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.
“War, huh yeah / What is it good for?/ Absolutely nothing.” — Edwin Starr
It’s 8:05 a.m., Istanbul Atatürk Airport. I just awoke from a hard four or five hours of sleep on a little section of floor where tile and carpet come together, with a long-sleeve cotton shirt serving as a sheet against the cool tile, my lower-half, in shorts, kicked out onto the carpet, laptop inside my leather duffel bag pillow, power cable sneaking out of said bag, plugged into the charging station on the adjacent wall, guitar case, length-wise, snuggled against my back or front, depending on the movements of my continual tossing and turning.
I arrived from Sarajevo late last night on Turkish Airlines. When I finally decided to sleep around 3 a.m., the food court was still jumping with people, eateries, ice cream stands, and coffee shops; the terminal I chose as a bedroom was chocked-full of fellow weary travelers of all ages stretched and sprawled across benches, floors, and loved ones.
I’m on to Vilnius, Lithuania in three hours to pick up where bluesman Aleksandr Belkin and I left off with a four-show run, culminating with a full band performance in Latvia at the Sigulda Blues Festival. My mother and brother will be meeting up tonight, coming along for the ride and then some.
It’s a very happy thought, seeing my family after more than two months away from Texas. Yet, those happy thoughts have unpleasant company crashing around in my skull.
Three days ago, about 1200 kilometers east of here in the border town of Suruç, Turkey — according to the reports I’ve seen — around 30 people were killed and at least 100 people wounded when a suicide bomber exploded herself in the midst of a park where a group of young people had gathered to call for help in the rebuilding of Kobani, the Syrian city just the other side of the border, which suffered a great deal of devastation in the recent fighting between Syrian rebels, Kurdish forces, and ISIS.
Reading the news, my mind returns to the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina where I’ve just left. Sarajevo and Mostar. Two cities a little more than 20 years the other side of civil war, each in their own stages of reconstruction and recovery.
There’s more money in the capital of Sarajevo, and so it is quite a bit further along in the process than the southwest town of Mostar. Both are absolutely striking and lovely in their respective way, but each still bares heavy scars from the Bosnian War. Walls riddled with bullet holes. Buildings sitting in ruins from mortar shells. And there are obviously scars that run far deeper than aesthetics.
But Sarajevo has the feel and energy and openness of a major modern city. The general feel and energy of Mostar is a bit more guarded. From what I understand, the city is still quite divided. And apparently there are those who fight to keep it that way.
But then there are those such as the poor people in Suruç whom bravely and beautifully come together to rebuild and heal and attempt to reestablish community.
I was invited to Mostar to perform at the Mostar Blues Festival last summer by two such individuals. Through the honor and pleasure and fascination of getting to know each, I have come to consider both good friends.
In addition to organizing this enormous labor of love for the past 13 years, both men have also heavily invested their time, energy, and talents into the Mostar Rock School and it’s bright and talented students. I have been told the Rock School is the only school in Mostar that is not segregated.
The school and the headquarters for the festival are located in the Pavarotti Music Centre, which was opened in a former primary school in 1997 through funds raised from concerts organized by Luciano Pavarotti, U2, and others in an attempt to bring the community back together through the powerful medicines that are music and music education.
I fell in love with the town and the people last summer, to such a degree that I included it amongst the very few stops on my brief tour of Europe back in February. I was thrilled when I received the invitation to return this summer and open all three nights of the festival. And I’ll be back next summer if my invitation remains on the table.
Despite Mostar’s more sluggish recovery, physical and otherwise, the city is home to many amazing, awe-inspiring people. Eager to move forward in love and fellowship. Eager to share everything they have and can offer of their city, their creative talents, and their hard work. Eager to put on a party that will bring the local community together and bring people in from the outside to see that Mostar is no longer a war zone.
I arrived in Mostar by early morning train — smoker friendly — a couple of days prior to the festival’s start after an interview and on-air performance on Radio Sarajevo and a decision to stay an extra night in the capital city, which included a bottle of cheap red wine, a pint of Guinness, a small soccer riot at the hands of invading Polish football hooligans, some road-sodas, a stroll through what appeared to be a children’s park amuk with chunks and shards of broken glass curiously mixed amongst the pebbled ground, and an exhilarating game of hide-and-seek in an old cemetery that is nowadays more of a public park.
My days in Mostar were of little interest, as each burned well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I laid up in my fancy hotel room naked, stepping out only to cross the street to the provided grazing spot for the musicians, Club Aleksa, waiting for sound check for the evenings’ festivities, at which time I would slowly slink out into the still blazing sun.
The nights were naturally filled with music and drinks and smoke and friends and more lovely dark-haired beauties than a person has any capacity to process in a given day. I handled the strain on my system with more music and drinks and smoke and friends. And there was a blonde girl with recently short-clipped hair who greeted me upon our initial meeting with an open-mouth tongue kiss, a previously unknown custom. I would happily meet each pretty stranger along the road in such a fashion. She proposed marriage after I was goaded into a burst of acappella singing by a beastly beauty.
The pump of my ego was needed as there was a couple of days worth of some sincere teasing about my growing belly and my reeking of beer by one of the most stunning women I’ve come across. She would continually take her shots. I believe the Lord sent her to bring me down a few pegs.
And there were the bands. In particular, an impressive performance from the Rock School Blues Band, including a stellar cover of Cocker’s take on “With a Little Help From My Friends,” stands out, as does the opening night’s closer, fellow American Mike Zito and The Wheel, and the harmonica and guitar duo from Norway, Jolly Jumper and Big Moe, and a particularly attractive background singer, Lena Woods, from Big Dez, who commanded the stage during her turn at lead vocals.
The last night of the festival there was an interview with a local television station and a subsequent many funny hours after with the most lovely and intriguing interviewer and an after-party on a rooftop until the early hours with many friends and Jack Daniels and guitars and singing and laughter and the long, happy exhale following the completion of a job seen through to a successful end.
Sunday I was invited to play the front patio of the lovely Black Dog Pub, with it’s stone exterior, wood interior, and various charming views of the Old Town and Radobolja River, which runs right alongside it. I sweated a flood of the festival’s imbibings. Jolly Jumper joined me for some songs on harp. He and Big Moe did a set of their music. Several groups of friends from last year came and sweated with me. One professed love for my brother. I guess they’ll probably marry.
At one point towards the end of my set a good-looking woman — from Colorado, as it turned out — sat down on the little stone wall beside and in front of me and sang along with a song by The Band. She then requested a second Grateful Dead song. I’d played “Black Peter” earlier, which she had apparently heard from somewhere outside of my field of vision. I played “Sugaree” for her. Smiles were exchanged.
A Romanian man was there. Dead-ringer for my old rambling, songwriting, guitar-picking amigo Daniel Payne. He offered to give me a lift in his uncle’s car to Sarajevo the following day, which was two days ago. I accepted the invitation.
On the drive, during one of the few moments I wasn’t sleeping, he relayed his memories from the Romanian revolution in 1989, including the Christmas Day assassination on live television of Nicolae Ceausescu, the country’s disposed dictator, and his wife. He said it was one of the best Christmas presents he could have received. He gave reasons.
We split ways upon arrival in Sarajevo, and I enjoyed my day off over wine and rigorous physical activity. A lovely friend and I made our way into the Turkish Old Town for dinner where I had a funny chance encounter with Polish photographer Bartosz Maciejewski, who apparently had just publicly wished to be in Texas mere seconds before I arrived and sat down next to him.
Yesterday I spent a little time walking around Sarajevo and getting some laundry done before heading to the airport and Istanbul, where I now sit, waiting to board a plane far north of here. Far from this heat. Far from this recent tragedy.
Gonna get to see my momma and little brother.
I’ve been laughing hard all day. I’ve been laughing hard and steady since about four days ago when my brother and my mother met up with me around midnight in Vilnius, Lithuania after my gig with Aleksandr Belkin in the beer garden of music pub Artistai. I don’t know that I ever laugh as hard or as often as when the three of us are traveling around together. It’s a beautiful thing.
They were supposed to arrive in time for the show, but they missed their flight from Stockholm that afternoon and had to catch a later flight. They kept their spirits high, and we stayed out on the town until the night had given way to day. Both my mother and brother are pretty good at keeping up with me.
We’re currently aboard a ship bound for Stockholm, moving at speed across the waters of the Baltic Sea. I’m pulling on a White Russian prepared for me by a white Russian. My brother is napping in our little cabin. We were out yucking it up in Riga’s Old Town until 11 a.m. last night and up at 1 p.m. today to check-out of our hotel and make our way to my last minute gig on the sidewalk out in front of the record shop Randoms where I, not-entirely-sober, croaked and banged out an unamplified 45 minutes of music.
It’s been wonderful having my family along for a small slice of this tour. After our first late night in Vilnius we got a little sleep, then made our way in the blues van to Alytus, Lithuania where Aleksandr had arranged a little recording session for us at 3A Studija. We cut a couple of old blues songs: “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “Trouble in Mind.”
After, we headed to the resort Kurhauzas in Birstonas and played to a full ballroom of appreciative people. Then we headed back to Vilnius for a night out on the town, as it was my momma’s birthday at midnight. We got to Vilnius’ Old Town, and in the shadow of a cathedral we waited for Ms. Terėsė Andrijauskaitė of the band Baltos Varnos which she fronts with her twin sister Milda Andrijauskaitė, to join us. She arrived with her fiddle.
Midnight struck. Seeing as how Terėsė and I hadn’t had the chance to play together, seeing how it was a birthday celebration, we unsheathed our instruments, Aleksandr grabbed his harps, and I sang my mom Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and The Band’s “The Weight.” My brother took over the singing for Danko’s “Crazy Chester followed me…” verse. Momma said it was the best birthday present she ever received. It was a special moment.
Mom didn’t quite make it to sun up, but my brother and Terėsė and I did. At one point, the bar we were at was giving away free colorful shots by the dozens, and there was only a dozen or so people in the bar, so everyone got their fair share. Combined with the vodka I was on, it turned into a pretty strong inebriation.
My brother has a knack for attracting strange people and strange situations. This particular night he was approached by some drunken characters.
Young local drunk: “What color would you call that shirt?”
My brother, wearing about the bluest blue shirt: “Blue.”
“Ugh. You just don’t wear a shirt like that. You don’t wear a shirt like that with those shoes.”
Looking down at his unremarkable brown loafers: “Ok.”
A drunk woman: “So. You’re from Texas? Ribs, eh? Ribs?”
“Yeah. We have ribs.”
Another drunk: “Oooh, ribs!” Winking, grinning, pulling his shirt up exposing a sizable slab of belly fat, presumably insulating a rack of ribs.
My brother: “Oh yeah — ribs.” Lifting his shirt, exposing his flat stomach and clearly visible ribs.
The drunk woman: “Oh no. No! You don’t do that. He wins. He wins.” Motioning towards her heavy-set drunken companion.
My brother: “Well, I just thought since he was doing it….”
The drunk woman, shaking her head, disgusted, indignant: “No. No.”
The next morning we loaded back up in the van and headed north to Riga, Latvia, this time with Mr. Olegas Sochinas and Mr. Sergejus Sopelevas-Vysocki, a couple of musicians Aleksandr selected to form a little band for me for our final two shows. Guitar and bass. Aleksandr on drums. No practice. Just dive in and see what happens.
When we arrived to our gig, we were asked to play an extra set. A band had cancelled. So, Aleksandr and I did our duo thing for an hour, then the band joined us for another hour, performing admirably given the circumstances.
It was still early in the evening when we finished playing, so we went out, saw a friend from the last two summers’ tours, had some dinner, and back on the drink, which had actually started in the backstage tent earlier. We ended up at a Cuban dance cafe. There was dancing.
My brother and I saw the sun come up again. And we saw a fight. When we finally walked back to our hotel around 7:30 a.m. we passed a crowd of about 40 people still tossing back drinks, carrying on, and not looking to be in any hurry to throw in the towel. I appreciated the reveling night owls. It was in my heart to join them. We kept walking. Little brother was sleepy.
The next day we played the Sigulda Blues Festival, which takes place in an old castle in Sigulda. Easily the most idyllic setting I’ve ever had the pleasure of performing at. The weather was perfect. Our set went well. The people danced. The people clapped. The people cheered.
The highlight of the evening for me was the festival’s headliner, Mr. Cedrick Burnside, grandson of famed, filthy blues man R.L. Burnside. R.L. is one of my absolute favorites, as a singer, as a songwriter, as a guitar player. He just grooves. He grooves right down in the mud. Right down in the dirt. I could listen to him all day. Cedrick plays drums in a duo with guitar player Trenton Ayers under the group name The Cedric Burnside Project. And they fucking groove. They groove with big smiles on their faces. He does his granddaddy proud.
Yesterday we parted ways with Aleksandr and the band and kicked around Riga’s Old Town, met up with another friend from last summer, Mr. Edijs Andersons a local photographer, and another new friend who we met at the Sigulda Blues Festival. I was supposed to play a show that evening, but it cancelled. So we had the night off to play. As I mentioned, baby brother and I didn’t make it back to our hotel until 11 a.m. Big night on the Old Town. Brother even got some smooches.
We’ll make it into Stockholm around 10 a.m. tomorrow morning and head straight to the train station and ride the rails west to Oslo. My brother will leave the following day, my mother will leave a couple of days later. It’s been great having them here. There’s nothing like family.
July 27, 2015
Somewhere on the Baltic Sea