Oh, Austria. Mein hertz ist voll! I’ve had a magical few days playing my first two shows of the tour in in Graz and Waltersdorf, and I’m so excited to tell you about it. I should tell you first that this part of my trip is thanks to my new friend, Bernd. We met in Colorado last year when I was playing at a Brewpub in Alamosa. When I found out that he was from Austria, I told him of my touring plans, and he went to work setting up gigs for me.
My first show was a house concert, generously hosted by Christopher. Upon arrival, he and his friends and family made me feel welcome and at home right away. His father, Thomas, and I really hit it off. He explained to me, “many people know English, but are shy to speak it. I am not!” I’m so glad! He had a ton of great stories to share with me about Graz and about his travels. The concert itself was terrific; it was held in a basement room with great acoustics, and I played completely unplugged, so it had a very intimate feel. The thought struck me that house concerts are similar everywhere; whether in Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, or Austria. The audience is great, the hosts are wonderful, and the end result is always sharing a drink and conversation after the gig. Everyone in Graz was so kind and generous, and I ended up having a conversation with one gentleman about our shared interests in music; Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, and even Darrell Scott!
Christopher was kind enough to host me at his place for the night, and the next morning, Thomas and his wife took me into the city center of Graz for a lovely breakfast at Cafe Sacher. Afterwards, they set me up with maps and suggestions, and I spent the day exploring. WOW! What a city! My favorite part was Schlossberg, the castle hill that affords panoramic views of the whole town. I felt so comfortable, so at peace in Graz. This is a city that goes back to medieval times, so it has some incredible architecture. But the main thing for me was the atmosphere. There was a market set up by the tram station, with local artisans selling their crafts and creations. Vendors in food trucks dishing out Wurst and Schnitzel. Street musicians playing violin and accordion on narrow streets, the buildings serving as a natural reverb chamber. A hundred little shops and restaurants and biergartens. In Munich, I felt like an awestruck visitor. In Graz, I felt like I was at home.
My next show was at a rock club called Roter Gugl. I got the gig because of another kind musician, Wilifried. He found out about me from Bernd, and set up the show. I am so thankful for all the people who help me do music. Roter Gugl is in the country, about 45 minutes at outside of Graz. I honestly felt like I was back home in Indiana on arrival, being surrounded by farmers, fields, cows, and chickens. An evening thunderstorm brought a drenching shower with it, setting the stage for a peaceful sunset. Hot air balloons floated by overhead as I pulled into the parking lot. The venue itself was full of rustic charm too, and it reminded me of places I’ve played in the Midwest. Roter Gugl is run by a musician named Werner, who decided that he wanted to start a place for real music. He plays guitar, sings, writes songs, and brings in artists from all over the world to play.
Werner’s band plays most weekends, and before the show even started, I was already hitting it off with Wolfgang, the lead guitarist in Werner’s band. Musicians can always find common ground, and we started talking right away about amps, guitars, pedals, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Joe Bonamassa. So, I was at ease before I even started the set. And the audience was just like one you’d expect at a small club in the US; dancing, full of energy, and enthusiastic. I got multiple encores! It seems things are not so different in Austria; several people at Roter Gugl told me that it’s difficult for rock and blues artists to find venues or make money. And that it can be hard to get people to come out for live music, especially in the city. But people still truly support live music in the village of Waltersdorf, population 2,192.
There are so many wonderful things here, and it honestly makes me want to learn the language. I could spend weeks exploring villages throughout Austria. If you’ve ever thought of coming to Austria, DO IT. The people are friendly, the landscape is gorgeous, the food is delicious, and you’ll be a better person for visiting. Thanks to Bernd, Christopher, Thomas, Wilifried, Werner, Wolfgang, and EVERYONE else for making my first two European gigs unforgettable.
Next up: a couple of days in Vienna, and then back to Graz for a show at Cafe Vorstadt!