Essays: On The Road And A Little Off

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   TOURING FRANCE 2004 - Part Two

Nashville, August 27, 2004 - - When we last left our feckless heroes, they were headed out to play their second gig.

Le Cornemuse is on the road between Chateau Chinon and Arleuf. It is a bar and performance hall run by a bear of a Frenchman named Gerard and his cheerfully no-nonsense wife and daughter. There is a stairway to the third floor where the entertainers stay.

The Doc and I get there after only about two hours on the road from The Tomahawk.

On Saturday night we are privileged to perform with a very tight French threesome called...get this...TRIO GRANDE, and they play "old country and Tex-Mex," says Robert, who, along with his compatriots plays guitar but specializes in accordion. I have noticed that while the French are
somewhat reluctant to approach rocknroll on a first-name basis,
especially in the face of possibly negative criticism from someone with
roots in the source (me), they show no such tendencies when it comes to
Cajun stuff. A matter of cultural sure-footedness, I'm certain. As my
friend Sem van der Tien in Amsterdam once said to me, "You are from the Valhalla of rocknroll. It's all around you. But when I shut off my
stereo and step outside, I'm still in Amsterdam." That kinda thing.

The Doc and I are having dinner with Trio Grande. I look up and see my
friend Jean-Luc and beside him his band mate Felicie, sometimes called
"Mary-Lou" by the fans of the band she and Jean-Luc inhabit. There are
hugs and croix-de-guerre kisses all around.

Here's a translation, pretty rough I'm sure, of what the bill at Le
Cornemuse had to say about me and The Doc(you'll pardon me if I blush):
"Panama Red (USA) is a songwriter from the independent American scene. Despite the temptations he has never abandoned his freedom to gain entree to the music industry(which has been clamoring for me to sell out since forever. Yeah, right.) He is noticed and known by numerous big stars (most of whom I owe money)." Something about my songs breathing freedom or maybe reeking of it, then it continues, "Panama Red writes in the Country Folk movement with songs that look into the heart." Of The Doc, Le Cornemuse had to say, "Sharing the aura with Panama Red is ROB DOKTER, a Hollander of the same stamp. He is a Neil Young of Holland. They are a shocking duo." Shocking.

Well, the show went shockingly well. Trio Grande opened, then we played, then Trio Grande again, and then we closed. We had a finale involving Jean-Luc and Felicie and Trio Grande. The French love finales, who doesn't, I guess, and so we did "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", and that got them all teary-eyed so we did "Goodnight Irene". Sold some CDs and a few bottles of the Hair Restorer Tonic.

Next morning dawns bright and the Neil Young of Holland and I set off for the town of Chateau Chinon, where we also played last year. Chateau Chinon is famous for being the hometown of the author George Sand, Chopin's sweetheart in France. She married a baron, kept her baroness-ness after he expired, became an author and got it on with Freddy whenever he would come through town. All in all, in America she'd be a scandal, but in Chateau Chinon they've named the elementary school after her.

Anyway, there is a festival in Chateau Chinon at about this time every
August and we are privileged to play. Mary-Lou also is performing here,
and we each jump around from one stage to another. Chateau Chinon is
located on a hill (think about it: most of these thousand-year-old places
are going to be on the high ground, what with needing the advantage over your marauding Huns and everything),anyway, located on a hill, so moving from one stage to another exercises muscles best left alone, but big bucks are at stake so I soldier through it. There are a lot of mules and asses involved in the festival, so many that the symbol of the festival is the likeness of a donkey. Being a nominal Democrat and a definitive ass myself I felt at home.

These little country towns The Doc and I play all have one thing in
common: each has a monument on which is inscribed the names of those
young men from the area who gave their lives in the defense of France.
One thing stands out. Those who died in World War I far outnumber those who died in World War II, for the simple fact that the Great War so thinned the population that there were hardly any men left to father the generation that faced Hitler. France entered World War II with an army so few to begin with of young boys and old men. Something perhaps we should keep in mind while munching our Freedom Fries.

We sell beaucoup CDs at Chateau Chinon, spend another night at Le
Cornemuse, and then next day set off for the wilds of Bretagne, far
across the country.

NEXT: Canal Boy and Guitar Bum Play Bretagne, Plans Change, Life Goes On