The last shows of the tour with Getachew Mekuria and the Ex took place in Groningen on the 14th of July, at the Dour Festival in Belgium on the 15th, and concluded at the de Affaire festival in Nimmegen, Holland on the 16th. The band was playing at a collective peak throughout this stretch, which was exciting but bittersweet- the knowledge that this could be the last work with Getachew Mekuria became more prevalent as the trip moved toward its end; he is getting older (now in his 70s) and the physical wear and tear from the traveling plus the energy needed for the concerts (Getachew played and soloed throughout nearly every piece in the set) was taking more and more of a toll. His unaccompanied version of the song, “Tezeta,” an expression of nostalgia for time and place in Ethiopia which he created as a tenor saxophone statement, felt like a line of history coming to an end: “Now there will only be 3 more times Getachew plays this piece, now 2… and this may be the last.” The contrast between the performance circumstances while playing these final shows with the group was fairly extreme. On the 14th the band gigged at Vera, a legendary Dutch club and rightfully so- you could tell everyone working at the venue loved music and they all did their best to help us play well.
When we traveled to Belgium to perform at the Dour Festival the situation could not have been more opposite- though the grounds were completely covered in wet mud there was no backstage area for Getachew to rest before the show (we found a pre-fab office space, but that was being held for the band who was playing onstage before us[?]), so Getachew had to sit in the van while the rest of us stood around in the rain outside the concert tent (the group playing was cliched heavy Rock and far too loud to make being near the stage and indoors possible). Then on the 16th, for the final gig of the tour, the weather was again terrible, really raining hard, and the stage was outside with no cover. It was the first time I had played in the rain since high school marching band during the early 80s. But the audience was incredible, excited and dancing in raincoats throughout the show, a complete feeling of solidarity between the musicians and listeners and a hell of a good time, even soaking wet. After the concert the ensemble split in different directions, some of the group heading back to “the Villa.” I got up early in the morning of the 17th to head to the airport and fly home to Chicago. Before I left in the van, Getachew surprised me by getting out of bed to say goodbye and to wish me well- such a beautiful man and beautiful musician.
© 2019 Ken Vandermark – musician & composer | Disclaimer