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World Cup and World Music

From the byways and music venues of Europe, Bayou Seco's Rolling Postcard 2006.

By Jeanie McLerie and Ken Keppeler

 

The Silver City musical duo Bayou Seco—aka Jeanie McLerie and Ken Keppeler—once again have taken off for a whirlwind European tour this summer, and we're delighted that they have also again favored us with their "rolling postcard" from their travels. Bayou Seco returns to the desert Southwest this month, playing their unique "chilegumbo" music August 10 at the Rio Grande Botanic Garden in Albuquerque, August 13 at Young Park in Las Cruces, Aug. 18 at the UU Fellowship Hall in Silver City and Aug. 24 at High Desert Brewing Company in Las Cruces. See the "40 Days and 40 Nights" events calendar for times and details.

 

La carte postale qui roule is once again rolling by. We started out this year's adventure on May 9 by driving from Silver City to Vermilion, SD, where we played at The Music Museum, an amazing and wonderful part of the University of South Dakota there. We also did concerts in Omaha and Ashland, Wisc., on Lake Superior, and at a festival in Lanesboro, Minn. We kind of went backwards in the weather pattern, leaving a parched and overly warm, for early May, New Mexico to go to a drizzly, cold upper Midwest. It was a feast for our eyes to see so much lushness.

Jeanie McLerie and Ken Keppeler take a break from
their European travels in a field of sunflowers.

We flew to Paris from Chicago in the third week of May and spent the month of June in England and Wales, where gas is indeed around $7.50 a gallon. We paid almost a pound a liter for diesel, and the pound is up to $1.84 at the moment. Filling the tank cost about 40 pounds, and that is like four CD sales. So we just didn't think about it.

It was gorgeous in England. Unbelievably green. There had been very little sun during the past five months and way too much rain, the reverse of New Mexico's weather pattern. So we have enjoyed amazing flowers, especially the roses: At a singing session one night, the table was graced with Lady Hillingden, Mme. Gregoire Staechlin, Buff Beauty, Ispahan and Peau de Neige. Ahh, what a delicate aroma. My fiddles sound good from being rehydrated. Ken thinks his sounds better in New Mexico, however.

We have played some interesting gigs. The first of 25 was in a very old town near Brighton in Sussex-Lewes. This folk club has been going steady since the early 1970s. It meets every Thursday night in a 500-year-old pub, in a function room upstairs, for 10 months of the year. The locals sing and play tunes to warm up the night. We do two 45-minute sets, lots of a capella songs, and it is all acoustic. No sound system to mess with. We LOVE this! The music we play predates the invention of electricity for the most part, and sounds best this way. The energy for the sound must come from within us, as opposed to coming from a mysterious wire in the wall somewhere.

The second gig was in south Wales in an ancient castle, which now houses the Atlantic College at St. Donat's, a sister school to the United World College in Las Vegas, NM. We talked to a student from Uganda who said that going to this college was a life-changing event. We gazed across the lawns at the Severn Estuary and over to Somerset as we played our concert.

The next day we played the Wychwood Festival in Cheltenham, where we met fellow New Mexicans, the Handsome Family, from Albuquerque. We had never met them before. Funny little world it is. Then we played at the Bath Fringe Festival in a 1920s-era tent called the Spiegeltent, meaning "looking glass." If you stand in the very middle, you can see yourself in every mirror, 360 degrees. The tent is Belgian, very rococo in style, and is moved all around England and the continent for different events. Our music fit very well into the afternoon of family entertainment. We taught the New Mexican broom dance and the handkerchief dance. It felt like we were playing in a jewel box or kaleidoscope, with all those mirrors reflecting each dancer's graceful turns.

 

The days rolled by quickly. We met up with dear old friends we have known since the 1960s, and made new ones as well. We played a super little festival on the Gower peninsula on the south coast of Wales, and two days of schools as well (they don't have a summer break until mid-July), and then we drove north along the coast to Caernarfon, and back down to mid-Wales. We visited the Alternative Technology Centre in central Wales, just north of Aberystwyth. It is on the site of an old slate quarry, and the tour begins with a ride up the steep hill in a cable car that is moved by water displacement. It works very well. There were well-planned exhibits of solar and wind energy, compost toilets, energy efficient houses and much more. Nothing too new to us, but it is good there is such a place where one can see all these ideas in place and working.

On the occasional day off we went on hikes, spending the day looking for stone circles in the Welsh hills, or just following a stream bed and climbing lots of stone walls. We do feel lucky to get to do this kind of work, if you can call it that. The driving is hard work, however, and it takes both of us to do successful navigation on the odd side of the road, and sometimes up very tiny lanes bordered by thick hedgerows, even though Ken is the sole driver. As far as driving on the left goes, Ken says it is easy—he just changes his eyes from one socket to the other. Sometimes we feel we are being paid to do the driving, and that playing music is the reward.

The last week in England took us up to Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire, with another run back out to Cardiff to play at the fantastic Millennium Center for a noontime concert, and finally to a London folk club at Cecil Sharp House, and lastly a little pub in Dorset called the Square and the Compass near the channel. Then we once again crossed the channel to do three weeks of concerts and festivals in France, and a bit of family visiting in Germany.

Football (soccer) has been a big part of the trip. On the nights that our gigs coincided with important games, we had to either play much later, or not mind a smaller audience. We were in North Wales the night France played Korea, and it was fun watching the reaction of the Welsh to the one goal each team scored. Very positive cheering for each one. Of course, everyone was well oiled up with pints of ale. Global football is almost a religion.

Across the road from where we stayed in Stroud, there was a clock made in 1774, called a Jackboy clock, and it is still going strong. This building is its third home in all those years. There is a little boy statue that strikes the bell each hour with a bat. Even though the clock is reliable, the boy is not. At the time we were there, he was giving 11 strikes at 7 p.m., 12 at 8 p.m. and then starting all over again at 9 p.m. with one strike.

The feeling of time gone by is so amazing over here, with houses that have been lived in for 1,000 years or more (and yet the building codes of today won't allow this style of construction). Many of the roads we travel on were once Roman; you can still see remnants of the roadbed made with human labor. Seeing castles is an everyday experience. Long before the invention of cranes and heavy equipment, amazing things were accomplished. It is humbling.

There is a rhythm to our days, starting with what time we get up each day, which always depends on how far we have to drive that day. Alas, we are not good at sleeping late. We get up, eat something, pack the car, consult the maps (they are huge heavy books), and take off. Eventually we arrive at the destination, having inevitably seen some amazing sights along the way, and then we unload into the venue, and try to find a place to eat a supper, not an easy thing to do in England before 6 p.m. In France we were always given a very nice dinner by the hosts before the gig. Then we plan our "bouquet of flowers" for the evening. We have a large "garden" of tunes and songs to choose from, but each night is different depending on the venue—art center, folk club, dance, festival or bar. So we can't use the set list from the night before. And if it is a place we played before, I consult my lists for what we did last time, so as not to repeat many songs.

It feels very good to be sharing our New Mexico, Southwest and Cajun and cowboy songs and tunes, talking about the landscape and the musicians we learned from. We carry a map of New Mexico and the USA so that we can pinpoint some of the areas we mention. We never feel very far away. Each time I open my fiddle case, I see the smiling faces of my dear students, "the Fiddling Friends" in a photo of their April recital. I have told them many times that the fiddle is shaped like a key, and will open many doors. You just have to know which ones, and how to get there.

What do we eat for breakfast? A bit of bread and jam in France, muesli and yogurt or a full cooked breakfast in England, and assorted meats, cheeses and fantastic bread in Germany. When and what's for lunch? It is longer and more elaborate (three courses) in France, whereas a quick sandwich is the norm in England. Picnic areas are everywhere in France (we have a tablecloth and plates tucked into the car seat back), and they are almost nonexistent in England. And gas is a bit cheaper on the continent. That is because everyone pays for the motorways in France with tolls, but England gets its road maintenance money from the gas tax. Germany is about to start charging tolls, and the truckers are all up in arms about this. We are once again driving a Renault Kangoo, which we leased in Paris for two months. It is a wonderful little car, kind of boxy like a Honda Element, but just right for us with all our instruments with lots of storage compartments.

On this trip we have a digital camera, a birthday gift from our daughter. At the end of each day it is like instant replay of the day. We download from time to time to the laptop. And then I delete most from the camera, leaving enough for a quick recap of the trip so far to show interested folks. It is funny having free reign of photo ops. Feels like eating as much as you want but with no consequences. I've gotten some great shots of a peacock from all angles, amazing roses, fossils, delicious meals we have been fed. One night, when the gig was on the third floor of a building looking out on a castle, there were lots of seagull nests, and I photographed the baby seagulls being fed by their parents.

At this time in early July, the ever-cheerful smiling sunflowers are beginning to bloom, the hay has been cut—great rolls grace the fields like a Millet painting—and the fields of wheat, rye and other grains wave their heavy heads in anticipation of becoming someone's daily bread. Being back in France now, with only a few organized gigs left, feels like vacation. The church bells in Droyes toll out the hours, making the wearing of a watch unnecessary. The bread comes to town every morning in Bernadette's Kangoo. We can hear her sounding the horn all about the neighborhood, and there is time to get ready with a few Euros to get our bread of choice. I luxuriate in Philippe and Francine's pool. Ken enjoys the local paper, and easy fast Internet access, catching up on news and downloads that were impossible in England. The hubbub frenzy of Paris is just a memory now. The Cajun Dance Club gig there at The Blue Bayou was a success, and we taught the broom dance using a Cajun waltz tune. And, hélas, the French lost the World Cup.

The Rolling Postcard is an ever-changing backdrop for our chilegumbo music, which of course is our reason for being able to spend time like this each summer. We are rich in friends in so many places and we love to keep in contact. We send hugs and hellos, and lots of moisture to all our friends back home.

 

Contact Jeanie McLerie and Ken Keppeler—Bayou Seco—at PO Box 1393, Silver City, NM 88062, 534-0298, or see www.bayouseco.com.

 

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