Upon arrival in Amsterdam, one of the first things you notice are all the bicycles. Same in Utrecht and other Dutch cities. There are far more people on bicycles than driving cars. I would guess the ratio must be at least 5 to 1, maybe as much as 10 to 1.
But it’s not like the people who bicycle in Denver, where I’m from, or other US cities. No skin tight shorts and shirts polluted by advertising. No $2000 bicycles made of special metal alloys. Here, the bicycles are cheap and rusty, with a basket on the front or back. No self-respecting American cyclist would be caught dead on one of these. But here they are ridden by everyone–young and old, business people, students, everyone. And they are ridden by people wearing their normal clothes. That’s because they are not riding for “exercise” per se; they are riding to go to work, or to shop; the bicycle is transportation. Less expensive than cars, and frankly, easier to get where you’re going in a big city.
Not many fat people here. Wonder if there’s a connection?
For the past week and a half I’ve been in The Netherlands. I was hanging out with Chicago Mike Beck on the Netherlands leg of his European tour. Mike did a presentation about playing in Europe at the Lyons Song School last August, and I decided to come over and check it out. Mike was gracious enough to let me hang out with him, and play a few songs to open his shows here.
Mike plays a rocking acoustic show, mostly blues-rock in style, playing mostly popular covers but also his own songs, which are good. He uses a looping pedal so he can play guitar solos over the chords, and was usually joined by two great Dutch musicians on keyboard and bass, Tim and Eibe. He’s been doing this for several years now and has a following in Holland. Check out his website, mikebeck.us.
Here’s where I played:
Sunday April 28: arrive in Amsterdam.
Monday April 27: open mic/jam at the Oude Pothuys in Utrecht.
Tuesday April 28: open mic at Sappho in Amsterdam.
Wednesday April 29: open for Chicago Mike at Scooters in Drachten.
Thursday April 30: open for Chicago Mike at Scooters in Leeuwarden.
Friday May 1: open for Chicago Mike at Skutsje in Haarlingen.
Saturday May 2: open for Chicago Mike at De Gouden Leeuw in Geldermalsen.
Sunday May 3: open for Chicago Mike at Café de Merckt in Tiel.
Monday May 4: a day off! went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
Tuesday May 5: open mic at Cafe Averecht in Utrecht.
Wednesday May 6: another day off. Slacker.
Thursday May 7: open mic at Skek in Amsterdam.
Friday May 8: back to Denver.
It’s been a good trip. I’ve learned about some of the places to play and made contacts, met some great Dutch musicians and made some new fans. And I learned from Mike about some of the logistics of playing here. I plan to set up some gigs for myself and come back sometime in the next year.
Another thing that was reinforced on this trip is the primacy of the music in songwriting. Almost all the Dutch speak English–some very well. But I could tell when I was singing my songs that, for many of them, they missed the nuances of the lyrics– slang words, metaphors, etc. So in choosing which songs to play, I started using the songs where I created a good melody, and/or had an interesting rhythm. The English language is not universal but music is.