I just returned from a trip all the way around the world: NYC to Europe to the Middle East to the Far East and back to the East Coast. I froze my ass off in Stockholm, drank all the wines in Paris, crashed a vespa into a rice paddy field in Bali, got my Gangnam Style on in Seoul, but amidst these crazy adventures was the real purpose of the trip: American Authors performing for the troops in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Djibouti. Whether or not you agree with the suits in D.C. voting on this or that, when you meet these young soldiers, mostly between the ages of 18 and 22, it’s hard to not feel a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for them and everything they do. Some of them would ask, “How can you walk onstage in front of thousands of people?! Isn’t that terrifying??” To which we would respond, “Ummmm…I think your job sounds waaaaaaay scarier than anything we have ever done.” We met men and women from every branch of the military on this trip, from the new recruits to the commanding officers, and also some very special canines who are trained to track and attack the enemy. James and Zac couldn’t resist putting on the attack suit and getting up close and personal with some of these vicious pooches. We got to drive some bomb dismantling robots, climb aboard tanks, sit and eat with the soldiers, and have a couple beers with them after the shows to shoot the breeze and hear about their lives and duties.
Bahrain, we were told, is the Reno of the Middle East, with Dubai being the Las Vegas. Many countries in this region have a zero alcohol policy, but Bahrain is not one of them. On the military base, everyone is allocated two beers, a policy which has not changed since my grandfather’s days in WW II (they used to hide beer cans in their socks). The day before the first show in mid-January, Dave and Matt (and loads of checked musical equipment) were stranded in NYC because of the snow and missed their flight, so our first show featured yours truly on guitar, Zac Barnett on acoustic guitar and kick drum, James on a guitar tuned like a banjo (banjos were lost by Qatar Airlines), and our tour manager Jesse Aldulaimi on a rented bass. Jesse is a fine musician in his own right, but is usually behind the scenes making sure everything runs smoothly. So we made a cheat sheet of the chord progressions, ran through the setlist at soundcheck, and he totally crushed it on bass AND vocal harmonies (you better watch your back, Rublin.) Dave and Matt arrived late that night after flying from NYC to Miami back to NYC with a layover in Narnia that was rerouted through Hogwarts after a quick touchdown at the Temple of Doom, and finally after 967 travel hours, we were a full band again. Most of our musical equipment floated around the ether of time and space for the remainder of our tour, so we persevered on our rented equipment; my Indonesian Squier Strat had this fun feature where it stayed in tune for about a verse and maybe a chorus if you were gentle, and the age of the strings was a fresh reminder to get a tetanus shot when I got home. But these were minor details we overcame to put on a great show for a gracious crowd. It was warm in the day and quite cool at night during January, which is preferable to the summer time, where it can be upwards of 130 degrees, or “like a hair dryer blowing in your face at all times,” as one soldier put it.
Kuwait City is gorgeous with both its ancient ruins and modern flare. We got to walk around the downtown area, drink tea, eat shawarma, and of course, ride go karts, which was easily the most dangerous thing we did the entire trip. Djibouti is on the eastern tip of Africa next to Somalia, where we played our final shows of the tour before all going our separate ways. We received certificates of appreciation from each base, and shook everyone’s hand after every show, thanking them for their service. The whole experience makes me feel quite lucky to get to play music all over the world, and to meet people from every kind of background; not just the military folks, but also the local tech engineers, drivers, cooks, tea makers, and random travelers. And for all the differences we may have, it’s comforting to be reminded that we all smile in the same language.