The Food!

Guest post by Lesleigh Memmel 

Indonesian lunch: you pick what dishes you like and usually pay per piece. Disclaimer: we did not sample every dish in this photo! 🙂

“I’m extremely jealous of the good food you’ll be eating!” – actual quote from our pre-tour briefing

When we found out that we’d been selected to travel to Southeast Asia for our American Music Abroad tour, we were thrilled. Mostly because we had never been to the region… But I have to admit that I was more than a little excited about the food!

Tony and I love to travel, and one of the best parts about exploring a new place is having the opportunity to sample the local cuisine. Luckily for us, we have been hosted by some incredible people at the local embassies and consulates, who have been recommending their favorite local dishes and the best places to find them.

Here is just a sample of the food that we’ve been so blessed to have the chance to try!

Chili crab and stingray: when we got to Singapore, we were told by multiple people that we had to try these two dishes. We hopped in a taxi and headed to a local hawker stand (an open-air food court with dozens of food stands offering delicious regional dishes). The woman at the restaurant that we chose brought out a live crab (!!!) to show us what we were getting into. They also served barbecue stingray which was phenomenal. Delicious and messy. What I would call good “first date food”… haha. After expertly and not-so-daintily dismantling my chili crab, I polished it off (and only had to use about 27 napkins). 😉

Lesleigh and Tony try Chili Crab and Stingray in Singapore!

Curry laksa: my favorite of the trip (so far!). A delicious savory coconut broth soup that definitely packs some heat. Garnished with green onions, green beans, and your choice of prawns, chicken, fish… yes, please!

Curry Laksa

Roti canai: perhaps Tony’s favorite new food. It’s essentially a savory Indian pancake – picture a flaky croissant crossed with naan bread. Mmm…

Roti Canai

Durian fruit: a local legend of sorts. Hard to describe… a combination of a heavy, spiky/sharp pineapple on the outside that, once hacked open with extreme force, smells a bit like garbage BUT tastes like banana custard! A truly unique fruit and an experience we’ll definitely take with us!

Mandatory Durian Selfie!

Noodles!! Everywhere you go, each place showcases their signature noodle dish. Wet noodle, dry noodle, ramen noodle, glass noodle… We have not eaten a bad noodle dish at all in Southeast Asia, that is for sure!

Noodles for breakfast 🙂

Fruit juice: we have been so fortunate to have vast array of fresh fruit juices readily available. Papaya, dragon fruit, pineapple, mango, green guava… The list goes on, and each fruit and fruit juice has been a magical way to start each day.

Fresh mango juice + fruit + cappuccino = happy camper!

Coffee: The coffee here has been robust and delicious, and we are just getting started! For coffee drinkers and coffee lovers, you’ll appreciate this: we are currently staying in Sumatra, Indonesia (Sumatra is a type of coffee bean). We may need a bigger suitcase to bring some of this back home with us!

Coffee in Sumatra, Indonesia!

We’re trying as many new things here as possible, and we’re looking forward to bringing some of these foods, recipes, and experiences home with us to the states. But for now, I could go for some more curry laksa (not really kidding!).

More to come from Southeast Asia. Thank you so much for following along on our adventure!

Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru, Malaysia

The band on LIVE TV in Malaysia!

Our last day in Kuala Lumpur (KL) was very full. We had a 6:30AM call time so that we could be on a morning news and talk program that airs on the largest TV station in KL. We followed that with a great radio interview (which I will post when it’s shared with me. The questions were super in-depth, and on a range of subjects I’m rarely asked about). There’s been a lot going on in the news here. The main story is that there has been some terrible flooding in parts of Malaysia. Please keep the people here in your thoughts and prayers.

In between events, our new fr
iend Hisham (our public relations aficionado from the U.S. Embassy) took us out for breakfast. I’d yet to try a local, specialty beverage that I’d been researching called Teh Tarik, or “pull tea”- a hot tea drink that is prepared by pouring the tea back and forth from a large distance to cool it to the perfect temperature before pouring it over sweet, condensed milk. It was phenomenal! To give you an idea of the timeframe here… I had this first teh tarik drink before noon on Wednesday, and had another two teh tarik beverages before we left for Johor Bahru (JB) at 8:55 the next morning.

Teh Tarik being prepared

We didn’t have a free day to explore in KL, BUT we were able to make a brief stop at the base of the world-famous Petronas Towers. We were all in awe of the enormous structures, and snapped a quick photo.

Petronas Towers

On Thursday, we flew out of KL early in the morning. The call time was 6:00AM in the hotel lobby, where we met a van that took us to Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah airport, we flew to JB, met our van (and our driver/local expert, Jai), and went to our first gig. Between the early start, hunger, travel fatigue, and a bit of a bumpy car ride, I was not feeling 100% at the start of our first performance of the day at the Malaysian Arts School of Johor… But the students were SO excited. They really gave me a second wind. As we arrived they were waving at me and calling my name from different spots in the distance around the school campus. At the concert, they were electric! Truly. I’ve never seen anything quite like the appreciation they had… and maybe few bands have since the Beatles circa 1964.

The band with the INCREDIBLE students at Malaysian Arts School of Johor

We stayed, signed autographs, made some new friends, and then had a lunch break. Jai took us to a local Indian restaurant. I ordered briyani rice with curry beef and mutton, AND my first soda abroad, a crisp, cool 7UP. It was an open-air place with ceiling fans on full blast, and I devoured my food, and felt much better. I guess it’s true what they say: “Spicy, curry mutton really does cure an ailing stomach.”

Lesleigh signing autographs and taking photos with the students
We loved meeting this group of students!

In the afternoon, we visited the Spastic Children’s Association of Johor. There was a group of about 30 people who were at our concert waiting for us in the front of the gymnasium-sized space. They had a range of differences and abilities and were so sweet. I went to them before the concert and introduced myself to everyone who’d been waiting.

We were asked to delay the start time because the rain gets so intense here that traffic gets significantly delayed. This meant that when we started the concert, one staggered bus load of students after another continued to filter in until the gymnasium was full, and SO noise-filled during singalongs that the band had a hard time hearing ourselves to keep tempo and pitch. A difficult, yet welcome problem to have as a touring musician, if you ask me.

**It’s important to mention that the U.S. embassy staff in the places we are visiting is so much of what has made this trip great. Thank you especially to Shanon, Allyson, and Hisham for all of your dedication, care, and friendship.**

The full team! (Left to right: Shanon, Joey, Jai, Tony, Lesleigh, and Spencer)

A Touch of the Hand to the Head

 
Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In our pre-travel research and briefing sessions, we consistently learned that it is impolite to touch people on the head in Malaysia. This doesn’t seem like it’d be challenging, but in tight quarters and selfie photo taking situations, I’ve found myself being more cautious than usual as I try to observe this custom…

Yesterday, we were invited to speak and play at a school for children with dyslexia. When we arrived at the school, we were asked to remove our shoes; a first for me, and a funny day for it because Lesleigh and I were both sporting Green Bay Packers socks to support our team, though we are traveling half the world away.

When we arrived, the students (ranging from about 7-11 years old) were politely, quietly waiting for us. As we set up, they sat silently watching us. It was very sweet and humbling. I could almost feel their burning curiosity for the program that would soon begin.

I started by telling the students about our American Music Abroad tour, and then demonstrated how I build my guitar cast; I encouraged them in their own pursuits of their goals and dreams, and to persevere as they encountered tough days. If you’ve heard the term “old soul” it’s how I’d describe the room. For 7-11 years old, there was a maturity, and a worldliness that comes from having persevered as they are doing so early in life.

We started some music and taught some of our favorite songs like, “Lucky Fin Song,” “Hello, How do you do?” And “Daddy’s Takin’ Us To The Zoo Tomorrow.” The kids sang at the top of their lungs, and we all had a blast together.

When the concert concluded, we were swarmed with autograph requests, we all took photos, and then something very powerful happened… A young girl, about 11 years old, shook my hand and touched it to her forehead. The entire school followed her lead, one student after the other.

On the way home, the embassy staff told me that that is a sign of great respect for the students to do that. Wow.

Stand By Me

Guest post by Lesleigh Memmel

Friday morning, we were up before the sun, and on our way to Channel News Asia for a TV interview and performance on “First Look Asia,” a morning news program that airs in 25+ regions across the globe. Tony had the chance to speak about our American Music Abroad Tour in Southeast Asia, and our work with the Lucky Fin Project.

Tony with the hosts of “First Look Asia” – Singapore

We had the pleasure of spending our afternoon with the kids at Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS). Cerebral Palsy is a movement disorder that affects people in different ways, but typically, it affects muscle control/coordination, posture, and balance. With these things in mind, the amazing thing about music is that it can and should be played and enjoyed by people of all abilities. This truth was brought to life before our very eyes at CPAS…

We played some singalongs and shared stories with the children, but the most meaningful concert of the day was after our set. Several groups of students serenaded us with a concert, featuring everything from animal puppets and movement/music pieces, to a handbell choir playing “I Love You (the Barney Theme Song),” to a beautiful version of “Stand By Me.” I had tears in my eyes as these young musicians sang their hearts out for us and for their peers.

Tony Memmel and his band with the students at Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore

After a beautiful concert, we got to work with the students and “Engineering Good,” a non-profit organization that works to empower people through sustainable engineering solutions: in this case, music!

The engineers had stations set up where students (and Tony Memmel & his band!) could try out some of their adaptive music projects. Electrodes and fresh produce (yes, fruit & veggies!) were connected to computers that assigned music notes to each piece of fruit/vegetable. In technical terms, I was able to play “Oh, When The Saints Go Marching In” on bananas! It’s so exciting to see people like Engineering Good doing amazing things with technology to make music accessible to everyone.

Tony playing a song on potatoes!

After our banana/apple/potato jam session, we held a few guitar and ukulele workshops with the students – some could walk, some were chair users, and their abilities and ages had a wide range. I’m thrilled to say that by the end of each workshop, we had a room full of musicians playing “Stand By Me.”

Joey working with students at CPAS

I played the whole song with a boy named Elijah, a chair user, who was so excited to know our names, the instruments that we play, and that there are 50 STARS on the United States flag! That’s the first time that either Elijah or I had played a full song on a ukulele, and we closed out the song together with a celebratory high five and a huge smile.

Guitar and ukulele workshop at CPAS

Singapore Day One: Selfies, Schools, and Songs

Full band selfie with the students at Juying Secondary School!

As a one-handed guitarist who plays the instrument by building an adaptive Gorilla Tape cast on my arm that allows me to pluck and strum, I know it’s going to be an especially great show when, before I’ve played a single note of music and I’m demonstrating how I build the cast, the audience erupts with applause and cheers because I can rip my Duct Tape. This describes our reception at our first event in Singapore.

I was up with the sun. Well, before the sun actually. To attempt defeating my jet lag, I stayed up as long as I could on Wednesday… a respectable 8pm local time. I slept like a baby, but woke up at 4:50am eager and ready for the day. I went for a jog, grabbed some breakfast consisting of a mix of local fruits, eggs, and more traditional Asian dishes.

Delicious breakfast in Singapore

Our team from the U.S. Embassy in Singapore picked us up in a van, and we made our way to our first event, a concert and conversation with the students at Grace Orchard School.

Grace Orchard is a school that prepares students with special needs with a good education and skills for future employment. For example, after our soundcheck we were served tea and coffee from a cafe that’s on the school grounds and totally run and operated by the students.

During our conversation/question time, the students asked many things about the band. I regularly touch on themes like: perseverance, hard work, and living a purpose driven life, and these themes were not just something that resonated with the students, but were themes that they were already living out and that reinforced my own beliefs on those things.

One student asked “How do you deal with difficult people?” I loved the language that he used. Don’t you? Genuine, direct, and clear. I shared a few thoughts and experiences from my own life, and the room filled with applause. To me, it felt like it wasn’t just because of my response, but because this is a topic everyone navigates in life – perhaps some more than others, but navigating it builds character, confidence, and strength.

Another student asked if we knew any pop songs. When we opened with the first few bars of “Roar” by Katy Perry, the students erupted in a giant cheer and singalong. One student grabbed an extra mic and came on stage with us and sang his heart out to his classmates.

We had a second school visit on Thursday at a secondary school called Juying. The day was hot, and we were in a warm gym, sweating, singing, and enjoying a great afternoon. One student requested that we play “All Star” by Smash Mouth… That request took me off guard. I’ve never played or sung that song in a show, but Joey new the basic progression and started playing it on guitar, Lesleigh shook her shaker and tambourine, and I started to sing… It’s amazing how deeply engrained that song is from years and years of U.S. radio airplay and TV/movie scenes. I didn’t miss a word.

What touched me most was something I learned after the concert. It was an exam day for the oldest students in the school, and the younger students had an early dismissal. Even though that was the case, there were 200 students who came to the concert in the gym to spend their afternoon with us.

The wonderful teachers and staff at Juying Secondary School

Singapore is beautiful. We’ve already been given more than we can give, but we will keep trying to reciprocate the love and generosity we’ve been shown.

Preparation

In-seat route map: 10,000 miles to go!

 

2:00PM – time for tea in Singapore. I’m sitting in our hotel cafe, fighting a little jet lag and doing my best to stay awake until a respectable, grown-up bedtime, after three big travel days that took us an estimated 11, 500 miles around the globe. We flew from Nashville, TN, to Washington D.C., to Baltimore, MD, to San Francisco, CA, to Singapore. The last two flights spanning about 21 hours of air travel. Why all this jet-setting?

To start from the beginning; last year, Lesleigh and I participated in a program called American Music Abroad – a cultural diplomacy initiative where musicians apply to work in cooperation with the U.S. State Department and its posts overseas to build bridges through music and educational programs all over the world.

We traveled to South America for four weeks visiting schools, hospitals, an orphanage, concert halls, and other various community gathering places. We learned so much, and had many opportunities to share from our own background and experience.

A few days into our tour, Lesleigh and I were walking down a street together in Recife, Brazil, and as we were talking, we both said “ We really have to try to do this again.” So we did…

We went through the application and audition process and were honored to be selected once again to represent the United States overseas on this music mission. This time, our mission is in Southeast Asia. We’ll be visiting five primary places in the region spanning from Singapore to Malaysia, to Indonesia, to Cambodia, to Taiwan.

In preparation for the tour, several posts sent us local folk and pop songs to learn that are important to the people, and we had conference calls with each post that detailed the programs we’ll be doing, outlined the specifics of the day-to-day activities of our group, and gave us some background on the places we’ll be visiting.

Each tour also starts with a briefing in Washington D.C. We gathered around a conference table with a group of exceptional women and men who’d all served in the region, and who had incredible insights about the places we’ll be going. It’s inspiring to be able to gain from the wisdom of so many lives spent in service. I wanted to soak in every word.

After our meeting, we departed for Baltimore in a large Uber with a friendly driver named Anthony who had a gift for storytelling and had us laughing and talking all the way to the airport.

Next stop: Singapore!

 

On the flights, I watched a few movies, tried my best to rest, and thought a lot about things like this: Isn’t it remarkable to be able to travel 10,000 miles at 40,000 feet in the air, at 600 miles per hour on one tank of gas? It’s a powerful, strange feeling to be so far out over the Pacific with no land for thousands of miles in any direction. There’s a screen in the seat in front of you, and if you select “map” from the menu, you can watch the route of the jet as it cruises over the map, creeping slowly, but surely inch by inch, mile by mile across the world.

My first impressions of Singapore are these: the sun came up just as we descended into the city. There were dozens of freighter ships dotting the harbor, and showing how important it is to global trade. It’s sunny, warm, and humid which felt really good after 21 hours of dry, plane air. It’s an enormous, sprawling city, with lush green trees, and colorful flowers. I can’t wait to explore more.

After all of this preparation, all of this travel, all of this rehearsal, I am really ready to get out into the community, and to do what we are here to do. We begin tomorrow with two school visits. I can’t wait to meet the students and see, do, and learn all I can in this beautiful place.

Tony Memmel and his band (left to right: Joey Wengerd, Tony Memmel, Lesleigh Memmel)

We are headed out on tour to SOUTHEAST ASIA!

HUGE NEWS!! We are headed out on tour to SOUTHEAST ASIA!!

We are incredibly honored to be representing the United States as ambassadors in the American Music Abroad program, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State.

We leave October 29th for a 6-week tour of SINGAPORE, MALAYSIA, INDONESIA, CAMBODIA, and TAIWAN!!

We can’t wait to share our adventure with you all! AND, we’ll be introducing you to our new friend and guitarist, Joey (pictured here), who will be making the trip with us!

Brand New Video is Here! Are You Ready To Rock!?

This is the guitar that started it all for me! The left-handed Fender Stratocaster. I bought it from Cascio Interstate Music in New Berlin, WI in the spring of 2000.

Here I am in Nashville playing a segment of a John Mayer-style riff similar to his track “Who Did You Think I Was.”

Thanks for watching, liking, commenting, and sharing!

The Tony Memmel Show – NEW WEB SERIES

ORIGINALLY Filmed on Facebook live (9/24/17)

I’M LIVE! Talking about my upcoming guitar video release tomorrow, and about the STAR OF THE SHOW: my very first guitar, a Fender Stratocaster (The Strat). I bought it when I was 13 years old, and there are so many stories surrounding it.

IF YOU JUST CAN’T WAIT until tomorrow, you can hear it in action on our song, “Rock and Roll Was New.” Listen HERE for FREE today to get prepared for tomorrow!