Ben here again. I wanted to share a quick video I took before a show we played at a mall on Wednesday. The Embassy has brought a bombastic MC to introduce us at every show and it’s amazing. You have to see it. Notice that the music they’re using to hype us up is Jesus Christ Superstar. Hilarious.
Ok, I’m passing the baton to Aaron for the day. His sweet demeanor and deep talent reservoir make him incredibly well suited for these trips. I’m really glad he’s here with us, as ever. Take it away, Aaron!
Aaron: Hey guys!! Um, well…I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the opportunities I’ve been presented with in the past year traveling with the Henhouse Prowlers to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Kenya, and now Kyrgyzstan. I never in my life imagined that music would bring me to these diverse, far flung places; These countries rarely crossed my mind two years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I had cursory knowledge about these countries or at least formed an opinion about the basic geographical region each country was located in. But the goings on in Central Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia all seemed about as far-removed from my life as could be. And now that I’m here, and perhaps especially because I’m here on behalf of the US State Department, I feel a responsibility to make some sense of my newly expanded world view. Not just to be here, share music and leave, but to return home with some important piece of wisdom that I didn’t have before.
But first, a quick recap of the exploits of today. After an early wakeup (I’m slowly acclimating to the 12-hour time zone difference between Bishkek and Chicago) and a hearty breakfast at our hotel, we were picked up by our driver, Uri, and we headed to one of Kyrgyzstan’s network TV affiliates. This is our second performance on Kyrgyzstan nation television. And we get to play three songs. When Ben suggests we play one of the tunes I’ve written that the Prowlers are currently performing, I’m thrilled. Ben and Jon are both tremendous songwriters and singers and the fact that they so generously share the spotlight with me constantly reminds me to be humble and grateful.
There’s always a bit of a panic at these types of televised performances, as nobody ever seems to know until the absolute last minute what our setup is going to be. Will we be able to use our own microphones? Will our instruments be plugged in? My favorite panic inducing moment is wondering whether a TV station even has a microphone stand that works. Fortunately, they have a microphone stand, and they toss a microphone that looks like it came from radio-shack onto the clip and give us a two-minute warning until air-time. Haha! On these trips, the Prowlers have learned time and time again to just roll with it. As my dad likes to say, with a shrug and a smile, “What can you do??”
We end up playing “Still On That Ride”, “Sitya Loss”, and close with my tune, “Nashville, Here I Come”. In between songs, the hosts of the program talk to Ben and Jon about the band’s experiences in Kyrgyzstan, our upcoming performances and general questions about our music. I remarked later to Ben that I’m continually impressed with his and Jon’s ability to remain calm, concise, and eloquent in front of a camera or in an interview. As an interviewee, you have key points you want to hit; the big venue the band is playing next, the purpose of our visit, a shout out to the US State Department, for example. But he’s not just reciting canned answers; he thinks about questions he’s asked on the spot and gives articulate, thoughtful responses, sometimes even ones that challenge the interviewer. While they’re talking, I’m silently hoping the hosts don’t ask me any questions. Thankfully they don’t. Maybe another year into this band and I’ll be ready for that. 🙂 Kyle, our new mandolin/fiddle player, had some pretty killer solos in our short set. There’s multiple times during our short set that I look over at him and smile because of some cool lick or solo idea he’s playing. But almost as soon as our moment of glory begins, it’s over; we pack up our gear and head to a local school of music where we are scheduled to give a masterclass.
The masterclass was amazing. There’s a room full of young kids, and a smattering of adults. All musicians. We give a brief demo of our instruments and talk about the history of bluegrass. We perform a few songs. But a truly magical moment happens after Ben explains why we’re all wearing suits; it’s an attempt by early pioneers of bluegrass music to ‘legitimize’ the music and to make it equally as suitable on front porches as it is concert halls. In my best shot at humor, I point at a man in the front row wearing a suit, and say “So you’re in our band now!”. He stands up, says “Ok!”, then heads towards the piano in the back of the room. The four of us look around at each other, trying to determine what to do. There’s a room full of people watching us. He plunks a few chords on the piano and its clear that he’s an experienced pianist. Ben shouts out “Foggy Mountain Special!”, we exchange a quick breakdown of the chords, and off we go. At the end of the song, there’s raucous applause from the room. Talk about bridging a cultural divide.
After a brief siesta back at our hotel, we head out once again for our final performance of the day, at Bishkek Humanities University. This time, we have a full set, complete with an energetic introduction from our Kyrgyzstani MC. Our audience, predominantly students at this local university, goes crazy for our music. Cheering, applause, clapping along with our music. A band can get spoiled playing these types of venues. And afterwards, we sign autographs, shake hands, take selfies. It feels like the closest thing to being a rock star.
Today’s experience has taught me that music is a language that bridges many cultures. I’m grateful to know how to speak it, though I’m still broadening my vocabulary in this universal form of communication. And I’m reminded that because it is a way of communicating that brings people together, that music is the language of peace. I’m beyond grateful to be here.