You can only imagine the feeling of relief that came over me after a 9-plus-hour flight when I was finally able to pry my ass out of the seat in the 50th row on Air Canada Flight 844 direct from Calgary, AB to Frankfurt, Germany.
This story starts July 4, 1994 in Portland, Oregon USA.
It was my 2nd time playing the Waterfront Festival. Sebastian Hetzmann from Germany was on his first vacation in the U.S. and apparently caught my set and bought my CD. So, imagine my reaction 16 years later when I open an email, “Comments from harpdogbrown.com” and it’s this fella Sebastian. He tells me how we met and that he is planning to get married in the summer of 2011. He was asking if I would consider coming to Germany with my band and playing for his wedding. Let’s just say, if I had a nickel for every time someone blew smoke up my ass, well.....I’d probably be a home owner instead of a renter. Anyway, I always try and believe in people, and replied to his email something like this:“Nice to hear from you Sebastian, my bags are always packed, and my passport is up to date. If you’re serious, this is my phone number, call me sometime.”
A few days later my cell phone rang, and looking at the numbers on my display, I saw more digits than usual – I answered my 1st call from Germany; it was Sebastian. After hearing some of the details, I suggested he might be better off with my new acoustic duo I have with piano master Graham Guest. When he saw a couple videos and listened to a few tracks, he was convinced this would be perfect. So...as I write this, I have just returned from my first trip to Europe – specifically, Germany, which is about one third of the way around the planet from where I live.Now, because the master piano player arrived in Lacombe about 90 minutes late to ride the rest of the way to the airport in Calgary with me...we made it through the baggage check with about 4 minutes to spare. “let the games begin” Let me just say here, I am not a small man - at 6’2” packin’ 300 plus - flying economy class isn’t the most comfortable way to go, puts you in the smallest seats with the least leg room available. Thankfully, with the free-flowing booze cart and about 5 little bottles of red wine, I was laughing at myself most of the way there.
We left Calgary at 6pm on a Wednesday and arrived in Frankfurt at 11am on Thursday. After we landed, we were to be picked up by a driver; however, I saw nobody holding up a Harpdog Brown sign....so we wait, and wait and wait.
After about 90 minutes, I dig out my laptop and find Sebastian’s cell number, write it down on my smoke pack and ask Graham to take this info to the info desk and ask them to call Sebastian. It turns out that our driver had been there, but had left without us. We are now waiting for him to return. Finally, I see a slightly familiar face and knew he must be our guy. He whipped past me (with sign in hand); I follow him with my eyes as he went right to the info booth. Now, here I am sitting comfortably - with plenty of leg room - I can see Graham standing there and wondered how long it would take for them to connect. All of a sudden this little driver buzzes back outside, and on his way back in again I caught his eye and said “Canada?” Sure nuff’, he was our guy. At last, we’re off to our 1st hotel in the charming little town of Königstien.
It was a quaint little hotel with everything one would need, including a huge continental breakfast, a little bar and a patio where I found some of the best beer I have tasted, along with an ashtray in need of some attention. I asked the whereabouts of a decent German restaurant but Isabella, our lovely desk clerk, informed me that there were more Italian restaurants than anything else in Königstien. While I found that a bit disturbing, she did give us directions to the only German restaurant in town; however, it was somewhat difficult to find. Around 9 pm we left the hotel on our quest for German food. Well, by the time we found this little joint, they had already closed the kitchen down. We were 10 minutes late.
Now I have a hunger on and decide anything will be better than nothing at this point......down the road a bit I saw lights, and as we approached I noticed it was Asian. Yes, that’s right - my 1st meal in Deutschland was Chinese food. Now get this, they didn’t speak a lick of English, and had only one menu for us. They did speak German, and of course Mandarin, or Cantonese. We made it through the ordering and let me say, it was very satisfying.
The next day we had the wedding to play; it was held in a beautiful old mansion - The Rothschild House...Simply magnificent! This was when we had our 1st German meal...finally, some schnitzel!
The wedding was beautiful, as was the bride. I had asked Sebastian prior to leaving if the bride had any particular song she would like us to learn for the special occasion. Oops, now what have I done! Turns out Ella’s all time favorite song is Frankie’s version of “My Way”.
May I say, it was a pleasure learning this classic, and when we pulled it out in the 2nd set for the lovely bride, the place erupted with applause and I could see Ella wiping tears of joy from her eyes. After the song ended, her father came right up to me and asked me if I knew “New York, New York”.....where does it end..... J Let me say the German people sure do love Sinatra.
Saturday we had off and were picked up by another driver to whisk us away to the city of Mainz. Well, that was the plan, but in walks the driver from the airport (the guy who had left us and come back) about 2 hours early, while Graham and I were enjoying our 2nd German breakfast. He tells us that he is here to take us to the airport at 10:30; we tell him he must be wrong, as we were told to be ready at noon to be picked up and driven to Mainz for three days before we fly home to Canada. Of course, he is convinced that it is us he needs to pick up and take to the Hyatt Hotel in Mainz, and then pick up another fare checking out to get to the airport later on. So we decide to move out a little early, and by the time we get our gear in his cab and he gets us up the hill, the dispatch calls him - we turn around and he takes us back to our hotel, dumps us off and down the road he goes to pick up someone from the wedding party that was flying out that day. So, we wait..........about an hour and I decide we should call Sebastian and see what the holdup is on our driver now. In a short few minutes, we find a new driver looking for two Canadians to pick up.
Our new driver turns and asks me where to....I said The Hyatt Hotel in Mainz. He looks at me with a blank stare....I repeated myself, and see the same look in his old man eyes. So, I pull out a card with Sebastian’s number on it and tell him to call this man, he will tell you....get this...I hear him clue in and say “Ahhh, the HyAAT” ...I just had to laugh out loud. Back on the road headed for Mainz. The 1st thing I saw that seemed like it didn’t belong was a huge city bus covered in Kentucky Fried Chicken advertising, and the slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good”.
Now we check in for three days and nights at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Mainz Hotel. “Why yes I would love a smoking room”....can you believe that little detail brought me to the Executive Suite on the top floor overlooking the Rhine! No extra charge....do I love my life? lol
We were invited down to the wine cellar for a bountiful buffet with Sebastian, his family and friends. I have to say these people know how to live....we North Americans have got caught up in this fast pace of life, where we eat as fast as possible, mostly in a hurry and on the run. Not here my friend - they take their time, and actually taste the food, wine and desserts. My kinda livin’!
Sunday was the big finale. We were a part of the big party for Sebastian’s international company, along with his family and friends. This was a riverboat party on the famous Rhine. We hit sail at 5pm and didn’t get back ‘til 2am.
They had an all girl five piece band from Russia, a local magician, and two guys who mingled through the party doing sketches of the people. At around midnight, we stopped and were told by Sebastian to all go top deck for a surprise. Fireworks Spectacular! Man these people know how to throw a party!
Monday was a local holiday, and my 1st real day off. So, armed with my trusty little digi cam, I was off to the city streets for the day. Mainz is a very cool old city - cobblestone streets in the old town square, with buildings that were older than my whole country. Oh, and let me say, I saw a lot of beautiful villages and towns along the Rhine, castles and wonderful landscape. All in all, I had the time of my life, was treated like royalty and the whole trip was truly an amazing experience for this old blues hound.
Life is good!
edited by Melodie Collins