The stage in Athens
Our next stop was Budapest, Hungary, where there is only one direct flight per day from Beirut and it’s at 4:30 a.m. We have some time to kill before the flight, but with everything closed and being in a semi-comatose state, the only thing I was conscious of was the airport music, which consists exclusively of the first 16 bars of the theme from Rodrigo’s “Concertio de Aranjuez” played in all its MIDI’d glory. Mercifully, the boarding commences and we’re off.
Budapest is an absolutely beautiful city made up of the amalgamation of the two cities of Buda (the hilly side of the river) and Pest (the flat bit on the other side). The architecture has been lovingly preserved and the people are warm and friendly. But it can rain there. Our venue, the Open Air Stage, Margitsziget, was in a park on an island in the middle of the Danube. Surrounded by a sculpture garden of statues of heroes whose claim to fame seemed to more often than not have something to do with besieging and pillaging, our setting was also rain-soaked. Oh, and one other thing: Except for my stuff, which traveled with me, all of the other gear and instruments were nowhere to be found. Apparently, they were stuck in customs due to an unspecified problem for an indeterminate length of time.
One of our crew was dispatched to the customs house, where he was professionally ignored for several hours. Meanwhile, several calls were made until the proper official was located who, shall we say, unofficially accepted a payment that never happened, and the gear was processed and released as soon as it arrived. Five hours late. Still, the mics went up and the show went on and the rain miraculously stopped during the first tune. We packed up and went back to the hotel for a night’s rest and then were up the next morning for the two-flight journey to Taormina, Italy.
Wolpert’s custom case for his gear
Interestingly, the airport systems throughout our tour all seemed to operate on the same principle of utter chaos. Essentially, you arrive at the airport within the recommended time, wait in an unmoving line until 15 minutes before your flight departs, cut in front of everyone, mumbling apologies in the local dialect with a terrible accent, run through security, where they insist on inspecting the impenetrable metal objects you are carrying in your bag, run to the gate breathlessly and wait 20 minutes for the bus that will take you to your plane.
Sicily is incredibly beautiful, and Taormina, on the southwest coast, is one of its most outstanding locations. Terraced up a steep slope, it overlooks the Mediterranean against a backdrop of picturesque mountains. The venue, the Teatro Antico, is a Roman amphitheater in a spectacular setting. Once again, we set up, line check, soundcheck, rehearse, have dinner, line check again and the show goes on. I constantly adjust the mix to get a reasonable balance. These mixes will serve as a basis from which to judge the performances. It’s best if they are as good as I can make them under the circumstances so that accurate judgments can be made. I’m not using any additional processing, so balance is all I’ve got. Still, it’s a powerful enough tool with which to do the task at hand.
We have most of the next day to spend in Taormina, and a few of us take the funicular (cable car) down to the water. We’d like to swim but it seems that there was a jellyfish convention that day. We spent a night at the airport hotel in Catania, where I finally got to swim in the Mediterranean, and then it was back to airport madness and Greece for three shows in three days. Arriving in Athens and heading toward our bus for a three-and-a-half-hour ride to Patras, our cellist, Caroline Leveille, bumped into another cellist who was also touring Greece with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. A half-hour out of Athens our bus breaks down and who should come to our rescue but the bus carrying the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. We board to discover a bevy of Norwegian beauties, but are unceremoniously dumped off a few minutes later at the nearest roadside taverna to await our replacement transportation. The bonus was that the food was excellent. A few hours later we arrived in Patras. The next morning it’s off to the Arxaio Odeio (Ancient Odeon). This is a very interesting place. Until it had been unearthed in 1899, it had lain hidden under a hill. It features a proscenium arch and the whole place has been carefully restored with marble seating. Many archeological artifacts have been discovered along with the theater and are displayed in the surrounding gardens. It was another spectacular setting for a full house and a great show. We packed up and boarded the bus for Athens, checked into the hotel at 4 a.m. and had a lobby call for 7 a.m. Back to the airport mayhem and line cutting to make the flight to Thessoliniki. Kinda sucks the glamour right out of touring, doesn’t it? Still, the crew that provided our production and backline had to drive all night to make it to the next gig, so I guess we had it relatively easy.
Thessolaniki is a culture-rich city in northern Greece. The Moni Lazariston (Lazaristai Monastery) was surrounded by high walls on three sides, presenting an interesting challenge for FOH. While I captured the sound of the house at each concert, the amount of ambience that makes it into the final mix remains to be seen. That’s because the possibility of editing between shows may make the ambient tracks less usable. The band and the crowd had a great night, and after tear-down all we had to do was walk across the street to the hotel.
The next morning it was off to Athens for the final concert. We were playing in a venue that is know as the Stone Theatre (Melina Merkouri), which is at the top of a hill but at the bottom of a cliff. The backdrop to the stage is a massive, sheer-stone face. In front of the stage is open space looking across the city. The promoter crammed more than 6,000 people in, even after the tour manager made them remove the seats with obstructed views. It was a great show and a great end to the tour. The next morning, and for the last time of the tour I got to the airport extra early to clear the carnet and fly home! After a happy reunion with my extraordinarily tolerant wife and the inevitable “So what did you bring me?” questions from my kids, I finally got a good night sleep. The next day I made safety copies of the material and returned the completed carnet for a refund of the deposit.
All told, the trip was exhilarating, exhausting and enlightening. Amazing places and people, sleep deprivation and the knowledge that less is more makes me remember what my father told me about traveling: “Take half the clothes and twice the money.” Maybe we should change that to half the gear and twice the energy?