Monday, April 5, 2010

Ain't Gonna Worry My Life

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Last night we played our first show in Saudi Arabia. We were at the US Consulate in Dhahran, playing in a school assembly hall where there was a very diverse crowd. Our musician friends from the afternoon jam session were there and joined us on stage for an international rendition of Big Walter Horton's song "Easy". Then the Little Joe McLerran Quartet joined them for one of their original Arabic compositions. These talented musicians were overwhelmed by the opportunity to play in public. Their performances are limited to house parties only. Towards the end of the performance, they presented Joey with an oud to take home as a souvenir! What a rare gift. We felt such appreciation from everyone. For our American friends in attendance, it was as if we were bringing musical water to thirsty friends in the desert. Everyone loved it and we felt it. Our playing felt deep and inspired, full of joy and emotion. Being aware of cultural sensitivities, at one point I was concerned when I saw several traditional Arab men get up and leave. However, to my relief, a short time later, they returned with full cups of coffee! It was just an Arabian pause for the cause! One gentleman we met had attended Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa and even inquired about the changes in our city since he was last there. He is a true renaissance man, with many degrees and certifications. I wish I could be around him and learn from him. The US Cultural Affairs Officers who are our liaisons, are incredibly talented and dedicated people who serve our country in foreign lands. In Dhahran, Cynthia Cook was our host, and to our surprise, we found out that she also plays a mean guitar! Our first Saudi shuffle was a hit!

We left Dhahran at 6:30 am and took a flight to Riyadh, about 500 miles to the capital in the center of the country. The plane was huge with only a few folks on board. The cool part was that a young Arab man boarded, carrying a beautiful falcon. It was perched on his forearm, hooded, and rode the whole flight on his arm. Fantastic! Incredible! Far-out! My Iowa Hawkeye blues buddy Joe Price would have loved to talk with him about raptors. As we were boarding, we were asked not to carry our coffee on board for safety reasons... but a bird of prey was allowed to board without any problems. Billy Banks commented, "No worries, that bird must be a frequent flyer!" Bada-bing!

Ben Peracchio, the Deputy Cultural Affairs officer, is helping us in Riyadh. I had heard that Ben was a Boy Scout and I asked him about his experiences in scouting. Ben proudly stated that he is an Eagle Scout and that the Boy Scouts in Saudi Arabia enjoy a fine tradition of leadership and service, particularly helping people during the time of the Haag. In today's paper, there was a photo of the King pictured with some Saudi Boy Scouts. I can't wait to tell my 2 Eagle Scouts at home about the international scouting connection.

King Fahad Cultural Center, Riyadh
The lobby of the King Fahad Cultural Center
After stopping at our hotel in Riyadh, we went to visit the King Fahad Cultral Center. The center is the scheduleded site for our performance tomorrow evening. The theater seats 3000 and the actual stage, lighting, and technical equipment is world class. The construction of the lobby and grand entrance hall is all in white marble. A splendid, almost palace like building. Now, here's the rub. The big concert tomorrow will be the absolute first time any American music has been performed in this hall since it was built in 1990. The embassy staff has been working incredibly hard to arranged this performance and are feeling stressed because they're waiting on governmental permission to host the concert. We may not know until tomorrow morning if the show will go on. Ben has a Plan B in mind and the show could get moved to the US embassy compound. In any event, I'm grateful to celebrate the opportunity to be a part of this American cultural program in Saudi Arabia. What a trip. It's very exciting. We will see how the day unfolds or as they say in the gulf.....en'shallah.....if God wills it

Not exactly juke joint seating!

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