Here’s an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at our American Music Abroad tour to South America! Like and share if you’re willing!
It’s going to be a very special week! If you’re attending the NAMM Show in Nashville, this week, I’ll be playing twice at the Kyser Musical Products booth.
June 23rd, 2016
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June 25th, 2016
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Also, this Sunday marks the beginning of a week at the Cincinnati Adaptive Music Camp, where I’ll be working with guitar students with physical and cognitive differences, and helping them to achieve their musical goals.
Summer is here! Be sure to add our new album, “We’ll Be On The Radio” to your summer playlists on Spotify and iTunes! Just search for “Tony Memmel” in your favorite source for music, and you’ll find us there. Thanks for listening!
Check it out! A great writeup (in Spanish) about our American Music Abroad Tour to Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Panama, in the Diario La Estrella de Panama! Read the article by clicking HERE…
As a part of our exchange, we are sharing music and culture from the United States with the countries we are visiting. Our setlist includes original songs I’ve written, and covers by influences like Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Paul Simon, and Weezer.
We’ve also prepared songs that are important local favorites to the countries we are touring. The song we learned for Panamá is called “Que Viva Panamá” (Roughly translated: Live Panamá), and that is what this week has been all about… Living Panamanian life to the absolute fullest.
Our time here has been rigorous, and incredible. We’ve seen so much, and met so many people in just a few days, it’s hard to believe our time is already coming to a close.
We’ve held concerts and conversations at universities, visited the Panamá Canal, performed as part of a bill with local street performers and buskers, eaten beautiful fresh seafood (including ceviche – a cold seafood based soup that is said to be the best in the world), attended the local Argentinian embassy’s Independence Day celebration, visited a children’s hospital, and also a Ronald McDonald house.
As we start to think about returning home to the states, I have been contemplating how I’m going to explain our time here to family and friends. Anyone who has traveled knows that what you are able to relay to those at home is a fraction of what you’ve felt and experienced. You paraphrase and simplify, but there’s always something left unsaid. Something felt, but unexplainable in way.
I’ve seen people moved to tears at our interactions, and I’ve been moved to tears at times. There have been periods of elevation and exhaustion, and we’ve always felt eager for the next event. I’ve been so blessed to travel with my beautiful wife, and my wonderful friend, and I will treasure our time together always.
We have one more day of programming… In the morning we’ll be working with a group of almost 300 youth with varying backgrounds: hearing and visual impairment, Asperger’s, and other physical and cognitive differences; in the afternoon, we’ll visit an orphanage, and in the evening we’ll have a conversation with a youth group at a church. We are eager for what tomorrow holds.
It was after 1am when our plane took off out of Asuncion. We had a red eye flight to Panama City, Panama through the night and arrived after 6am, today.
We were sad to leave Paraguay. In the scope of the full tour, Panama is our final country, so even though we have a huge week of programming planned, there is a sense that the tour is wrapping up, and a desire to savor every moment, and value every encounter.
Our American Music Abroad partner, Marc, is flying back to the States today, which was a sad goodbye for the band… He’s been a great teammate and advocate for the well-being of the group, and an eager travel companion; always excited to sample local cuisine and see the cities. A kindred spirit. He’ll be missed in Panama, and we look forward to our paths crossing again in the future.
As a farewell get-together dinner in Asuncion, we went to a local steak place by our hotel. The entire table shared a funny, fateful moment when our sizzling beef arrived, and the “Ode to Joy” theme from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony started playing on the radio. It made the first bites especially enjoyable.
Over the last two days we’ve had incredible opportunities to connect with people in Paraguay. We performed a concert at the Theater of the Americas in Asuncion, where we met the United States Ambassador to Paraguay, Ms. Leslie Bassett.
After our performance, a troupe that performs traditional Paraguayan songs and dances put on a show for us. The girls wore colorful dresses, and the boys wore hand-woven belts and hats, and they were accompanied by a brass band that blasted festive songs in the local polka style. It was beautiful, and especially moving because many of the performers in the group had various physical and cognitive differences. The show was a great deal of fun.
The next morning we visited a group called Denide (from their website: “a non-profit organization that defends the rights of people with intellectual disabilities through educational and community programs.”).
It was one of the best concerts of the tour. They started by performing a dance routine to “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows. Those who know us well, know that that is one of our all-time favorite bands… That element, the lyrics of the song, and the genuine joy they shared really moved us.
We were glad that when our turn to play began that the dance party continued. From the moment we started playing our first song, a number of them ran up on stage and danced alongside us. It was a blast. A little chaotic, raucous, and so fun. It was one of the best concerts of our lives.
**This post is about events that occurred last Friday (May 13, 2016). Thanks for reading this flashback post.**
We had one of the most meaningful programs of our tour, on Friday. We played a concert and led a discussion at a physical rehabilitation center for children, called Teletón. The children and the staff told us that they loved the music, and that seeing me play guitar was a big inspiration for them.
One boy commented that seeing us together as a band, and the husband-wife relationship that Lesleigh and I have, was very moving to him. He said in his country it isn’t common to see someone with a physical difference in a relationship with someone without one.
It was a moving, heartfelt moment. I paused to think about his statement, and about how I could respond…
I told him that in my experience, I hope and think of most people on some level that attraction to someone else and the friendships we have, are more linked to the character of a person, than to the look of a person. Be a good friend to others, and be confident in who you are and the way you were made, and the rest falls into place.
After the concert and discussion, we had a meet-and-greet with the children and staff. One generous attendee was being discharged that day; before she left, she gave us a beautiful piece of artwork that she’d made. We’re looking forward to displaying the art piece when we get home, and will think of the wonderful Teletón community every time we look at it.
We arrived in Asuncion, Paraguay on a humid, rainy Sunday afternoon. As we walked down the jetway, we were met by our new team, Mabel and Jazmin from the local U.S. Embassy.
Mabel was holding a sign with an American flag and my name on it, and she navigated the airport with speed like I’ve never seen before. She knew all the staff at the airport, and led us directly to the window where we acquired our Paraguayan visas. We breezed through customs, all the airport staff said “¡Hola Mabel!” as we went by, and we were met by a Suburban to take us to the hotel. It was really something.
When we checked into our hotel, there was a small lizard in our room. The front desk staff came to take a look and said he was harmless. Lesleigh and I stood on the bed with a garbage can and the local info binder from our room, and ushered the lizard into the bin. Ben got some footage of Lesleigh and me corralling the reptile. It’s nice to be working as a team on and off the stage.
Post-lizard capturing adventure, our attention turned to a less-exciting necessity of lengthy travel… We were in dire need of laundry facilities (which we’ve been seeking since Belém, but we haven’t had a day off since we started the tour). We prepared our two weeks of dirty clothes and walked through the streets to a local laundromat service.
It’s not self-serve or coin operated, it’s a service here, so we were apologetic to the friendly, forgiving owner of the shop as she counted our socks and underwear with us. We are adjusting to the extreme exchange rate (approx 5,600 Paraguayan guarini to $1 U.S. Dollar), so our 27,000 guarini laundry order cost us $4.82. We are very grateful to the kind-hearted woman for her much-needed service.
I’m writing today on a van ride in the Paraguayan countryside. Our evening event last night was a four hour drive from Asuncion to Villarica. The city was celebrating its 446th anniversary, and our live concert in the Plaza de Los Héroes was part of the festivities.
There were colorful lights and banners of red, white, and blue (the colors of the Paraguayan flag) throughout the park and city. We spoke with people before the show, who spoke only Spanish, and Lesleigh and I felt proud to be able to communicate with them. Our time spent on long car rides drilling Spanish verbs on the Duolingo iPhone app while on tour in the States this spring, is paying off.
We were warmly received in Villarica, and after the concert we were invited to a reception at a local art gallery. Our hosts gave us three beautiful, handcrafted wallets that are made of leather and the local woven threads.
On our way to our concert at a local school today in Coronel Oviedo, we just stopped in a local craftsman community. We were told that under a former dictatorship, people who performed certain jobs or services were made to live in communities together. The community of Yataity makes one-of-a kind clothing. It was an amazing stop. Thank you for reading! More soon.
Before we began our programming in Uruguay this week, we had a morning briefing at the U.S. Embassy, in Montevideo. A driver picked us up at our hotel and drove us on the main drag that runs along the waterfront called the Rambla. Smart cars and vans zoom in and out of the lines, and motorcycles do a speedy, elegant weave in and out of traffic.
We pulled up to the large, grey building, went through security, and were met by the local embassy staff to learn more about the city, the people, and what to expect from our scheduled programs.
Our first program was at the Binational Center with Access Micro Scholarship students. This two-year English-language learning program is offered to local teenagers in low-income communities. We played some music and had a great discussion about our two cultures. Through music, we shared about goal-setting, hard-work, and about the students’ lives and hopes.
Our second visit was at a special place called Providencia. It was created as an after-school program in 1994, and it has grown so much that they started a high school that serves the community.
We were told that statistically, what we know as the middle school and early high school years in the U.S. are especially crucial years for many children in this country. There is a high dropout rate in some communities. Providencia is thriving and helps serve this population of youth.
As we took the tour around the school, I could feel a special level of care from the teachers. They had a noticeably high level of pride in the school and in the successes of their students.
The students were excited for our visit, and we were all moved by their gratitude and enthusiasm. We were met with welcome signs, prepared questions that they had for the band, and a performance by some music students who play a local style of music called candombe (which, of course, was followed-up by a jam session between our two groups).
After the concert, we were mobbed by students wanting autographs. It felt like Beatlemania (Memmelmania?) had arrived at Providencia. They were all very sweet and kind; we were grateful for the love they showed us, and for the opportunity to be a part of their community for the week.
You can learn a lot about people and places through food. What ingredients are available, what materials are needed to prepare them, what the climate is like, etc. It’s an art and a way of life.
Uruguay is a carnivore and beef-appreciating omnivore’s delight. The local people take great pride in raising world-class cows and cooking world-class beef. It is plentiful and it is extraordinary.
I’ve been told on more than one occasion that there are more cows than people in Uruguay. Whether it’s true or an exaggeration, I don’t know, but there are fewer than 3.4 million people in the entire country, and outside of the major cities, I’m told the Uruguayan countryside is populated almost exclusively by the bovine ilk. I hope they don’t sTAKE over… Forgive me for that awful pun, and please continue reading…
Our first night in the city, we visited a local restaurant that was recommended to us by the embassy staff. Just a few blocks from our hotel, La Pulpería was the perfect way to spend the evening, and was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
It was a tiny place, which sat maybe 20 people around a bar on stools. Instead of a bartender and a tap selection, you sit in front of the large open wood-fire grill which faces the restaurant, and watch the grill-masters at work.
They cook with wood here, not charcoal. The pit had a specially designed fireplace that allowed the glowing embers from the logs to drop below the meat, and then the grill tenders would rake the coals around to their liking, and for the perfect seer on the meat.
Uruguayans also take great pride in their world-class wines. Though their neighbors in Chile and Argentina are more recognized in the U.S. because of the amount that is imported there, Uruguayan wines are also known regionally for being exceptional.
I think I’ve had more steak in the last three days than I have in the last three years. It is fun to be traveling with a group of people that is eager to sample the local recommendations, and the foods and beverages that people pride themselves on in the places we go. We’ve had wonderful encounters and made new friends in the restaurants here, and hope to come back soon.
One interesting adjustment we’ve had to make is to the Uruguayan schedule. Our days have been long, begin in the mornings with our programming, and end in the evenings. By 7pm we are all hungry. If you show up at a restaurant at 7pm, you are likely to be the only people there. Most people begin to eat dinner between 8:30-11:30pm here.
We had a late event night last night and decided to go out for a snack afterwards, and could barely get a table at 1am, but that’s ok… We’re on Uruguay-time now.