“Jeez, there’s a lot of foreigners over here…”
an American comment overheard on the train from Nantes to Rochelle…
Rochefort, France, August 21, 2007 -- I am on the phone to my friend Karel Beer, the impresario.
“Hey, Karel, do you think I could maybe come down a day early?”
“Panama, I’m sure we can work something out. Just let me know when you’re coming in, and someone will meet you at the station and deliver you to your hotel tout de suite.”
“Okay, I’ll be in tomorrow at four pm.”
“No problem, maestro.”
August 22 --
This is what I like about being an International Celebrity. People will bend over backwards to make sure that your every need is met, you do not have to worry, because somebody will always be at your beck and call. Taking care of your every whim. Anticipating your needs before you’re even aware of them. Keeping back the floods, the throngs of fans and paparazzi at every public appearance…
Thus it was more than somewhat troubling when I got off the train at Rochefort to be met by…nobody. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zipadeedoodah. Nobody to meet me from the Festival staff, and not even one throng of fan. Not a single paparazzo. All it needed was a tumbleweed blowing across the tracks and that Sergio Leone whistle tune to let me know just how desolate I was here. Abandoned. Deserted.
I picked up my guitar and pulled my wheely down the track and into the station. Maybe my guide was waiting inside the station. Nope. Ah, well, I thought, perhaps they’re waiting for me out front in the limo, engine running, so as to get me to my sumptuous suite as rapidly as possible. I strode purposefully through the station and out onto the sidewalk.
Dang! Nobody out here had the slightest resemblance to someone from the Festival staff. No one seemed to be anxiously searching for a startlingly handsome red-headed International Celebrity at all.
The internal dialogue begins: Oh, well. Best to be philosophical about these things, these unintentional little slights, after all, there’s a lot more going on than just getting Panama picked up and delivered to his room in this town he’s only been in one time before in his life. Yeah. Philosophical. That’s the ticket. HEADS ARE GONNA ROLL, DAMMIT! WHAT AM I, CHOPPED LIVER? Well, actually, Panama, you are chopped liver. Whyn’t you just go across the street to that nice café over there, get them to ring up a taxi and get to the Festival site yourself, like any self-reliant blue-eyed handsome man with a workable amount of Eurocash in his poke would do?… So I do just that. We drive to the City Center. The cab lady reminds me of Shirley Jones, the mom in the Partridge Family, but I can’t get her to join in on “Get Happy”. I tip her anyway. She is happy and surprised.
Rochefort is a comfortably small city on the Atlantic coast about halfway down the western seaboard of France. So it was not difficult to find my way via taxi to the center of town. What I wanted most of all was an internet café, my cyber connection to all that is real in my life. I found one, and looked up Karel’s previous correspondences about who was staying where in the three or four hotels involved in this year’s bash. I discovered that I was once again staying in the Roca Fortis, and that the Roca Fortis was just four easily negotiated blocks away. I hiked over there.
Rochefort En Accords is a festival unique in its almost unplanned format. The theory is that individual performers will arrive from various continents and then, in a four or five day period, form impromptu acts which will then perform in various venues throughout the city center. It is the brainchild of Karel Beer and Philippe Thieyre. If it is about anything at all, it’s about spontaneous music.
I was present at the first Rochefort En Accords in 2005, but I missed 2006, and now 2007 will, if successful, cement the festival as an ongoing entity. There’s nothing more iffy than “First Annual” anything, but last year was bigger than the year before, and this year shows every promise of being bigger than 2006. By the third successful year, these things have acquired a more or less permanent status.
But it has been constantly raining this summer throughout France, and the festival promoters and city officials cast worried glances at the sky. Nothing kills a festival faster than rain, even though some of the events will be indoors.
For me, though, the festival is an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new ones and play and get paid in the process. My friends Geraint Watkins, B.J. Cole and Ronnie Caryl will be in attendance, and performing with players of their caliber is certain to lift my own chops immensely. In fact, it is a truth that without exception every performer here will have something worthwhile to add to the mix and I’m looking forward to the challenges and the surprises.
I have long admired Barry Melton, “The Fish” of Country Joe, and look forward to visiting and playing with him. My friends Paul Tiernan, George Wolfheart and John Lester, whom I also met in 2005 will be returning this year, and there is the opportunity of getting to meet face to face my MySpace friend Angie Palmer.
I check into the Roca, am greeted by les concierges hubby and wife team, and am informed that this year I will have a room in the building through the garden, “so Monsieur Panama will not be disturbed”. I recognize this as code for “so that this year you will not be slamming through the main stairwell at three am waking everybody up, singing “Barnacle Bill the Sailor” at the top of your lungs,” but I accept my new digs graciously, and get on the blower to Karel, ensconced in the Hotel Corderie Royale down by the riverside. He is in Room 110.
What to say about Karel Beer? Just about as mannered an Englishman as is possible, except when he’s surly, which only happens in fits and starts and even then he has a certain entertainment value…I had met him through Bob Neuwirth, which is a recommendation, plus he is constantly surrounded by darling young things…one of whom answers my knock on his door. It is my new friend Captain Julie, and toward the end of the festival she will put me in my musical place, but I don’t know that yet, so… and the first duty I have is restringing Karel’s Japanese Telecaster. He’s kvetching about it not sounding right on the upper frets. It’s a nice axe, but the intonation is a little off, and I promise Mr Beer that I’ll adjust it back in Paris. This statement seems to mollify him, and he suggests we go to dinner.
My new friend Marie-Juliette Beer (no relation) arrives, and we set off for town. Thus the eating and imbibing that typifies Rochefort En Accords begins.
Next: “Here By the River”! We are introduced to Nick Harper