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-monthly travelogue published here on the Weekly’s website –– will have something for you.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”” — Hunter S. Thompson
It’s just after 1 a.m. The streets of Sarajevo’s Old Town are hopping. I’m sitting with a bottle of cheap red in my hostel, trying to convince myself that this is indeed where I should be and what I should be doing — writing this update from the road, rather than throwing myself out amongst the throngs and seeing what sort of madness might be had.
There are three young people in my hostel room staring into cell phones, curled in their beds for the last hour. One man may be suffering from the black lung judging by his unsettling, toenail-curling hacking and coughing. I’m not sure what the two ladies’ excuses might be. They appear sound. Surely they know what electricity abounds just a few steps out the door?
It makes me nervous as a cat to miss a party, especially one swimming with so many lovely faces and other human parts. Whatever tantalizing rumors you’ve heard about eastern European women are true. If you haven’t heard any, make one up. It’s likely true, as well.
But these last two weeks have been a whirlwind. Time for writing has not presented itself. So here I am. I’ve removed myself to a common area with only one persistent and agile mosquito to distract and potentially sicken me — only one mosquito and the churning, burning of my own lusty constitution.
I arrived to Sarajevo several hours ago by plane from Vilnius, Lithuania and walked almost half of the 15 kilometers into the city center before hailing a cab to my evening’s abode. I didn’t feel the fare from the airport was just.
My first visit to Sarajevo was this past February. The city sits in a bowl of a valley surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and was charmingly blanketed in snow all those months ago. I was quite taken with Sarajevo then and am looking forward to a day or two here before making my way south to Mostar for the Mostar Blues & Rock Festival.
The aforementioned whirlwind, however, began blowing back in Germany after leaving the good company of Florian Escherlor on a train in Dresden and making my way to the Ausser Haus Festival a small and quaint musical gathering on a pond out in the countryside of the little village of Niederbobritzsch.
My task was to perform a couple of sets in a cozy side tent in-between bands setting up and tearing down on the adjacent main stage, swapping with a Canadian expat now living in Berlin, Martin Silver.
When I finished my first show, a young woman with large, elaborate sunglasses told me my singing came from “the balls.” I thanked her. We shared some smoke as Lake Felix floated into her “loop folk” performance and the beer and wine flowed freely and there was a fire and rain and a woman with spiritual questions and an eventual hard sleep on a wooden crate cuddled with my guitar and leather satchel sans blanket or pillow inside the backstage tent.
I caught an early ride the following morning back into Dresden and met up with Flo. We made our way to the Elbhangfest along the Elbe River where we performed with The Voltz Brothers and Patrick Kearney. Our little stage was sponsored by a local Irish pub, TíR Na NÓG. Plenty of Guinness and whiskey consumed.
The stage was in the shadow of that type of carnival ride which looks like a giant, circular swing set. After the show I tried it out, Guinness in hand, feet dangling, goofily grinning like a little kid. I disembarked. We went to a nearby booth for copious amounts of free red wine provided by a Voltz Brother friend.
I met a young couple engaged to be married. Over the fourth or fifth glass I assured them there was no reason to wait, and that as an ordained-by-the-internet-to-marry-people person, I would marry them right then and there. And so I did. May they live happily ever after.
I briefly caught a few winks on a bus stop bench before heading to a pub.
The following morning it was onward to the little town of Rudolstadt where I participated in the music school’s end-of-the-year ceremonies, played a few songs, and heard some great young talent, including a five or six year old unassuming bluesman in glasses who is going to be a soul-blues beast guitar player before he hits puberty.
An invitation was extended and accepted to a garden party, complete with plenty of drink and food and fire and music, including a hilarious rendition of “Sex Machine” involving only three lines between funky guitar licks: “Like a sex machine!,” “Like a bridge!,” “Get up-ah!”
A dancing, shirtless man interpretive danced his way through all 69 minutes or so of the song’s start-and-stop interpretation. “Like a sex machine!” Pelvic thrusts, lips pouted. “Like a bridge!” Legs together, back and arms arching upward and backward, forming a partial half of a bridge. “Get up-ah!” Cue more enthusiastic pelvic thrusts.
The following day I wandered the city with a young 12-year-old friend who taught me some German over bus rides and a visit to some camping friends and a banana split and his little sister’s homemade ice cream and guinea pigs.
Later I met some more lovely friends from last summer for a delicious goulash and a water fight and the Lion King in Deutsche and vodka and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and “Country Roads” and flowers in hair and eventually a 20 euro cab ride about five euros away to one of my favorite Guiness pubs anywhere, Kiedorf, where I literally had a pint handed to me as I stepped out of the cab. I played a show there the next evening.
I had come to Rudolstadt to receive some of the amazing energy from the roots, folk, dance festival I’d played the two summers prior, TFF. In order to keep variety in the festival’s year-to-year program, TFF only allow an artist to perform two years in a row before having to take a three-year break. I played the two years prior. I had to sit this one out.
So I booked a gig at Kiedorf the night before the official start of the festival to see some old friends and soak in some of the spirit. Flo joined me out in the street in front of the bar, and we played two hours of music for familiar faces and several new friends.
After the show I ended up doing battle with various images inspired by Tim Burton’s work until the wee hours before miraculously making my early morning train to Berlin where I was to fly Air Lituanica to Vilnius.
I arrived to Berlin’s Tegel Airport with plenty of time to spare. But where was the Air Lituanica terminal? I went to an information desk.
“Oh, Air Lituanica went out of business about a month ago. It no longer exists. There is no flight.”
No one had bothered informing me of this development prior, and according to the still-operating Air Lituanica help line, there was no help they could lend. According to Travel Merry, the company I booked the ticket through, I can go pump myself and jump in a river. They’ve yet to respond to my messages for some sort of compensation.
I was scheduled to perform with Lithuanian bluesman Aleksandr Belkin that evening at Aula Blues Club in Vilnius, a little over one thousand kilometers north and east. But day-of flight purchases are exorbitant, so I opted for an 18 hour bus ride and missed the Aula gig.
I did meet a funny and fascinating, sensual Spanish dancer from Madrid, Aitana Cordero who was purposely taking the long and leisurely way from Spain to Estonia and onward by bus to do a series of performances, and the Polish electronica musician snorbes who was on his way to a gig in Vilnius.
Upon the early morning arrival in Vilnius, Aitana and I made our way to McDonald’s where I was to meet Aleksandr, and she was to snag wifi before catching the bus for the next leg of her trip up north.
Aleksandr’s wife had prepared me a delicious welcome meal back at his place, and after a little nap, I loaded up in Aleksandr’s van with his band, The Road Band, and Belarusian guitar player Сергей Смирнов from Cross B Band, totaling a full load of eight men in the silver Volskwagon blues bus with “On the seventh day, God made the blues” emblazoned across the back.
We headed west the 250 kilometers to Varniai for the blues festival Bliuzo Naktys, which is a two day camping extravaganza on a scenic lake in the midst of a fairly well wooded area.
I opened the festivities with Aleksandr accompanying on harmonica early that evening with my song Lumberjack Blues, happy revelers immediately dancing, filling up the grass space in front of the festival’s sole stage. After my third or fourth song, I bent down to grab my beer. A young man leaning against the metal fence in bright plastic sunglasses and an oversized baseball hat sitting high atop his head called out, “Play! That’s not going to help you!”
“I don’t need any help, my friend.” Laughter and applause. “But it sounds like you might. Can anyone help this man?”
More laughter from crowd. The heckler laughing, too, but I noticed after the next song he is no longer standing in front.
Another man: “Play some Robert Johnson!”
“Robert Johnson? Yeah man, I’ll play some Robert Johnson a little later.”
He asks another couple of times.
I ended the set with Johnson’s “Dust My Broom Blues,” an old stand-by in my repertoire for several years. The man later tells me it was his favorite song and performance of the whole festival.
I took in some beers and enjoyed the party. I was particularly impressed with Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers. Aleksandr’s Road Band closed the night’s music, and they invited me up to sing “Sweet Home Chicago” in front of the now several thousands present.
I spent the rest of the evening drinking on the lake’s shore being berated by an otherwise pretty blonde insisting to me my own unhappiness as the sun came up, me wondering why in the hell I didn’t just walk away.
Mr. Belkin woke me in my cabin the next morning, the 4th of July. No fireworks. No BBQ. We loaded into the blues van and drove his band back to Vilnius.
I met Aleksandr last summer playing a show at Aula with one of Fort Worth’s favorites, Mr. Cody Admire. Aleksandr ended up joining Cody and I on harmonica for a gig the following night, and he told me to let him know when I was back so he could line up a tour for us.
In the end, he booked 15 shows for us to play together this summer, including three blues festivals.
After dropping off his band, Aleksandr and I hit the road for the next week. We were to play in Kaunas that night at a small craft-beer bar NIShA, but the gig cancelled so we just drove on back to Varniai straight into the sunset at speed to take in some more of the blues festival.
We had almost arrived when the speed became a problem. We were pulled over and ticketed. As the police dealt with Aleksandr, I could hear the blues coming from the other side of the trees.
My friends from the “neo-psychedelic rock” band Garbanotas Bosistas closed the festival in fine form, I listening in a nearby tent, charmed into a temporary rose tattoo on the underbelly of my forearm.
We took our time leaving the following day, enjoying the water before hitting the highway about an hour northeast to Šiauliai for our show at Juonė Pastuogė, a dance bar which is owned by Lithuanian country band Ansamblis Jonis. So I played more of a country set, and they performed after, and invited me up to sing a verse of “Goodnight Irene,” apparently an adopted Lithuania favorite.
The band’s leader gifted me a giant wooden spoon with a hook on the end of it and a nice inscription about my performance there.
Jack Daniels. More Jack Daniels. We closed the bar and left with a new friend to an after-hour shop that maybe semi-legally sells booze. I asked my friend what she would be having.
“Four beers? Ok.”
“What are you having?”
“I guess I’ll have three beers and a small bottle of vodka.”
Our grand total for seven beers and a little bottle of vodka was less than ten euros. Incredible. But it was an ambitious purchase, and only two beers were subtracted from the total by night’s end.
The following day was Lithuania’s 1,009th birthday I was told. We were to celebrate with a gig at Mūša in Pasvalys, which is a great nightclub and music venue owned by a very impressive 22 year old woman I’d met the first night of Bliuzo Naktys. She ended up accompanying us for part of the tour.
I got a load of vodka in me, which turned me a little sideways by night’s end, but managed to earn me the title of “professional” from the bar’s proprietor after I beat her and her cousin in beer pong in the wee hours.
The following day we played Kafenhauz in Panevezys, about 40 kilometers away. Kafenhauz is a small restaurant, with a little upstairs balcony running the length of one wall where people can sit and take in the music. Our show was sold out. We played three sets of music and Aleksandr encored with five songs solo, playing guitar and harmonica and singing.
I have been told by several people that Mr. Belkin is the best bluesmen in Lithuania. His skill and blues prowess on any instrument you set in front of him further attests to this notion.
The next night’s show was in the seaside town of Palanga at the hotel, restaurant and particularly nice music venue Vandenis, a hearty stone’s throw from the Baltic Sea.
After the show I ended up at a nightclub where mostly young people danced and sucked face and took little pink shots of something and beat their chests and danced and sucked more face.
Towards the end of my time there, the sun already well up in the sky, I noticed a man continually approaching a woman whom continually tried to move away from him. Each time he came near her face lit up with fear. Genuine fear. He would reach for her, she would jerk away terrified. Eventually, the man picked her up and began carrying her kicking and fighting towards the exit of the club.
I stepped in front of him. He tried to get around me. I stepped in front of him again. She fought her way free. He began talking to me. I stared into his angry drunken eyes over my vodka and shrugged. He walked off and didn’t bother her again. Later he was escorted out of the club after trying to fight a man on crutches. A man’s man.
I think I slept a few hours, before getting back in the van and making for Šilutė for a gig at the cultural center H.Šojaus dvaras. After sound check, we made our way to a nearby garden where I believe I was fed seven shots of vodka and local beer and delicious semi-hard cheese, possibly because of my friend’s insistence that I was a professional. People want proof, I guess.
My friends from The Voltz Brothers, who were on their way north for some gigs in Estonia, made it to the show. After the gig, I was informed that the after-party was already host to too many people, so The Voltz Brothers weren’t allowed to join. Horseshit. I hopped in their car and we headed to the coastal town of Klaipėda where a little more action could be scrounged up.
We ended up in an Irish pub beneath a casino. I ended up in the casino with a Voltz whom faired better with my damn euros than I did.
I took a bus bright and early on no sleep back to Šilutė to get back on the blues van. I slept all the way to our next gig in Druskininkai about 300 kilometers south and east, where we played Kolonada, a restaurant and music club which has been operating as such since before the second World War.
A sincere-eyed man there delivered to me what he said was a message from God for me.
After the gig, we loaded the van and headed south for Suwałki in Poland for the Suwałki Blues Festival, where the blues keep going well after the festival proper ends in various bars around the small town. A woman was assigned to Aleksandr and I to take care of us during our time there, or as she put it, “To lick your ass without actually licking your ass,” and after check-in at our hotel around 2 a.m., she led me to a bar to catch some music with her and some other volunteers.
The Tom Portman Trio from Galway were in the midst of winding down a stellar set, the rain drizzled lightly and not-so-lightly down, a lovely short-haired woman and her friends led a bevy of merry dancers, I was handed a beer, I was handed another beer, I was handed a vodka, and the night turned into morning, and the morning turned into my first gig: a 10 a.m. Blues Breakfast show with Aleksandr.
After about 45 minutes of something like sleep, I made my way to the gig, and played easily the earliest set of my life as the rain thumped down on the music tent’s roof and water ran across the floor below. But it was a strong show, and I sold all remaining CDs I had with me.
After lunch I napped about two hours, and then made my way back out to the festivities, where I ran into some of my friends from the night before. There were many beers and blankets on the grass with thankfully clearer skies and blues music and new friends and an old friend from my first visit to Poland two summers back and smoke and a whole lot of laughter.
A woman from the Blues Breakfast gifted me a rather substantial stone, carved into the shape of a bird.
That evening Aleksandr and I played the final show of our run together on the same stage we’d played for breakfast. We’d hit our groove with our between-song banter, and it felt almost as much a comedy routine as it did a music performance by the time it was all said and done. He’s a funny guy.
The after-party didn’t allow for sleep. But Aleksandr managed to get a little and faithfully drove me bright and early back 225 kilometers to the airport in Vilnius as I slept in the back.
Thankfully, Turkish Airlines is still in operation. I made it as planned here to Sarajevo — and with my time spent detailing these past two weeks, I believe me and this kicked bottle of red have out gassed the vast majority of Sarajevo’s vibrant nightlife.
At least, I don’t hear the party’s siren call — she must be taking a little nap. Maybe I’ll do the same.
A whirlwind, indeed.
“Irene, goodnight Irene. Irene, goodnight. Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene. I’ll see you in my dreams.”
July 12, 2015
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina