Having never before even boarded a plane, I drove 4 hours from Casper to Denver just for the dubious privilege of spending 9 hours praying the wind uphold me all the way to Germany. Across North America. By night over the Atlantic. My brother, Brandel, and I finally arrived in Frankfurt and shambled off that winged contraption. We rented a car and tried our luck even further on the Autobahn. We only got lost once.
The Tauber Valley was astonishing. The forests and fields stood full in bloom. Verdant meadows and shining skies. Little villages climbing the hillsides. Gardens. Groves. Centuries-old structures crowded in the hamlets with modern wind turbines turning over the horizons.
We found our little "landhotel" which sat right next to the Tauber River.
Anna, our hostess, was indeed gracious.[http://landhotel-muehlenwoerth.de/]
The beautiful bells in the belfry just up from our place welcomed us again and again and again...
There Brandel and I crashed until early evening when we ventured out to stretch our legs, explore the village, and to locate something to eat.
The nearest open restaurants were a couple of villages south. Refusing to fly all the way to Germany to eat at a place called "Pizza Pie," we decided on a hall across the square. Closed. So, we wandered into the joint next door. Even though we were speaking quietly, our accents gave us away, as two long-haired fellows at the bar asked us if we were American. They hailed from the States too!
That's how we met "the Matts" -- Matt Johnsen and Matt Crooks. Veterans of the annual Keep It True festival, they ended up being our American Ambassadors to KIT as well as to Germany.
By the way, be sure to check out Pharaoh - a fine power metal group out of Pennsylvania.
Anyhow, after eating and drinking a bit, we walked with our new friends to another bar that ended up being closed. (Germany's business hours still confound me.) Along the walk was when I took the the picture to the right.
So then we drove to the next village for the festival's warm-up party which was taking place in an old gymnasium with an open bar and a DJ playing a selection of new and vintage heavy metal. Quite the gathering of metal-heads.
I volunteered to be the driver and so held back from drinking any more. Not much of a hard drinker in the first place, I was also somewhat on edge. Not only was I a stranger in a strange land, I was also in the midst of the final weeks of the spring semester with a few important projects still due in my master's courses. I was having trouble thinking of much else. In fact, I took a whole slough of work along with me that I needed to complete. I did get quite a lot done on the plane rides and in the hotels, but I simply could not relax, could not completely enjoy myself, with so much hanging over my head.
Nevertheless, I understood why I was there. It wasn't to do schoolwork, and it wasn't to remain wary of every moment away from home. It was to see Fates Warning perform "Awaken The Guardian."
Jim Matheos. Frank Aresti. Joe Dibiase. Steve Zimmerman. John Arch.
The meet-and-greet was right off to the side near the stage. Bands were playing throughout. Not the best set-up. Over the noise, I could not verily express to each member of the band what the music meant to me nor properly thank them all for their inspiring work. Still, it was an honour to shake each musician's hand and also get all their autographs on my original "Awaken The Guardian" album sleeve.
My brother and I ended up spending most of the festival hanging out by the beer gardens next to the football field up the hill from the hall. We hung out with "the Matts"--Johnsen and Crooks--and we also met lots of other welcoming continentals: Jurgen, Sasha, Angela, Richie, Sophia, Anna, Evelyn, Derr, Steve, and hordes of other festival-goers too numerous to name. I ended up exchanging perspectives on education with a bona fide German English teacher named Sonya. She eventually brought up the idea of having our students start communicating as international pen pals. A terrific learning opportunity which I am working to implement. Everyone we met was wonderfully welcoming, making our experience all the more a pleasure.
Anyway, the crowds seethed heavy metal. My brother, Brandel, kept saying it was like stepping back into 1987. The leather and denim. The long hair. The patches. Seemingly every band name ever conceived emblazoned on every back and every sleeve. Truly, the metal culture remains a thriving beast east of the Atlantic. I thought that my long hair and leather branded me as metal. Perhaps in Wyoming. The music scene in Europe, though, is a place "where everyone is more metal than you."
Although the hall, being an old rink, was not built for sonic lucidity, it did contain a magnificent atmosphere, particularly with the balconies.
Heir Apparent was the last band before the headlining show. They got the crowds ready with a terrific performance, and as the final stage was set, the hall began to resonate with anticipation.
Honestly...Fates Warning. "Awaken The Guardian."
Still, beforehand I was a bit concerned. It was not as if these guys had been honing their chops on the road for a few hard-earned months. It was a one-off reunion show. I did not expect perfection. Nevertheless, they came as close as possible. Each player's professionalism, and all together, shone brilliantly.
The performance was phenomenal. The energy. The emotion. Again, although the sound was not excellent in the hall, the concert itself truly was. "Awaken The Guardian" remains a major influence for me, my musical tastes, as well as my writing. It was the album that got me into Fates Warning and progressive metal, as well as into writing poetry and prose. And so it was my honour to witness its performance in such a manner: the people, the place, the moment.
As a matter of fact, the concert took on even more significance, after the main "album" was over, when the band also played a few choice favourites from earlier records. I'm glad someone was paying attention to the date, because it was nothing short of fantastic to behold Fates Warning play the song "Night On Brocken" in Germany on April 30th--never more appropriate for Walpurgis Nacht!
After the show, Brandel and I stood by the doors and watched the amazed look on every face that passed. One guy we met, an American now living in Europe, when Brandel asked how he liked the show, smiled at us and shook his head and said he cried like a ----- Well, it was obvious he was touched by the performance.
We waited around to see if any band members would come out. We had notions of meeting John Arch and speaking more with him. We had met Frank Aresti some years ago in Denver at a Fates Warning, Queensryche, Dream Theater show; it would have been cool to talk more with him, too. It would have been awesome to speak with any and all of the fellas from Fates Warning. If even just to thank them. However, security crews shut down the venue, and we never did see if, when, where, nor how the band appeared after the show...Alas.
Brandel and I drove back toward our hotel, amazed, astonished, astounded. Perhaps that was why we did not notice our car's headlights were not on. No kidding: flashing us continuously from behind, we got pulled over by a concerned citizen--whom we thought was mad at us for not driving fast enough--and who called the cops on us for being a danger on the road by not having the headlights on in the middle of the night. The cops came. We explained. Thank the Lord, Brandel passed his breath test with a 100%--er, I mean a 0%!
Germany was unforgettable.
But our journey had only just begun.
Next we flew over to Ireland. We met a friendly Irishman called David Whelan on the flight. A hardcore concert-goer who had also attended Keep It True, he gave us all sorts of helpful information and valuable advice for our excursion up and down Ireland. Much obliged, David!
Landing in Dublin, and after being greeted by a jolly old drunk Irishman right outside the airport doors, we rode a bus up to Belfast. From the station, we hauled ourselves and our bags through the downtown streets. We only got lost once.
In Belfast, we attended a Corrosion of Conformity concert at the Limelight. It was Brandel's idea, and I'm glad we did it. Great show. The reunited line-up played much of "Deliverance" along with a few other treasures. The venue was packed. In fact, when we first walked in, I was a wee bit discouraged. The hook-shaped pub did not appear to be particularly well-designed for music performances. But Holy Moly! Was the sound incredible in that little place! And COC delivered a killer show.
After a couple pints, I retired back to the hotel to work on a project for school, but Brandel hung out and ended up meeting Woody Weatherman and Pepper Keenan.
The delicious Irish breakfast the next morning was well worth taking a later bus back down to Dublin.
Another friendly Irishman at the airport's rental agency helped us out and welcomed us "home." We buckled ourselves in the car--steering wheel on the right and passing traffic on the wrong--and carefully wove our way to County Wicklow.
Brandel has been researching over the last few years our family history. He says many of our Hodgins ancestors, before crossing over the Atlantic and becoming dirt farmers in Manitoba and North Dakota, originated from eastern Ireland, the Wicklow area in particular.
The place is breathtaking.
We stayed in Laragh. The River Glenmachnass flowed right outside our window.
We drove up the way and visited the Monastic City.
(There we also met a textiles vendor called Mick. Another friendly Irishman. He asked if we'd yet had any Guinness in Ireland, saying if we do "you'll be seein' double and feelin' single!" The man was almost too authentic. We did buy a few souvenirs from him, though.)
We wandered around the graveyard.
We walked through the ruins.
In every step, in every breath, the sense of betiding tidelessness...hypnotising, haunting.
We left the next morning for North America. We are still not sure what in the world was going on in the Toronto airport. What ought to have been a leisurely layover at YYZ metamorphosed into a mad RUSH for the gate. Something was up. We just hoped our plane stayed that way.
Landing in Denver, we finally stepped outside and together shared a moment of true gratitude.
For everything: for the successful journey, for the safe return , the people, the places, the sights, the sounds, the excitement, the exhilaration, even the hurry and the worry, and, of course, the memories.
Then we made our way home.
Such is my humble travelogue.
As wonderful as the journey was, I did not get a whole lot of writing done.
A couple of pieces I have in the works will certainly benefit from genuine details and authentic flavours.
Other than that, though, the most writing I accomplished was for school.
O, well. The influence of every moment remains with me and shall certainly find its way into verses waiting for me to write.
Until then, one last photograph. One of my favourites from the long journey:
[Only a moment from Wyoming...]