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.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’d sure like to think Dr. King was correct. Most days I am filled with his same belief. Some days are harder than others.
I’ve struggled with how to approach this particular installment of Texas Troubadour Abroad in the wake of what happened in Charleston last week. Should I delve into these ugly waters? Give just a passing mention? Ignore it all together? Just spin the yarn here like I’ve been doing and attempt to entertain you with the adventures and misadventures of the road?
It’s actually of the nature of an internal conflict I wrestle with regularly: so much injustice, so much smoke and mirrors and lies, so much corruption, so much dirty money exchanging hands towards ends the rest of us must endure against our wills, so much to be done, and yet here I am, gallivanting, playing songs, kicking up my heels, carousing. Eating, drinking, being merry — for tomorrow — well, tomorrow often looks so grim and myself so helpless and small and the masses so apathetic or ignorant or feeling similarly powerless, that strong drink, strong smoke, a pretty face, a low-lit barroom, and music seem the best medicine. –– not the kind of medicine which makes you well, of course. Just the kind that numbs you temporarily to the horror, to the fear, to the loathing.
But after writing the better part of a different version of this piece, a version which rails against racism and one of it’s many potential offspring, war, I’ve decided to abandon that road. Diving into such a heavy monstrosity ultimately seems beyond the scope and concern of what you have come here to read and what the Weekly expects of me.
Still, I couldn’t begin to relay the following light-hearted tales without a somber nod to the atrocity of racism and it’s children still so present in our world — our world, not only the U.S. — and the sadness that has hung over me since I read the news early last Thursday morning in Erfurt.
I had played a beautiful gig the night before with my harmonica-blowing friend Florian Escherlor in an acoustically phenomenal room inside Ägidienkirche, now a Methodist church, built in the 1300s. A friend I’d made in 2013 at the folk festival TFF Rudolstadt is currently a pastor at the church, and he invited me to come play last summer. It went quite well, so I made sure to include it on this summer’s itinerary.
The church straddles the entrance to the Krämerbrücke, or Merchant’s Bridge. The Krämerbrücke, also built in the 1300s, is a sandstone bridge around 400 feet long with a series of houses lining either side, often with little shops on the ground floor and flats above where people live. I am told it is the only inhabited bridge north of the Alps. Quite a romantic, picturesque setting.
After the gig we sat with some new friends in a square near the church, enjoying some beers and a tiny bottle of vodka before making our way to Hemingway Bar where they have about as heavy-a-hand pouring as any bar I’ve walked into. I walked out sideways an hour or so later.
It was in the aftermath of that evening I awoke, somewhat fuzzy, bleary-eyed, and particularly happy with how Me and Flo’s first gig of the tour together went down, feeling blessed and lucky to have the opportunity to perform in such a historic, idyllic venue, to see the things I’m able to see and do the things I’m able to do. The sun was already well into the sky, shining brightly.
And then I got online. Nine black people murdered at a historic black church. White gunman.
There’s always the cynic in me, trained to be such by constant deceit and manipulation from politicians, media talking heads, and history books. The cynic who questions these sorts of national tragedies, wondering how much more there might be to the story than meets the eye. Looking for what and who might stand to gain by the distraction, by the terror.
Sometimes things are, indeed, as they appear.
Regardless, it’s clear enough racism is still ever-present in our national DNA, stubbornly clinging in the hearts of what I like to believe are the vast minority. And it’s clear enough that lives were senselessly taken.
It was a jarring juxtaposition: my night in the historic German church, music and applause and laughter filling the room, and the violent evening in the historic American church with its gunshots and cries and pleas for mercy. It’s weighed heavily since — and even now I have a hard time not going down that other road, ripping into a tirade on the insanity of it all, the insanity of hate, the insanity of violence, the insanity of feeling superior.
But there is a medicine that heals, and it comes in the form of the interpersonal experiences on the road abroad. The sharing of laughter and music and fellowship with brothers and sisters from varied countries and backgrounds. The recognition through these times that we are all simply members of one race: humanity.
So, here’s to medicine — both for the numbing and the healing.
Since my last missive, the climate has indeed improved dramatically for my tastes. I don’t believe I’ve had to part ways a single time through sweat with any of the toxins I dump into myself. I’ve even had to triple and quadruple layer a few days. And there’s been some glorious rains and gray skies.
The Busker’s Chur street-performers festival was wonderful and full of fascinating artists. About half of the line-up were musicians, and about half were a variety of clowns, acrobats, actors, and other such entertainers. Upon arriving and looking over the two-day itinerary I noticed I was the only American artist. And, as it turned out, I was the only one to be performing in the street sans amplification.
I hollered and banged out six 45-minute sets of music over the two days.
My first set was interrupted by the funeral of an elderly woman who lived her life in the adjacent house next to the church I was playing in front of, which had me questioning what the future had in store for me there, but it was smooth sailing after.
This was my second such festival to perform at, and I believe it is my favorite sort of festival to perform at. The streets are full of theater and music and families and food. The “backstage” is full of artists stretching, exercising, juggling, balancing, climbing on each other, getting into costumes, putting on elaborate make-up, going through their routines, eating fruit, drinking plenty of water.
And then there’s me, taking it all in over a beer, feeling a bit inadequate with my acoustic guitar and my voice, no funny hat or dancing monkey or little bells or whistles dangling from my person.
These sorts of performers have really dedicated themselves to their art in a way few I know do. To perform on the street requires audience engagement and participation. I can set up as musical wallpaper and make my bread anywhere, but these folk have a much more limited scope and opportunity to receive compensation for their efforts. Yet, there are places for them, and they travel Europe and the world searching these places out, bringing laughter and amusement and joy to others. I really admire them.
There was my buddy from last summer Luca Bellezze with his subtle humor, playing the straight man with a red nose on, a glass orb hanging from his jacket, his black and silver mohawk shooting straight upwards in the back, and his fellow Italian theatrical comedians Mc Fois and Mario Levis, and the lovely, quite funny Salomé Hadji’s with her One Woman Company, and the Taiwanese pantomime duo mute, and a slew of musicians from various origins: young Simeon Baker with his impressive percussive acoustic guitar work, Mark Kelly and his trio, Madalena Mañé and her band, Joseph Maria Antonio with his bass viola da gamba, Laura Dilettante with her accordion and voice, the one-man band El Hombre Orquesta, Jenny Wren and Her Borrowed Wings, and so many others.
And there was late night conversation of Chur being the oldest town in Switzerland and of the Knight’s Templar and their possible involvement in the founding of the country, and there was the beauty with the oh-so-expressive, transfixing eyebrows I followed right out of a good and sure thing with tattoos and piercings and into a goodnight hug, and there were young buxom beauties wandering the streets by the dozens and great food and smoke and the Swiss beer Calanda flowing like water. Oh Calanda! Che Calanda!
A beautiful time with beautiful new friends.
I awoke Sunday to travel complications north and west into Germany and arrived to my gig at Carty Bar in Gaildorf — literally translated “horny village” — two hours late to a crowd of about 40 or so patient, enthusiastic people waiting, sitting along an old stone wall to hear me, smiling, applauding my arrival.
This was my first time in Gaildorf, and after the stress of being so tardy, it was about the most wonderful, calming sight I could have been greeted by. I played on the street in front of the bar for two or three hours facing an old castle and feeling like a million greenbacks.
Then it was to a house concert in Bretten where I was greeted with yet another beautiful gift, a lovely and colorful rendering of myself by the talented little daughter of my host. The show was great and the two late night conversations of famed friends and dark swirlings over fine wine was even better.
From there it was onto Erfurt where I met up with Florian, which I’ve detailed above, and then on to Flowerpower together in Chemnitz, which is one of a number of Flowerpowers around Germany, with their ’60’s hippie day-glow decor and vibrant paintings of artists such as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix adorning the walls.
Friday we made our way to Dresden, where Flo calls home, for the BRN festival. BRN stands for Bunte Republik Neustadt, which translated means “Colorful Republic Neustadt.” The so-called “Republic” was founded in 1990 in the Neustadt area of Dresden by a group of discontent and humorous punks and anarchists, essentially, complete with hand-made passports and chalk-drawn borders along the streets and a flag, the flag being the German flag with the addition of Mickey Mouse’s face emblazoned upon the center.
The founding of the new republic was proclaimed and celebrated with a festival, BRN. It’s been a yearly tradition since.
The BRN is essentially an open-air street festival of live music and DJ’s trying to out-volume each other, sometimes immediately next to each other, and many other intriguing characters, and, at night, a crowd so thick and dense you literally just have to allow yourself to be carried along by the sputtering bursts of humanity inch by inch. It’s a madhouse. I loved it.
Flo and I had our first show at an impressive wooden makeshift bar, Neustadt Saloon, where appropriately the theme was cowboys and the Old West. There were cowboy hats and cowboy boots, pearl snaps and bandanas, tequila and whiskey, beer and smoke, a little toy lever-action pop rifle, and loads of laughs.
We had a couple of other shows around the festival, including a guest spot for two of my original songs with bluegrass band The Voltz Brothers on the main stage, and I caught some great sets of music by Sonosphere, Tú Acá No, and Flo’s other band Electric Hoodoo.
Then Flo went off to see his girlfriend in a town about two hours from Dresden and left me with his flat for three days, where I got some good rest, took in some great jazz, a game of billiards, a jam, and, as is my wont, plenty of drink and smoke.
Flo and I met back up Thursday and rode the rails to Guben a town along the Polish border for a show at the sole bar in town, Oldie Bar, and a house concert last night in Deulowitz with what have become old and dear friends, some of my favorite people anywhere.
And now I’m rolling back towards Dresden on a regional train, legs crossed, computer in lap. Flo’s working on a vegetarian sandwich, as is his wont.
In Dresden I’ll meet with a professor of philosophy from Texas where we’ll head to a small festival I’m playing tonight, Ausser Haus Festival, and knock back a few coca-colas.
Several nights ago in Dresden, a mostly-mad lap steel player and I sat on stone steps leading down to the cellar bar we’d both come to play. It was an open jam he’d told me about a couple of days prior at the BRN festival.
He puts on a gruff German-colored southern accent when he speaks English to me and wears a bolo tie.
“What happens when you play the blues backwards?”
“I don’t know.” I’d never thought of playing the blues backwards. “Tell me.”
“It stops raining. Your woman comes back. The sun shines. And when you wake up in the morning, everything is alright.”
What a thought.
I wish we could collectively play the blues backwards to right all the wrongs in the world. But we can’t. The only way out is through, and the only way through is forward.
I pray we’ll all come together in love and fellowship, in spite of the various insanities and blights of this existence, and walk that road ahead hand-in-hand, as brothers and sisters, as Dr. King and so many other bright souls have yearned and strove and fought and prayed for.
June 27, 2015
On a train to Dresden