even.

As a singer/songwriter and folkie (a folk musician) my heroes include, to name a few: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Tim O'Brien, Mark Knopfler, The Band, The Beatles...and so on (it's a very long list). The last two were obviously not an option when hoping for concerts, but the others...

I've seen Bob Dylan three times: once in Albuquerque, in London at an Irish festival of all places, and in Nottingham when he played with Mark Knopfler. I've seen Mark Knopfler in Denver too. Tim O'Brien frequented the local Folk and Bluegrass Festival in my home town when I was growing up. An incredibly nice guy when I spoke with him, and he had some great tips about song writing. And Joan Baez.

Joan Baez at the Oosterpoort
Last weekend Joan Baez came to town. Which was both fortuitous and slightly random - I mean, Groningen isn't exactly the first place one thinks of when you hear the name of a top American musician. I had the very great fortune to see her in Cambridge three years ago and meet her as well after the show was over. She was lovely, as you might imagine, beautiful and full of energy. She had played all my favourite songs - songs that I cover during my own sets - and it was all rather surreal. 

This time she was playing at the the 'Take Root Festival', which is an American music roots festival here in Groningen. I was pleasantly surprised by it, as I didn't really know what to expect from an indoor festival. It was quite simple and relaxed actually: four different stages, different bands scheduled throughout the evening, plenty of beer and food: voila! I was able to stand near the stage and listen to Joan Baez sing and tell stories to the crowd. It really is incredible to hear songs you've listened to so many times, sung a mere ten feet away. It is also very moving; her songs are powerful in their own right, but being present always gives them more weight. A most wonderful start to the evening.

There were also plenty of other bands to see once Joan Baez had finished her set. Some rock bands, a folk singer, and a six piece country and western band. With cowboy boots, Stetsons, and steel guitars! I was in my element! Country music was a big part of the culture of where I grew up, and the first songs I ever learned to play on the guitar were country songs. It gets a lot of flak these days, and it is true that it isn't the same as it used to be. It's more rock and pop with a country flair, which doesn't quite cut it.

One reason I loved living in Australia was because country music is quite big there - Tamworth is the country music capital; Keith Urban is from Oz; and country music is often heard on the radio. Living in England, however, was like a country music desert. My oasis: a one hour weekly slot on BBC radio that I listened to regularly. And goodness, trying to explain what a tailgate is... But there was a great collection of English ballads and Celtic inspired music that filled the void, and that too was good.

Therefore, I never expected to move to the Netherlands and suddenly find myself in the midst of an Americana reboot. After all, what was the Netherlands' entry at the Eurovision Song Contest? Calm After the Storm - a country song by the The Common Linnets, a Dutch Americana band. It took Europe by storm and came in second place. And it's not just the Netherlands either: a Danish film maker has just made a Western film with Danish, Swedish, and English actors: The Salvation. A Danish Western...dark and broody with excellent story telling, no doubt! I can't wait to see it. Everywhere I turn I seem to find this interest in Americana: cowboy hats and boots; belt buckles; the rise in popular fiction of "the cowboy" and Western genre. I can think of at least three films coming out in the next few months that are Westerns, and pubs aren't just full of jazz bands, but more often country and western bands - both original and cover bands. It's wonderful!

Anyway, my point is that I found it very inspiring to see my music idol, Joan Baez, as well as get back to my roots a bit. As a musician I believe it is very important to put down the guitar at times and go listen to others. I walked away from that festival with a whole slew of new song ideas and new chords patterns I want to try. When I get to see my music heroes, it always takes me back to when I first heard their music. Back to those first few times I tried to play their songs, learning the tabs and chords. It's like coming full circle, you see: very special. I look forward to sitting down properly and making music after this!