Where are we?:
PJ Bond's guide on where to play, eat, drink, and stay on the road
- 05/05/2015 -
Intrepid traveler and consistently touring artist PJ Bond has an encyclopedia (remember those?) of places to play, stay and eat or/and drink after years of gigging the world. We thought that, as his new album Where Were You? is out now (and you can buy that here), we'd ask him about some of his favourite places. And here they are. Why not do a PJ Bond tour of the world using this useful guide? We're saving our pennies right now...
Words by PJ Bond
Hello friends, travelers and home-stayers alike; we are all part of a wild web that weaves together to create something truly worth being part of. Without each other, the world would feel much less exciting, bigger in the wrong ways, and smaller in even worse. But, luckily, that is not the case. Sometimes I look back on all of the beautiful, exciting, wonderful places I’ve had the pleasure of moving my body to, and I am amazed. I can’t always believe that I’ve been afforded such positive experiences; my adventures could fill a book (and when I stop being lazy, I hope to get cracking on that). But in the interest of short-form examples, here are some of my favorite things that come up when I think about travelling.
Do you sing tunes, bang a drum, or make any kind of noise? Might someone like it somewhere? Well, there are many places to share the love. I’ve had a pretty varied career in music, playing the smallest living rooms and basements to big festivals, large venues, theaters, and just about everything in between. Sometimes it’s the venue, sometimes it’s the people, often times the mix is what makes sure you have the best night possible. Here are some highlights of each:
1. Various / Bielefeld, Germany
For whatever reason, there is a joke in Germany that Bielefeld doesn’t exist. Germans will say: “Everyone claims to know someone who’s been there, but I’ve never met one who has actually been there.” The joke is lost on me because from my very first trip to Germany, six years ago, I met some of my now favorite people, and a few of them were from Bielefeld. Originally, I played at this wild collective space in the tiny village of Hillentrup, and returned there a few times, but by my second tour in Germany I was also playing shows in Bielefeld. Some of my favorite shows here were in an old print shop that belonged to my great friend, David Finke, who runs Fair Trade Merch. He and his partner, Sabrina, put on shows for me at their print shop, at a cool local bar/venue, and most recently in a secret little club that is built in a converted shipping container. I’ve never played a show in Bielefeld where there was any room to move - everyone shoulder to shoulder, singing along. I feel more loved here than in most places in the world.
2. SuB / Graz, Austria
SuB is a collective space in Graz that does everything from electronic raves to loud punk shows to quiet acoustic evenings. My shows here have felt somewhere between those. Lots of singing, lots of boogying, great friends, great food, wall-to-wall smiles. I could do without the smoke, but still have a great time regardless. The mornings after SuB are always a little rough, evidence of a great evening. This is also not really reserved for me - just about everyone I know who has played here has had a similar experience. Graz really has some of the best folks around.
3. Mozart’s / Swansea, Wales
There may not be many shows here anymore, but there was a time when this was the biggest highlight of my tour. You’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful place than Swansea when the weather is getting nice - imagine Southern California, but with British charm. This was also one of the first places I felt so at home with the people that I started booking shows on Saturday or Sunday, and staying in town through Wednesday. My shows in Wales have shifted to Cardiff, and while it is not the beast it once was, Wales continues to deliver some of the loveliest people to shows and some incredibly kind promoters.
4. Baby Black / Bacchus Marsh, Australia
I’ve played better and bigger shows, gotten paid more, sold more merch - whatever version of measurement you have for success in music. However, I am not sure I have played many places that are tied to a stronger, more positive memory. Bacchus Marsh is a suburb of Melbourne, and the town where Austin Lucas and I called home base when we toured Australia together. Lachlan and Renee Hodgson of Trusty Chords brought us down to Australia and booked a great tour, filled with all the big hitter cities and a nice handful of small, out-of-the-way towns, to the point where we actually felt like we saw Australia. Sometimes on tour you feel like you never actually experienced any of the cities you played. With this tour, the drives were short enough and the stays long enough that we were able to get a feel for most of the towns and cities we played, which is hugely important to me. Baby Black could not have been more accommodating to us. We were fed incredibly well, drank delicious, cold beers, and played to a wonderfully attentive audience, ages 2 to 72. That’s my kind of show. Oh, and the kicker - after all those cold Coopers Greens, we were within walking distance to the house where we were staying. Perfection.
You may not get the same offers to stay that I have had, but if you ever do, here’s a few places you shouldn’t pass up.
1. Shield Recordings HQ / Tilburg, Netherlands
Gert-Jan and Fieke are dear friends I met about five years ago through some mutual musician buds. Since meeting, we have become incredibly tight, and for one of my more recent tours I flew in a few days early. I got over jet lag by hanging out with these two greats, listening to records, cooking delicious meals, drinking beers, and sleeping loads in their very comfortable attic guest room. I’d say there’s room for three, comfortably there. Make your reservations early.
2. Everywhere in Scandinavia
Sorry, this sounds ridiculous, but I did not have a single bad night's sleep, or a single bad breakfast in Scandinavia. Those things must exist, but I never found them my entire time there.
3. Jupiter Hotel / Portland, Oregon
This has the dirty “H” word plastered on it, after being the place all the cool bands would stay awhile in Portland. All things considered, if you are going to stay in a hotel in the city, and you have the cash, it makes sense to stay some place cool, especially if they have a solid bar attached. And it is walking distance - or a short cab ride - from plenty of exciting places to spend your evening.
4. Bern Backpackers Hotel / Bern, Switzerland
After playing one of the most lovely, quietest shows I’ve ever played, the owner of Cafe Marta took my tour-mate and me out for a nice drink, and then showed us to our hotel. Clean, easy to get to, with kind desk folks who are willing to watch your bags, this is the perfect place to wake up on an early summer day. We stowed our bags and guitars behind the desk, walked down to the river, grabbed some lockers at the free local pool, walked upstream, jumped off the bridge, and drifted back down to our things. Bern is easily one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen - I cannot overstate how nice it is, how great the show was, how kind the people were. A must, must visit.
I am a pescetarian, which usually means vegetarian on the road unless I am in an area where I am sure I can get sustainable, responsibly sourced fish/seafood. Most of these places are of the veg/vegan variety, or at least have menu items that scratch the itch. This is by no means a complete list - far from it - but I’ll try to keep it to some shining examples and trusted standbys.
1. Spak Bros / Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
This place has my favorite vegetarian cheese steak in the country, and is one of my favorite sandwiches in the world. I have gotten upset at tour-mates when they wouldn’t help me route the trip through Pittsburgh to Spak. Am I the jerk, or are they? Who knows? Also, meat-eating buds have confirmed this is a seriously great sandwich.
2. Everywhere in Spain and Italy
I am sorry, I don’t want to gloss it over like this. But come on, if you have the opportunity to go to Spain or Italy and you don’t eat your weight in tortilla or cacio e pepe, you’re not doing it right (full disclosure: I’ve let the ball drop on the cacio, for which I will forever chastise myself).
3. NY Subway Burrito / Toronto, Canada
Imagine an Indian food burrito with burger toppings. Now imagine it’s not weird, but awesome. Get the mixed veg one - my meat eater buddies tried the meat ones and weren’t impressed, then tried my veg ones, and realized they’d messed up. These are seriously weird, and seriously good burritos. Allow for some time - it’s set up like a pizza joint but, even if nobody else is in there, you’ll wait 20 minutes. It’s still worth it.
4. Pepe’s or Sally’s / New Haven, Connecticut
Having grown up 20 miles from NYC, I have strong and serious opinions about pizza. And when I heard New Haven had a style, admittedly I balked. But I could not have been more wrong to question it. This is crazy good pizza: coal fired, charred to perfection, and some of the best pie I’ve ever had. These two rivals (and family members) are on the same street in New Haven, so if you’re feeling patient, adventurous, and hungry, eat a pie at each!
Buddy’s Pizza (Detroit, Michigan), Spike’s Hot Dogs (various New England locations), any donor kebab stall in Austria, Le Cabinet (Geneva, Switzerland), Jasmine Rice (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Paulie Gee’s (Brooklyn, New York)
I like to drink, it’s no secret. There are plenty of dark, old man bars, and sunny outdoor spaces that are great, but here are just some places I like to wet my whistle.
1. Fountain Porter / Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In a city of great tap lists, FP boasts one of the most consistently solid, interesting selections. A great beer for just about any taste can be had here. Good music, cool atmosphere, tasty food, and all for decent prices.
2. The Wedge / Asheville, North Carolina
When the sun is shining, there are few more enjoyable places to drink a beer than in the yard of The Wedge Brewery. Come grab some pitchers of house made beer, a bowl of complimentary peanuts, and make some friends. There’s sure to be a quality food truck, kids and families playing, maybe an outdoor movie.
3. Any bar with free tapas in Spain
Did I mention above how much I love Spain? Once a friend brought me to a bar and ordered six ciders - one for each of us at the table. To accompany these single drinks, we were served an entire pot of amazing fish stew and a basket of bread. I went for a second helping and my friend stopped me. Was I being rude? No, but he said I should save room for the rest of the offering. Another round of ciders, they brought us an entire Tortilla. 2 more friends showed up, ordered drinks - out comes a huge bowl of Paella. The entire bill for 14 drinks and all that food? Around 50 bucks. That’s insane.
4. A friend’s backyard
There are too many wonderful buds to mention, and too many cool places I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out. But you know the deal - make a new friend, revisit an old one, if the sun is shining, have a cold one. If it’s night time, light a fire. If it’s raining, sit on the porch. As long as it is warm enough to be outside, there’s fewer better ways to wind down after a show then making a new bud or catching up with an old one, cold beer or warm whiskey in hand, and the world behind and ahead of you
This list is far from comprehensive, and clearly is a bit all over the map, literally, and figuratively. I hope it inspires you to make some of your own adventures, while giving you some insight into a few of mine. Thanks so much, and see you down the road.
Fancy travelling PJ's way? Been to any of these places? Send us photos and words! We encourage you to let us know about your travels, whether playing or seeing bands. Got a big Xtra Mile trip coming up? Maybe thinking of seeing all of Against Me!'s European tour, or perhaps staying in the UK, following Skinny Lister's shows around the island or seeing PJ Bond do his thing all over the land? Let us know and we'll put up your travel diary! Get us on Facebook, Twitter @Xtra_Mile or email us at contributions[at]xtramilerecordings[dot]com.