My name is Keegan McInroe, and I am a singer-songwriter from Lubbock who’s been living in Fort Worth off and on since 2001 when I began my four years of study at Texas Christian University. Over the course of my ten plus years writing, performing and recording original music, I’ve played hundreds of shows and traveled thousands of miles throughout the United States and Europe. My latest tour is a four month trek and ramble north, east, south, and west around the Old World. Whether you’re a fellow musician, a fellow traveler, or simply a reader who loves a good tale from the road, Texas Troubadour Abroad –– my bi-weekly travelogue published here on the Weekly’s website –– will have something for you.
“Find what you love and let it kill you.” — Charles Bukowski
I’ve climbed aboard a bus in Milan bound for Chur, Switzerland. That’s north from Milan. I’ll keep heading north over the next several weeks. A welcome direction. Italia has been as hot and humid as the northeast Texas summers I thought I’d escaped — OK, almost as hot.
I’ve been sweating like a sticky-fingered prostitute in confessional all over Italy these last 11 days, and I’m ready for a little cooler climate. People keep asking, “I guess you’re used to this kind of weather?” And I keep answering, “You don’t get used to this kind of weather.”
I never have. And I’ve suffered many sweltering summers in Fort Worth, three of those summers in three different vehicles without A.C. The last of these vehicles was the final Catfish Whiskey van, Lady Luck, a 1980 Chevy. She had a velvet and carpeted interior. It was like driving around in a sauna with a wool suit on.
Aside from the weather, perspiration, and swamp-ass, my time since that chilly night on the Mediterranean has been a real joy. Seven more shows in the books, most of them in new places, with new faces. A slew of old friends and fans. Incredible food. Plenty of strong drink and smoke. Hundreds of kind words spoke in Italian accents to keep my head properly inflated.
Best of all, two ears full of what’s become one of my favorite things to hear: “Bravo!” with gusto.
There’s just nothing like finishing a song at a show in Italy and having a room full of people erupt in applause and bravos. It lights up my whole being.
The food, the bravos, the wine, the lifestyle, the people. Italy is easily one of my favorite countries to play and hang out in.
I arrived here all those days ago to the port city of Civitavecchia, just north of Rome. We disembarked around 8 p.m., and I headed to a little seaside cafe to watch the sunset and catch up on some internet business over a Peroni.
After an hour or so I walked a little farther south along the coast. The smell of meat filled the air. I followed my nose to a small outdoor food festival in a little plaza on the sea. I spotted food trucks, wagons, and booths from Germany, Spain, the UK, and, of course, various regions of Italy. There was a Guinness truck with plenty of the black stuff, official Guinness merchandise, and a stereo blasting “Dirty Old Town” on repeat. Intermingled amongst the food and drink were a few miscellaneous booths slinging everything from gummy worms to tapestries to necklaces. At the far north end was a mini-amusement park for children.
Despite an unsuccessful online hostel search, I decided to pass the evening in town. I figured I’d just stay up all night on the beach and see what happened.
I bought a couple of large bottles of Peroni to aid in my cause and chose my spot down close to the water. For about two hours I kicked around a couple of songs-in-progress on my guitar, then I put the guitar away and broke open the Bukowski. Ham on Rye.
Normal people woke up and opened their businesses. I had breakfast and received a message from the owner of GRA’ in Pesaro requesting that I play that evening, rather than the following evening, as had been booked. No problem.
I caught the train south to Rome to get northeast to Pesaro on the opposite coast. Awaiting my connecting train in Roma Termini, slightly delirious from lack of sleep, the intercom announced something about “Trenitalia,” the Italian train company. I laughed. After seven or eight visits to Italy wherein I have used Trenitalia trains, it took me two all-nighters in three days and a head full of Bukowski to realize how much “Trenitalia” sounds like “genitalia.”
That night I played in the open-air courtyard of GRA’. I enjoyed a delicious, tapas-size hamburger, an Old Fashion, a Moscow Mule, and a Hemingway Special. During the Hemingway, a nice woman bought me a glass of red wine. Then vodka. And after, with new friends, beers on bicycles to a bar on a pier that was in full nightclub mode.
A woman walked by and, without breaking stride, made direct eye contact and curiously proposed: “You can suck my pussy.”
How did she know I wouldn’t understand this offer in Italian?
I let her keep walking.
I bicycled to a beach party where I met and left a stunning Albanian woman with enormous curled hair and eyes that looked to hold the richness and depth of four or five wild lifetimes.
In the morning I awoke in the living room of an incredibly generous, bright-souled new friend. His mom made us pan-fried crepes filled with rice and mushrooms.
I noticed a large scar across his side. A few years ago in a Moldova hospital, after an accident on a bicycle — I believe — he checked in a little banged up and awoke freed of one of his kidneys. The next day a child with a mild cough enjoyed the same generosity at the same hospital.
Apparently the Moldovan organ trade is pretty hopping. The doctors, government, and police all get their slices of pie — the patients get their slices, too.
My friend maintained remarkable positivity in the face of the experience. A bright soul, indeed.
That evening I was invited to play the patio of a sushi restaurant in Pesaro, Wabasabi. I got several courses of sushi and plenty of cold white wine for the effort.
The next day, after some friends prepared a seafood pasta for lunch, I hopped a train to Bologna for a show at Laboratorio L’Isola –– an outdoor house concert in what might easily be mistaken as a squat or a hippie commune. There are six or so permanent residents and several people who come through and stay for varying lengths of time, contributing their artistic or culinary prowess or simple company, and there’s a garden, and a quaint little stage out front surrounded by a wooden fence and overhanging trees. And there’s the bottom half of a female mannequin hanging by the entrance gate complete with pubic hair and one hairy leg.
The two local bands I opened for, Miotic and Jazz Norris, were both stellar. Both bands decided to give me all of the money from the door, despite my protesting. I was a little apprehensive regarding what kind of set to play, but when I sat down to start about three-quarters of the crowd gathered close in front of me and sat down on the ground, immediately putting me at ease. Great people in the bands, great people in the house, great people in the audience. Fantastic party.
I slept in a donated top bunk next to two unused condoms and a cat at my feet.
The following day I took the train to Montebelluna for a show at one of my favorite venues in the area, Mattorosso. I ate well. A friend of mine prepared a delicious lasagne upon my arrival in town, and the day after I had a saddle-blanket size pizza at Servii E Riverii, where my friend from the band Ivy Garden of the Desert works.
Another friend’s mother drove me to Castelfranco Veneto that evening for my show in the shotgun art space Magazzino Borgo Pieve. Before the performance, I took in several glasses of prosecco, walking back and forth between the venue and a related bar across the street.
I conversed with a beautiful bartender about Johnny Cash.
During my set, which was occasionally accompanied by a new friend on harmonica, I played “Delia’s Gone.” After my show, I asked the bartender if she knew the song. She did.
We chatted, leaning in close to hear each other over the DJ, her occasionally pulling back her short, bobbed hair on one side to uncover her ear and get a better listen, exposing even more of that magic stretch of a woman’s neck, just behind and below the ear, where the skull turns in and the hairline hasn’t quite started.
A man came up to me and asked what I thought about the woman behind the bar, the woman whom I was standing next to, speaking with, appreciating. It seemed a loaded question.
“She’s lovely. Has great taste in music. Seems quite intelligent and funny. Is she your girlfriend?”
“Well done, amico.”
I left her to him, and went and found the man responsible for bringing me to Castelfranco: Mr. Cris Holden. Cris had also arranged the gig at L’Isola in Bologna and another show in Padova a few days later. He heads up a musician network called We//Net amongst other things. I met him on my last tour in Italy back in February. He told me to contact him the next time over and he’d line up a few things. He is a man of his word.
Cris is good for a laugh, and a bet, and a drinking contest, and is a talented musician and songwriter. He’s also a gifted event organizer and a dead ringer for James Franco. I dubbed him James Castelfranco.
Before my gig that night he cranked the reverb on the p.a. and impressively introduced me to the crowd in the airy stylings of the pope’s Sunday Mass.
The afterparty was at his house, but I snuck off early and passed out. I had a morning train to catch the following day to Verona to meet my old friend, Michele Bombatomica, before the Gay Pride parade, Verona’s first. I made it, and we walked along with the caboose of the merry marchers: a tractor pulling a wagon with cheap beer for sale and a dancing, swilling man in skirt, wig, and makeshift breasts quite adept at keeping the ass-end of the train riled up.
That evening I played Malacarne, a dive I’ve come to love to the degree that it has two shout-outs on my new album Uncouth Pilgrims. With the official Gay Pride after-party in full swing-and-thrust elsewhere in the city and a conflicting football match on, it was pretty dead in Malacarne by the time I was to start, so Michele and I grabbed our guitars and just sat next to the bar and began picking and grinning and hollering unplugged. The bar filled up, but we continued without amplification from our perches, drinking Skinny Bitches, Punk IPAs, and various shots until the very wee hours.
In addition to being a fine musician and a song thief, Michele is also responsible for the album artwork for Uncouth Pilgrims. So what if he stole my song? I stole it back and put it on the new record. Bastardo.
I was able to enjoy a Sunday sabbath the following day and did no work.
Monday I walked two miles directly into the sun, guitar on back, to the train station and made my way east to Padova to play the cozy, low lit pub, Il Vizio. At the encouragement of James Castelfranco, no doubt, they attempted to murder me with beers and full glasses of vodka and flaming shots of something delicious.
There was a nice crowd, a giant slab of pig, and a woman with dark, great, big hair. Franco surprised me by joining in towards the end of my encore on harmonica, which was a meandering medley of sorts consisting of Creedence Clearwater’s “Green River” into The Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” into Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Snake Farm” into The Doors’ “People Are Strange.”
I picked up a fresh batch of copies of my new album back in Verona the following day, and then headed back to Castelfranco for a pool party called Dinner Live, arranged by James Castelfranco, of course, at one of the nicest hotels in the region, Hotel Fior. There was a band and an Olympic-size swimming pool — I didn’t measure, someone told me — and food and smoke and lots of girls and lots of guys, and I sucked down my share of mojitos and enjoyed my first swim of the tour.
The party turned into a rager and ended with the sun in the sky and some involuntary, hearty vomiting up of Jaegermeister along with the aforementioned mojitos and food after an ill-advised challenge accepted.
Jaegermeister almost always gets me in trouble. I’ve sworn it off at least four times. I once almost climbed into bed with a friend’s mother during my college years. I was visiting him during the summer in Tennessee, and we’d been out shooting the deer’s blood. I came home confused over where I was to lay my weary head.
I walked into his mother’s room and began taking my pants off.
“What’s he doing?”
“Sorry mom, he’s drunk. Keegan come on. Your room is upstairs.”
I didn’t crawl into bed with anyone’s mother following the pool party madness. I curled up in the back of Franco’s van, cuddling my guitar bag, pants on.
Yesterday I made my way to Milan to stay with some friends, and this morning I got on this here bus. And now I am closing in on Chur for the Busker’s Chur, a two-day street-performers festival where I’m scheduled to do six shows, three per day.
Out of either side of the bus windows, majestic, deep-green mountain ranges stretch out mile after mile. I can already feel the difference in temperature. I’m happy for that.
Goodbye, Italia. Hello, Switzerland.
June 12, 2015
En route to Chur