Utah Carol Diary: 2001 European tour (Part 1)

image image image image image image image image image image imageUtah Carol are JinJa Davis and Grant Birkenbeuel. Their two albums, Comfort for the Traveler and Wonderwheel, are longtime favorites ’round the Splendid office. Munich Records recently licensed the album for European release, and the band has just embarked on its first-ever European tour to support it.
JinJa and Grant will be playing at good clubs all around Europe and will also be visiting different radio stations and appearing on national television shows. They’ll be accompanied by Frits (tour manager), David Kemper (bassist) and Greg Wyser-Pratte (drummer). Hayley Murphy of Hayley Murphy Photography is documenting the tour, and has very kindly provided us with photos. Visit her web site at

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October 25 — Airport
We are on the way to the airport in a big honkin’ tour/sub van thing that is blasting disco music amidst the deep plush leather seats and shag carpet. We asked the bus driver — his name is Elvis — to put our music on, which he did. The ride was fine, but the whole way we were amazed that we were on our way to Europe. This is the first time in our lives that we will be 100 percent focused on nothing but music. No day jobs, no bills (except for the expensive hotels) no phones ringing, you name it. All music all day.

We were on the plane, strapped in our seats, for three hours before leaving the gate. Grant was getting stir crazy. We were stuck because the toilets weren’t flushing! It took three hours to fix.

Once we left, the plane ride was fine. All of us took Excedrin PM to try to sleep away our inevitable jet lag…

October 26 — Brussels
We got off the plane and Frits, our tour manager, was there waiting. He didn’t call the airport in advance so he was waiting for three hours. Anyway, the airport in Brussels is quite calm, totally unlike O’Hare in Chicago. The customs agents were very excited to know that we were in a band, but they’d never heard of Utah Carol. Our bass player had a Utah Carol shirt on, which was very very cool. We got to the van that we were to drive in for 20 days and our drummer took one look and said “we are in for some hard time”. The van was surprising small for six very large people — all the guys are at least six feet tall. We were too tired, though, to really care at that point.

Our hotel was very American, a Sheraton. Our tour manager said that it would be the best hotel that we would stay in, generally. It was comfortable.

That night we walked around Brussels, and it felt like we hadn’t left the US. It is very Western. However, we did walk over to the Grand Place section. I cried — it was so beautiful. Grant was obsessed with finding the “Mannequin de Piss” or whatever it’s called. He was dragging us through the cobblestone streets of Brussels trying to get a look at it. David and Greg abandoned us eventually, but Grant and I found it. There was a huge crowd around taking pictures and looking at the statue of the little boy peeing. We took a picture too.

Later that night, Hayley and Grant were trying to get the computer set up so that she could burn CDs. Grant is a PC whiz. Anyway, when they plugged in all those the converters and stuff, the surge protector caught on fire.

October 27 — AB Club Brussels
Jet lag, man.

So, Grant and I are starting to sing a little to get warmed up. We are a little bit nervous — it’s been a week since we’ve played, pretty much. We haven’t played with our backing band for a while, either, so maybe we are a bit rusty.

Frits says that the AB Club is the place to be in Brussels. Outside the club there were a hundred little girls — we mistakenly thought that they were there to see us. There was a famous boy band playing, of course.

The club is fantastic. It’s the equivalent of the Metro in Chicago, I guess (Let’s say a 1000 to 1500-head venue — Ed.). We had roadies helping us set everything up. Our private dressing room was loaded with goodies like Bombay Sapphire, water, candies, wine, bread. Really nice. Munich Records really is trying to take care of us. We were treated like royalty. Damn! We are all having a ball here. David said to us that he never thought it would be in the cards to go to places like this. David and Greg are great to have on tour because they kick butt when they are on stage. Grant and I, of course, love this. At first it was stressful, probably because we had jet lag or something, but now we have relaxed a little bit.

The sound check was fantastic. We have had the best experience so far with sound here at the AB Club. The room is huge, there are wonderful colored lights everywhere, we had roadies, stage managers, production people. Damn. It was very cool. The people in Brussels are so so very kind and considerate. I want to stay here forever.

Grant was preparing the set list at the last minute. They told us to prepare for some encores. We have never had an audience ask for an encore before, but we prepared for it. Everyone was pretty uptight at first, but then when we saw the looks on the faces of our fans — and by the way, there was a good sized crowd considering that that night, Brussels was having the biggest storm they’d ever had in 19 years. Trees were falling to the ground, houses collapsing. The government was telling people to not walk in the forest. I was sort of wondering where the forest was anyway.

So, we got on stage and people started cheering. We played our asses off. Couple of mistakes from nerves, but overall it went really well. We got called out for an encore and some people were singing along with us.

After the show, we hung out in the dressing room with some fans. Oh, but before that, we were chatting with some cool folks that had driven through the gales and knocked down trees to come see us play. A few people had perished in nature that night because of the storms.

Some fans were talking with us after the show, we signed some autographs, and someone nabbed all of our set lists. One fan looked just like Charlie Sheen.

October 28 — Brussels to France
We are leaving Brussels. The hotel stay was very nice, very big and very clean. I didn’t sleep a wink because we were still pumped about the show last night. The people of Brussels were warm and welcoming. Grant and I will come back to visit. France is our next destination. Since I didn’t get much sleep last night I am crabby, plus I haven’t had my tea.

The van is very enclosed and small. I am sitting in the back with Hayley Murphy, our photographer, and Grant. Greg Wyser-Pratte and David Kemper are sitting in the front with Frits. The ride from Brussels to France is not too bad and not too long. Our show was canceled in Paris, so we are just stopping along the way to Spain. We are going to do interviews in France on the way back from Germany.

We decide to stop in Macon for the night. The first hotels that we saw looked like Motel 8s, so we kept driving and decided to go into the town. We found a lovely little hotel that was straight out of an old French movie: yellowed wallpaper, dim lights, shag carpet, black and white TV and French windows overlooking the river. The rooms were clean and neat. The owner was very nice to us.

Later we went to town and had food at a brasserie. Everyone had mussels. Fresh mussels. I had chicken with no sauce; Hayley had chicken with sauce. Of course we had fries with mayonnaise.

We went out to have a drink at an off-track betting facility — why, I don’t know. It’s funny, because all the people inside have the same look as the people in the off-track betting place on State Street in Chicago. We told the manager that we were from Chicago, so he came over to give us a poster of Arlington Race Track. It’s like a cult, those horse-betters.

In the morning, the hotel owner went to the bakery to get us fresh bread and rolls. The bread and the butter in France is amazing. All of us could eat this all day and all night.

We stopped off real quick at the local Internet café to try to check email and stuff, but Frits our tour manager said that we had to get on the road. I was supposed to hold the second key for the van and I accidentally left it at the front desk. He was mad at me, so I gave the key to someone else to hold.

Hayley, our photographer, has been busting her ass taking all of these beautiful images of us on tour. And she got the technical stuff totally together. I am typing now as we are driving in the night through Spain. It’s dark and the mountains are on the horizon, with purple and blue mist floating all around us.

Hayley is going through all the photos editing them and then putting them in order just for George at Splendid!

France to Spain
Frits is starting to get antsy. David, our bass player, tried to take over driving at one point, but it is very stressful driving a truck in Europe. He made it for about two hours. We were stressed just watching him drive. Grant is going to try next time and then Greg.

We haven’t had a really good meal yet, especially me because I am mostly a vegetarian. I only eat chicken breast. Everyone else is pretty easy. Grant doesn’t eat red meat or pork either, but at least he eats fish. But Spain should be perfect because there is plenty of rice.

We are all thinking that we’ll be able to get by in Spain since we are more familiar with Spanish then French. Dreams come true because none of us have ever been to Spain before. All my life I have wanted to go to España. We are listing to Spanish radio, and looking at the night lights.

The truck drivers in Europe drive so well. Gee.

I am hoping that we get lost in Barcelona. That’s where we’re heading. We have four more days in the van after Spain. Hayley and I are going nuts in the van. She is turning into a scaly freak and I am turning into a giant pimple. The guys in the back are sleeping.

We’ve already had one fight about feminism and someone stomped out of the room. It’s only the third day. I’ll write more later.

October 29 — Spain
We are in Spain. It is beautiful. The people are beautiful. The streets are beautiful. Everyone drives mopeds and motorcycles. We are doing a radio show tomorrow afternoon and a show at Le Boite. We met out promoter here — her name is Sara de la Torre, from Dock-Land. She is a cool person. We are staying in an apartment, not a hotel, this time. It’s cool. Sara said that Michelle Shocked, Allison Moorer, Mary Gauthier and the Handsome Family stayed here. She took us for tapas and showed us around town a little bit. We went inside the club that we will be playing at tomorrow. It’s got a nice vibe and a disco ball. Our show is at 11:00 or 11:30 p.m. but we have to get up at 3:00 a.m. to get back on the road. We have to be in Madrid by noon to tape a national TV show. Our good friend Gearoid from the US showed up at our apartment door with his sister. We haven’t seen him in a year since he defected from the US to Europe.

We haven’t played a show since the 27th, so we are all very anxious to get back on stage. We are in denial about the drive to Germany, since we will be in the van for four days. We all still like each other, kind of.

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If you’re in Europe, it’s not too late to catch Utah Carol on tour:
November 2002
Mon. 04 Germany: Berlin: Schokoladen
Tue. 05 Germany: Dortmund: Subrosa
Wed. 06 Germany: Münster: Gleis 22
Thu. 07 Germany: Hamburg: Golden Pudel Club
Fri. 08 Netherlands: Amsterdam: radio
and Netherlands: Amsterdam: Crossing Border Festival (venue: Melkweg)
Sun. 10 UK Leicester: The Musician
Mon. 11 UK London: The Borderline
The dates/venues may change, so please visit the band’s booking agency’s web site for updated tour information.