It was a very early wake up call to catch our flight to Frankfurt to play at the Idstein Jazz Festival and, as with every very early flight, there is little comfort in sleep the night before as you work through all the little worries in your head. Worries along the lines of will the car start, will there be someone to actually meet and greet us at airport parking, will the flight go on time, what if there was a cancellation, will the security guys freak out at a suitcase full of leads, instrument stands and CDs, will the instruments survive the journey in the hold, will the Fragile stickers on the guitars actually stick, will someone crush the mandolin with a suitcase in the overhead locker, etc., etc., etc on to infinity.
Of course, everything worked out just fine and we were picked up at Frankfurt Airport and transported to our hotel in the small town of Niedernhausen in good time to unpack and retune our unharmed instruments and have a delightful lunch in glorious sunshine watched bya glorious pair of Egyptian Geese and their brood of chicks.
After lunch we took a taxi into Idstein. With the centre of town taken over with the festival and all routes in being blocked, the baffled taxi driver ended up giving us an interesting tour of the Idstein suburbs before finding somewhere where he could drop us off.
Once we had unloaded, we made our way on foot into the town centre to meet the festival organisers at the festival office and drop our gear off there.
Once at the office we met with Festival Organiser, Ariane Oezer. Ariane had been instrumental in organising for us to attend and perform at the festival and ensuring all our transport and practical needs had been met.
On our arrival, she was once again wonderfully accommodating, permitting us to leave our instruments in the Festival Office so that we could wander around the town and have a look at what was happening on each of the six stages cleverly dotted about the town centre.
Those who have visited Idstein will know it is a small and extremely pretty town. Six festival stages are cleverly squeezed into its tangle of medieval streets and squares, all very different in feel and nature. Most front onto piazzas with lots of benching laid out where such that audience members can eat and drink while they watch the various acts performing.
As we wandered around the town, we saw everything from jazz, jazzfunk, Dixieland, rock, blues. We also took the opportunity to view our own stage for the evening where a double bass and guitar combo were performing some classic jazz and pop standards. We then took a walk out into the Idstein to visit a friend of Rob’s to pick up a classical guitar that had been loaned to us by another of Rob’s friends for the evening’s performance.
Later, we returned to the festival, stored the borrowed guitar at the festival office and took another tour of the town, the wonderful castle and its fearsome hexenturm where an horrendous number of women were murdered in the belief they were witches.
Courtesy of the festival organisers, we used up some our food and beer tokens to have some supper. No beer ...yet though. Always work first, beer later. A tasty bit of steak on a bun consumed, we returned to watch another act on our stage for the evening. There we engaged in conversation with some local women who, given they had connections to Liverpool - the location of our Black Widows song - promised they would come along and see us later in the evening – a promise they kept.
We were to go on stage at 10.00pm and, with two fifteen minute breaks in between, perform three 45 minute sets. So, we spent the evening moving from stage to stage watching various acts. Since there was no sound check planned for us earlier in the day, at 9:00pm we returned to the festival office, picked up our instruments and walked over to our stage – the No. 6, Börnchen, stage – to do a sound check when the previous band came off. We arrived to find a two guitar duo (Dead Horse Gap) playing a variety of pop standards to great acclaim from a sizeable crowd gathered around the festival’s most intimate stage and space.
As we watched and waited, we kept our eye on the updated weather forecast. The Hessen region had been experiencing thunder storms over the previous week and thunder and lightning was clearly a growing threat for this evening.
After Dead Horse Gap finished their encore, we moved to get our gear on the stage. There we met Frank, the sound technician, who turned out to be a real gem. The sound check was done professionally and quickly, with us even received applause at one point during the course of it.
Sadly, as we got ready to begin our first set, the first rain of the day began to fall. Thankfully, the festival goers of Idstein are hardy folk. Out came the umbrellas as we quickly began moved our gear back from the edge of the stage.
The rain fell intermittently and sometimes heavily as we played our first sets but I am pleased to report that the audience size grew and grew in size and applause got louder and louder after each song and tune. We managed to get the audience engaging in choruses which they really enjoyed singing.
Then, just as we were finishing our first set, the thunder and lightning that had been rumbling around the general area, suddenly broke with a vengeance overhead. Rain began falling in torrents and, understandably, our audience legged it for cover. Thankfully, some of them legged it onto the stage to buy CDs, and it was nice to spend time talking about our music with them.
Over the course of the planned 15 minute break, the rain continued to fall heavily and I must confess that this was the first time we have ever had to sweep water off the stage. Naturally, we fought mightily to keep the electrics dry and, at the allotted time, we restarted our concert with our second set.
With the rain easing, we began to perform to a hardy number of diehard enthusiasts that had sought shelter wherever they could - under trees, under the mixing desk tent, under nearby house scaffolding, wherever there was cover. However, even with the rain continuing, audience numbers began to grow again through the set. People were very happy singing along to choruses and the atmosphere around the stage was defiantly enthusiastic; the weather would not deter them.
However, with thunder rumbling and lightning flashing all around, at around 11.30pm, Ariane, came to the stage to tell us that a decision had been made that everything in the festival would now finish at midnight. With this news, we decided to abandon what would have been our second fifteen minute break and play right through until the deadline. I couldn’t be happier to note that our audience stayed with us right until the very end and, after we’d finished, formed an orderly queue in the rain to come and buy CDs.
Their feedback was terrific. Some of them hadn’t really experienced our kind of contemporary, issues-based ,folk music in traditional style and they had clearly loved what we had performed.
After those buying CDs had drifted away, we hurriedly put our gear together, thanked Frank and were escorted back to the festival office by one of the festival organisers. With the rain continuing, she led us on a shortcut back to the festival office. Amusingly, this was a tiny, unlit, alleyway with steps in it. She lit the passageway as best she could with her mobile phone but with Rob and I carrying something sizeable in each hand, it was a 30 metre continuous stumble. The passageway became thinner and thinner until, at one point, he and I were doing a kind of Wilson, Keppel and Betty dance with our gear as we squeezed through. Clearly, we made it without obvious injury to pride or person and were able to proceed to the festival office to complete the financial element of the day.
When we asked about where we might find a taxi to take us back to the hotel, the lovely woman who had guided us through the shortcut back to the festival office chirped up and said that she was returning to Niedernhausen and would give us a lift. What a Godsend she was. It would probably have been a long wait for a taxi on such a rainy night. So, we again left our instruments in the festival office and accompanied our newfound saviour to her waiting car and, from there, after 20 minutes, we were back at the hotel where beer was certainly consumed and quickly before we went off to our rooms for a well-earned sleep.
Given that my summer shoes had become completely sodden during the evening’s performance, the hotel hairdryer was put to good use, both then and on the following morning, to dry them out. I also got all the cables and instrument stands out to dry off.
After such a long day and late night, it wasn’t surprising that we organised to meet up for a late breakfast. A friend of Rob’s kindly agreed to come and collect us from the hotel late on Sunday morning and take us back into Idstein. En route, Thomas told us that the festival he had been playing in, in nearby Weisbarden, had also been halted by the weather at 10.00pm the previous evening – just after his big band had finished their soundcheck. He told us that in 30 years of playing these festivals, he had never seen weather like the night before.
On arrival back in Idstein, we made our way back to the festival office with our overnight bags. Again, the festival staff were very accommodating and let us create an even bigger mess around their office. Liberated, Rob and I then went out to see some more bands performing and to grab some food and a beer. Again, the variety of music on offer at the festival was excellent and we watched four different bands on different stages before having something further to eat and turning for home.
Of course, as you do this, all of those travel worries resurface – will the Autobahn still be as clogged as it had been the day before, will the predicted thunder storms at Frankfurt Airport lead to delays or cancellation to flights, will the instruments arrive safely again at the end of their journey through two airports, will Frankfurt Airport security again want to have a very close look at the batteries in Rob’s mandolin, will they also freak out at my suitcase full of cables and metalwork, will the car be waiting for us when we arrive back at Meet and Greet etc. etc.
Well, thunderstorms elsewhere in Europe did lead to our plane arriving late in Frankfurt and our flight home was delayed - but not by much. Rob’s mandolin did pass through security without a problem but, yes, they did rather freak out at my suitcase and the whole thing had to be gone through and examined. Oh, and of course, the M25 was in its usual ugly Sunday evening mood when we did get back but, with all of this, we didn’t care. We’d had a great trip and we were still home in time for an evening meal and a beer.
All in all, the Idstein Jazz festival was great fun; top quality music in a delightful setting with lovely people enjoying themselves with good music, good food and good beer and wine. We would like to thank festival organiser Ariane and her committee for the original invitation to perform at the festival and similarly to Ariane and her colleagues for looking after us so well throughout our time in Idstein. Thanks go also to Frank for his great work on the sound on the Börnchen stage. He is one of the best sound technicians we have ever worked with. Finally, we would like to thank Sebastian for his hospitality, Güvenc for picking us up and depositing us so expertly at the Airport and Thomas and our lovely late evening saviour for making the journeys between the hotel and the festival easy.