Unfortunately, we won’t get to explore Belgrade very much on this trip. We’re here today to do the show, then leave tomorrow. Rose Lane, Lynn and Carol did go out for a short spin while I got some exercise.
You could see the stage from our hotel….which was located in a big park. I decided on running in that direction as it looked like there wouldn’t be much traffic around the area. So after some stretching I took off, running right past the gate that leads into the venue and the stage. Running past that for a while I ran into some fans that asked for a couple of signatures and pictures….they were nice and didn’t want to disturb me and I didn’t mind taking a short break to do it. They were from Holland and had come to a few shows already. I ran on and soon came to a river….there are two main rivers in Belgrade…the Danube and the Sava. They come together in the middle of the city. I don’t know which one was on, but I enjoyed running alongside it for a good 20 minutes or so before turning back towards the hotel. When I got about to the gate where the gig was, I felt another sharp cramp in my left calf…just as I had a couple of weeks before in Barcelona. Damn, strained it again. I stopped quickly and tried to walk it off and stretch it out….and it did improve, but there was no doubt that I’d re-injured it and would have to lay off of it for a while.
I limped back to the hotel which fortunately wasn’t that far and cleaned up to get ready to go to the gig.
At the show was the normal routine…and I knew that Mick wouldn’t want to be terribly adventurous with the set list, so I drew up a selection that I felt he would agree with, and he did. All of these current places are going to have to be pretty “tame” on the presentations as we’ve either never or rarely played in them, and Mick wants familiar songs and ones that folks can sing along to. Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Warsaw, St. Petersburg….but I think he’ll get a bit tired of doing the same ‘ol thing soon and maybe I can get at least a “Monkey Man” or “Sway” in somewhere. But likely that won’t change much until we get to the Scandinavian countries where we played last year. I personally hate playing such similar lists every night and hope I can get him to open up some…we’ll see.
Anyway, we were pleased that we had such a great crowd to play to….they were ready to rock and there were a lot of them. I believe it must have been close to 45,000. We went on to a wonderful reception, and Mick did very well with the Serbian language and communicating with the audience. The show was smooth and fun, even if it didn’t contain any bold moves. No doubt the crowd was pleased…and it was a joy to play in this part of the world where we’ve never played before. One funny thing did happen during “Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Keith started the song and Lisa immediately looked over at me and said…“Is that the right key?!!” I quickly checked and found that it wasn’t….we always do it in “C”, but Keith was playing it in “B”. Lisa has perfect pitch and had heard the difference straight away, thank heaven! The mishap wasn’t Keith’s fault….he had been handed a guitar with the capo (a small device that clamps on the strings of the guitar and that can be moved around to allow for playing more easily in different keys and for other purposes) in the wrong place….a half step down from where it was supposed to be. I quickly hollered at Ronnie….“…he’s playing it in B!! in B!!”…and also told some of our stage crew to go tell Darryl the same. We all adjusted without much problem…but it did keep us on our toes to have to play the song in a key we’ve never done before!
Back at the hotel Lynn and Carol came down for a short time…but Rosie and I had to deal with the packing thing, so we didn’t make it a long hang. Soon we were off to bed.
We woke up about 11am on Sunday….and I knew I wouldn’t be running today. My calf felt a little better, but was telling me not to try anything that would pressure it. I thought about going to the gym to push some weights around, but felt a bit tired and decided to make it an easy day. We piddled and puttered for a little while….but being bored after a bit we decided to at least go out and walk some. I had noticed a sign that said something like “gallery” in Serbian not far from the hotel and suggested we go see if there was anything to it. But as soon as we got outside, the heat hit us pretty hard. We did indeed walk there, but it turned out to be nothing…and what little stores where there were all closed. So we walked back the Hyatt and peered in a few of the shops that were on the lower level of the lobby for a few minutes before paying our bill and going back to the room to wait for the leave.
Here we go to another new place for us…Bucharest. Lynn and Carol were coming there and my pal Quint Davis would join us. Quint puts on the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival every year….as well as other events and festivals. like the Essence Festival in New Orleans that takes place in the Super Dome in early July. Quint is great people and was mostly responsible for me playing at Jazz Fest earlier this year before this tour started. He had finished up all his duties and wanted to come on a vacation all on his own and had contacted me to ask if it would work for him to come see a few shows. Of course I encouraged him to do so, and he’s going to come here in Bucharest, in Budapest and in Brno. He had actually arrived on Saturday, so he had a little time to acclimate. Lynn and Carol had flights that arrived after we did, so we figured that we wouldn’t see them until later, after dinner.
We arrived and after a short run through customs, were in our bus to drive to the Plaza Athane Hilton hotel, pulling up to the front door about 8pm. We had lost an hour in the travel. We got our keys and packet of info from Karen Gault, our travel person and went up to the 5th floor to find our room, 536. We were not very impressed…it was a small room with no division between the tiny sitting area and tiny bedroom. It did have a little balcony which would help the situation a bit. I called Quint to let him know we were there and to see if he was up for dinner, which he was. He said he had a little something for us and asked if he could come over to pass it on, and I told him to come on by. It was great to see him, and he gave us a couple of special jackets from Jazz Fest which was very kind of him to do. We sat and talked for a while…he told me that he had been here a couple of times before….once back in ‘71 when he was tour manager for Duke Ellington and once with BB King. He had some good stories on both. He told me that with Duke, they did 44 shows across Europe in 42 days….wow, now that is touring! He said that he questioned such a rigorous schedule to one of the band members, asking why they didn’t want an occasional day off and was told “…no, man….when we’re playing gigs we work two hours a night….but if we have a day off, Duke will rehearse us for six hours!”. He also told me that Duke had a piano in every hotel room he stayed in and would stay up late after almost every show composing. He also told me that Ellington would always have a lot of Coca-Colas in his room with sugar and lemon…and would load up a glass of Coke with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a whole lemon. Great to hear these kinds of things about such an Icon.
We arranged for dinner at a place called Casa Doina which was a nice spot with lots of outdoor seating, about a 10 minute drive from the hotel. The food was good and the wine very palatable, and the service friendly and attentive. I enjoyed listening to Quint tell us of some more of his experiences….especially some trips he had made to Africa in recent times to a tiny country called Bernin, which is the “cradle of voodoo”. He had become interested in tracing the culture of voodoo that exists in New Orleans and had found that it had comes from this place through Haiti. He recounted some very interesting stories of meeting with Kings and Shamans from there…and of witnessing some ceremonies that must have been very graphic to see.
After dinner we called for a cab to take us back to the Hilton and had a drink in our room with Lynn and Carol who were also coming back from dinner. Quint and I made plans to do a short guided tour of Bucharest for the next day as it would be off for us, and the girls decided to go out together on their own. With that in place we all said goodnight.
I decided to check out the gym today and push some weights around…my calf still smarting, I didn’t want to run. I called Quint around noon, figuring that he would still have some jet lag and would be sleeping late. I was right, and the timing of the call was good…I told him I was going down for a little workout and he said he would check in to the guided tour. Rose Lane had heard from Lynn and Carol who had already gone out with Lori Cohl. Rosie made arrangements to meet all of them at a Square near the old town and headed out the door as I was going to the gym. Quint found me there and said that he had arranged a tour about 2:30 for three hours…it would be semi-private, with only one other person going….and we would have a driver and a van, and an English speaking guide. We went downstairs at the appointed time and met our tour guide Michael, who spoke perfect English with a British accent (as well as four other languages!) and our tour companion…a fellow named Nick from Athens, Greece…who also spoke English…not as well as Michael, and as he spoke quickly with a heavy accent, it was sometimes difficult to understand him. But he was a nice guy and a pleasant traveling companion.
As we walked out the door we were accosted by a barrage of press and fans. The press folks stuck cameras and microphones in our faces asked where we were going. I guess they had recognized me, which is a fairly rare thing…they usually only know the faces of the four Principals…but they followed us to the van asking where we were going and what we were up to. I answered that we were going to “….explore your wonderful city” and when asked what that meant, told them “….I want to learn more about the history of Bucharest and to see what it’s like”. Apparently they showed that clip on the news, as several folks told me they saw it that evening.
We loaded up in the van and drove on….first to the incredible “Palace of the People”….now the House of Parliament for Romania. This amazing building was started back in 1984 under the repressive regime of Nicolae Ceausecu, the last dictator of Romania. He built it with as much Romanian resource as possible…and never lived to see it finished as he was executed on Christmas Day of 1989. More on him later…
Ceacusecu no doubt built this to be a “statement”. It is the second largest building in the world next to the Pentagon. It contains more than 4 million square feet of the most beautiful marble…some of it extremely rare pink marble…only found in two places…Italy and Romania. We visited about 10 or 12 rooms…all totally breathtaking. The hallways were also stunning….wide with extreme vaulted ceilings, crystal chandeliers, golden threaded curtains, beautiful specially made carpets and so on. It is now not only used for the two houses of Parliament…the House of Deputies and the Senate, but also for special receptions, meetings, concerts and other “occasions of State”. We only visited three of the fifteen floors, but it was enough for us all to be very impressed. Here is a quick bio on Ceacusecu:
…born in 1918 early became active in the Romanian Communist movement and was arrested as a revolutionary; he spent the late 1930s and early 40s in prison, where he became acquainted with the future first secretary of the Romanian Communist party, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. Escaping in 1944, Ceausescu held a variety of posts within Communist party and government ranks after the Communist takeover in 1948. He soon became a member of the party’s central committee and then, in 1955, a member of the politburo. Upon Gheorghiu-Dej’s death in March, 1965, he was chosen first secretary of the central committee of the Communist party and in December, 1967 he assumed the office of president of the state council, or head of state. As supreme leader, he continued his mentor’s policy of nationalism and independence from the USSR within the context of Marxism-Leninism. He promoted closer relations with the People’s Republic of China and with the West, as well as industrial and agricultural development. His domestic rule, however, was marked by frequently disastrous economic schemes and became increasingly repressive and corrupt. In December, 1989, a popular uprising, joined by the army, led to the arrest and execution of him and his wife, Elena.
From there we moved on to visit several other important buildings, squares and palaces in the city…such as the Elefterie Church, their Arch de Triomphe, Revolution Square, Charles DeGaulle Square, the quarters and neighborhood that Ceausescu and his family lived in and the like. Michael was very informative in his narration, and we all enjoyed the tour. We were brought back to the hotel after the three hours and dropped off at the front door where the fans and press were still hanging out.
At the hotel we met back up with the girls and made plans for dinner. It was kind of funny, as we had inquired about a restaurant the first night we were there and told it was fully booked…so I asked about that restaurant again and we booked a table there for all of us. However, I made the mistake of telling the cab driver to go to the restaurant we had been to the first night, Casa Doina. Duh! But as we were all there together and they had a table available, we decided just to stay and eat there. It wound up being a good choice again…and one fun bonus was the “roving Romanian band” that came by our table to entertain us. Made up of a stand up bass player, violinist, accordion player and a pan flutist, they were really good. They played us three or four tunes….and I was most impressed by the pan flutist…this cat was wailing!
The dinner was good and we all enjoyed each other’s company. Back at the hotel we hung out in our room for a bit before all going to bed.
The 17th was show day. Quint and I went down about 4:30 to the gig. I introduced him around the camp so all would know him…even getting audiences with Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie. Quint had helped set up some events for them a few years ago when the 60 Minutes show did a piece on the band. It was done in part in New Orleans, and Quint had set up a thing for Mick and Charlie to attend a “Second Line” parade. They all remembered him and were gracious in their greetings to him. We killed time in the Rattlesnake and also went to have a look at the stadium. It is quite an old one…and would be totally filled up that evening for the show. Lynn and Carol came later with Rose Lane and we hung out in the RI together for a while before I had to get ready and play.
Again the set list was pretty standard, but the band played well and the crowd was amazing. We met back in our room for some wine and conversation before calling it a night. Lynn and Carol would be going back home the next day, but Quint would stay and meet us in Budapest. We’d all had great fun together and we hated to see Lynn and Carol leave…but we knew we’d see them after the tour back in Georgia. We said goodbye to them as they had an early flight, and said our goodnights.