TV, American Center, and the Mall

A view of Baku and The Caspian Sea

Early Tuesday morning, our team picked us up in a van to make our way to the ATV TV station. 

We were special guests on Baku’s most famous morning show. There was a live studio audience and band. Picture “Live with Kelly Ripa,” Baku-style.  

We appeared alongside local singers and a poet. In addition to our art and music, we each also had differences and special abilities. The program set aside the full 2.5 hour time block to share our stories. 

From there, we visited the American Corner and led a workshop with local children with differences who study and play traditional Azerbaijani instruments. The U.S. has hundreds of American Corners/Centers around the world. If you’ve followed my previous tours, you’ll remember I’ve visited many of these in the past. There are English lessons, there’s a library, you can see American movies, learn about scholarships and travel opportunities, and the walls are lined with pictures of Redwood trees, MLK, Astronauts, Niagara Falls, and other iconic U.S. images. They’re really neat places.

During the workshop, we went around in a circle, each child told us his or her name, instrument, and played a little bit. At the end we had a collective jam session where our group learned some Azerbaijani folk music, and they joined us on “Stand By Me.” It sounded super-cool!

Jam session with local musicians

At night, we played a public concert in the middle of a large shopping mall called Park Bulvar. To my U.S. friends: though shopping malls have changed a lot in popularity in the last 10-20 years in the States, in many places around the world, they are some of the most booming, bustling places you can go. 

Large crowds of people surrounded the stage, stopped to get a selfie, to hear us sing, and to take a video.

Before we began our set, several new Lucky Fin friends came up to say “Salam!” and I met a mother of a boy who had Down’s syndrome who was so excited to meet us that she brought me a gift: a small, hand-woven carpet that she made herself. 

Group selfie with new friends in Baku!

More to come…

An American Band’s First Days in Baku

The night sky over Georgia

Our van is on the way south to a city called Salyan. Out my window to the left is the Caspian Sea, and oil derricks as far as the eye can see. To the right, a rocky, shrub-covered mountain range which contains ancient, pictographic carvings and paintings from thousands of years ago. Near the road, built snugly between businesses and industrial complexes, are homes that make up little villages.

I’m glad to have a moment to catch my breath, journal my thoughts, and to tell you about our first days in Baku.

Our arrival into Azerbaijan on Sunday in the middle of the night was eventful…

Speaking German, the jet pilot made an announcement, and the German-speaking passengers’ sighs indicated that there was an issue. We waited for the announcement to be repeated in English, and learned that our plane had made an unexpected landing to re-fuel in Tbilisi.

28 hour travel day!

We were on the runway for two hours waiting for fuel and a new flight plan. To pass the time, we played a crossword puzzle game on Joey’s phone, tried our best to stay awake, and fought jet lag, knowing we were only a one hour flight from our destination and 27 hours into our travel day(s).

When we landed in Baku, we were so pleased to finally meet our new friend, Fargani. I’ve spoken with him on the phone, and we’ve written MANY emails back-and-forth, but it was great to put a face to the name. He’d waited for us at the airport through the entire delay and greeted us each with a huge smile and a hug.

As we stepped out into the Baku night, the cool, fresh, misty air felt good. We looked out at the city lights, eager to explore, and to begin our mission.

After 1am we were at our hotel, and so hungry, that we all immediately ordered a sandwich from room-service, which we were grateful operated 24 hours!

The next day, our interpreter, Hikmat, met us at the hotel lobby, and gave us a 5.5 mile walking tour of Baku. We explored the city center, drank hot, delicious coffee, and snacked on sweet, sweet Baklava (Azerbaijani-style, of course).

Tony, Alex, Joey, and Hikmat

As history enthusiasts, it was beyond cool to walk through the ancient streets, to view the old, walled city and tower built many centuries ago, to see craftsmen weaving carpets, and to smell the tea, the pine, and the sea all at once. It was like a step back in time set right in the middle of a booming, modern city.

After that, we climbed thirty-three flights of stairs to get a closeup view of the Flame Towers. Three iconic buildings in the Baku skyline that stand on a hill high above much of the city.

The Flame Towers – Baku, Azerbaijan

There is a park in front of the towers that stretches toward the sea, and an eternal flame is lit like a solemn beacon at the end of a long path, as you walk among a stretch of gravesites.

Row after row, men and women, young, and old; all civilians killed during the Russian invasion here in 1990. This place is called Martyrs’ Lane, and I’m told that each year on January 20th, the anniversary, over one million people come to walk through the graveyard and to pay their respect. Hikmat was quieter, and noticeably transformed during our time here. Brutal, recent history. A wound that has not yet fully scarred.

Our days have been filled with music, education, and conversation, and our nights filled with more conversation and delicious local food like Shwarma, Doner, Kebab, Saj, and (my favorite) Dolema (seasoned, oiled grape leaves stuffed with minced and spiced lamb meat, cooked, then served with a white, yogurt-y sauce).

Our van just stopped outside of the central library in Salyan, and its time to go setup and do sound check. I’m eager to tell you more about this beautiful, fascinating country and people. More to come…

NEW ALBUM! – “This One’s For The Kids”

Our BRAND NEW ALBUM, “This One’s For The Kids,” is available NOW!

EXCITING NEWS!! We released a BRAND NEW ALBUM today!

This One’s For The Kids” is a rockin’, fun, full-length album with new takes on old favorites, and original songs that I hope you’ll love! I had so much fun writing, arranging, and recording these songs. Can’t wait to share them with you all…

We’re releasing this album digitally, which means it’s only available online right now. You can stream the full album HERE:

Click HERE to listen on Spotify!
Click HERE to listen on YouTube!
Click HERE to listen on iTunes!

Thank you for listening and sharing. We hope you like it!!

Love,

Tony & Lesleigh 

Three countries. Three weeks. And a Trio abroad.

We just hit cruising altitude on our first of three flights in the next 24 hours. Tennessee looks green and pretty, and the warm sun feels good on my shoulders and face as it pours in through my airplane window…

Three countries. Three weeks. And a Trio abroad.

Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Jordan… An all new region for everyone in the band. We’re practicing how to say “hello, please, thank you” and other useful phrases in Azerbaijani, and resting up for this first stop on our mission ahead.

From our briefing calls, and from previous tours I’ve done, I’m so excited and know some of what to expect… yet at the same time, there’s nothing routine about it. I know we’ll be sharing music, visiting hospitals, schools, and working with many people with different backgrounds, differences, and abilities/diff-abilities. I also know we’ll experience new thrills, new highs, and probably some new challenges as we go.

There’s also a new, personal element for me on this tour in that it is my first international expedition where I’ll be apart from my wife, Lesleigh, and baby boy, Theo. I’ve appreciated ALL of the messages, prayers, and encouragement and want to say this as I depart today:

I am so blessed to have a friend and teammate in Lesleigh who believes in the same mission and has faith and perspective that even though this time apart isn’t EASY, it is IMPORTANT. 

I’m also so grateful for my son and the encouragement that he gives in his own way, when I tour. It gives me such joy when I FaceTime with them and he laughs and pulls the camera close to his face to be closer to me.

With all of that gratitude in mind, I proceed. Clear-headed and confident. I focus on the path that lies ahead, prepare to be the best ambassador for the U.S. that I can possibly be, and to serve with a very full heart.

Here we go!

SPECIAL STORY AND A BRAND NEW SONG!

I co-wrote this piece with the students at Huntley Elementary School in Appleton, WI, during my recent Artist Residency there.

After brainstorming music and lyric concepts to speak into the city-wide Dignity and Respect campaign that’s currently underway, this is the song we created.

From first idea to completion, I worked with every single class to finish our piece in just four school days. It was so much fun to write with the eager, bright young people at Huntley Elementary School.

I recorded the students’ voices (heard here) during the final assembly and WORLD DEBUT of the song, then brought those tracks to my studio in TN, where I recorded the rest of the arrangement.

Thank you for liking, and sharing!

Appleton, Wisconsin Dignity and Respect Campaign #dignity #respect #dignityandrespectcampaign

A Three Country Tour!

HUGE NEWS! I’m headed out on tour to three countries this April! Tony Memmel and His Band are incredibly honored to be representing the United States as music ambassadors, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State, Arts Envoy, and American Voices.

We leave April 6th for a 3-week tour of AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA, and JORDAN. We can’t wait to share our adventure with you all! 

With Theo being so little, Lesleigh and I have decided that it would be wise for her to stay at home in the U.S. with him (where she feels deeply called to be at this time), SOOOO… we’ll be introducing you to our friend and new percussionist, Alex Nixon (pictured here), who will be making the trip with us. And, of course, you remember our dear pal, Joey, from our previous international touring.

Thank you for all of your love and support as we embark on this adventure to spread music and to work with youth around the globe. As we pursue this mission, we’ll certainly appreciate your prayers and thoughts in the weeks ahead. 

Love,
Tony, Lesleigh, Theo, 
(AND Joey and Alex, too.)

Big news from our family

Photo by Alison Weakley

Hard work is a pillar of the message that I bring when I have opportunities to speak and share music around the world. My wife, Lesleigh, is one of the hardest working people I know.

She began working as a nurse the year we got married. For 10 years, she’s worked in two hospitals, and has been a respected Neuro Critical Care nurse.

Many of you here on this page know her best through her work with me… she’s a singer, pianist, percussionist, producer, teacher, photographer, graphic designer, and her list of talents and gifts goes on…

Last November, our son Theo was born, and she has flourished in her role of being the best mom she can be to him. For the past four months, Lesleigh has been a full time working, touring Mom. She’s said, “I feel that God has put a new calling on my heart.”

It’s always been our goal to do this work that we do… together. Theo has been well-suited for this life, and he’s plugged right into our little family band.

After much prayer, thought, conversation, budgeting and budgeting again, we have made a large decision… Lesleigh will be leaving her nursing job after her final shift this Saturday to pursue her new calling as Theo’s mom, and to work full time, side-by-side with me.

We thank you for your love and support during this journey: from starting as a touring duo, to growing into a trio. You fuel us forward, and we can’t wait to grow and go where we are called to be… as a family.

Love,
Tony, Lesleigh, and Theo

A Word of Encouragement

To my Lucky Fin Friends who’ve had a hard week in the face of adversity, having been called “deformed” (and a number of other grievances that have been shared), I offer this encouragement: 

I’ve performed and spoken in stadiums, theaters, hospitals, and schools all over the world, and I’ve heard every question and been called most every term under the sun. 🙂

This lesson has stuck with me: the kid who walks in the classroom and shouts “gross” when he first sees me, is often the one stuffing his hand in his shirt wanting to be just like Tony Memmel ten minutes after hearing me speak and play guitar. 

Develop a thick skin AND remain patient, confident, and kind in the face of adversity. That is when the world turns its head and asks the question, “What does he have that I don’t, and how can I be more like that?” That is how hearts and minds are changed. 

Furthermore, occurrences like this are a good gut-check, and give me good cause to examine what TRUE JOY and confidence are built upon. 

For me it starts with my faith, then my family and friends who speak truth to me in love. To paraphrase the proverb: The fool builds his house upon the sand. The wise man builds his house upon the rock. 

Each day moving forward, make a pledge that no comment a stranger says will impact your day, rattle your confidence, or distract you from your goal. 

When faced with a choice to be bitter or sarcastic, to stew or commiserate, choose the opposite path… it is a choice. It will change your life. 

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to serve in this community. 

Love,

Tony

Wisconsin Public Radio Feature

Artist-In-Residence at Crestwood Elementary – Madison, WI (Photo by Brad Kolberg- WPR)

Exciting news! Wisconsin Public Radio featured a piece on my work, my ministry, and my work with non-profits and people around the world.

Click HERE to read/listen to the piece!