Banjo Earth: China – Chapter 30 – “Until Next Time” (blog)

The last day of Banjo Earth has arrived! It has been a long and extremely exciting month. We have worked very hard, and created some spirit-filled art. Many places, friends, and smiles have graced our path along this journey. Things went mostly right, and when they didn’t, were fixed quickly. We learned many lessons along the way: things to do and not to do in China, foods to order and foods not order, things to say and things not to say. Every day was full of new and surprising adventures, incredible music, and life altering experiences. This trip and project have been way more than expected. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, as the idea was pretty far out. Combining bluegrass and old time American music on the banjo with such a rich and deep Chinese musical culture could be wonderful, or it could be a disaster. Even I, the project’s creator, had my doubts. But as soon as I landed on Chinese soil and got to work, things started falling into place immediately.

Things really fell into place

I could never have foreseen all the awesome adventures and musical collaborations that would ensue. The hospitality of everyone along our way was immense and genuine. Without the help and generosity of our Chinese hosts along the way, this project would have not been possible. I feel truly blessed to have been able to conceive of this project, bring it to fruition, and execute it the way we did. I am extremely thankful to all of the friends and family that helped me get it off the ground, into orbit, and see it through. It is truly a project that has taken a village to create! Ben has done an excellent job of filming and photographing the adventures, recording the music, and being a friend and travel partner. It’s hard to think of this project happening without him. My brother Ryan has been an huge part of the making the performances fun, and despite being dropped into a completely unfamiliar environment, has performed really well in the shows, recordings, and travels.   Banjo Earth: China is only the first installment in what is hopefully a long running series. I can see this project carrying over into countries all over the world, spreading that Banjo Love to the farthest corners of the planet. I’m really excited to see how this album and movie turn out, and even more excited about the possibilities for Banjo Earth in the future.

What a journey!

With all of these thoughts swirling around in my mind, we welcome a friend into town today. I met a lovely lady in LiJiang, about two weeks ago, who lives near Shanghai. She has decided to come spend the day with us, and grace us with her vivacious spirit. She shows up in a sparkling purple dress and fedora hat, and as soon as I see her, I know we are in for a fun evening. Her name is Weng Liang Liang, or Fiona for short, and her energy lights up the city. She lives in Hangzhou, and catches a 40 minute bullet train to Shanghai. I greet her at the subway stop near our place, and we go to where everyone is chilling at the coffee shop, getting some internet work done.

Liang Liang lights up Shanghai

After catching up, singing a song or two, and sharing some laughts, we head over to our new Airbnb spot for the evening to check in. As we arrive, everything goes smoothly until we find there is no key in the locked box. I send the homeowner a message, and 45 minutes later he shows up with the key. This could seem like an inconvenience, but Liang Liang has better ideas. She has an app on her phone that is so much fun, and she loves to use. It allows you to overdub videos onto preexisting music and talking. Our first performances include “Man in the Mirror” and “Everybody Loves Christmas”. This is way too much fun, and soon, we even get caught by some old ladies staring at us from the upstairs window of a nearby apartment! I realize quickly that this is an app I have to have on my phone. I’ve seen the American version, but the Chinese version is way weirder and cooler.

Playing and singing some tunes in the coffee shop

We get into the place, settle in with some showers and fruit, and start stepping on the town. We have vague plans to find some food and visit the Pudong district, which is the financial section of Shanghai where all of the crazy and tall buildings reside, the most exciting being the purple space needle that dominates the skyline. After a few bites at Granny’s Kitchen, we catch the subway and head across the river. Aw we come out of the underground, the towers and funky shapes of Shanghai’s skyline take you by surprise. Not only is the space needle hovering over you, but close by is the Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world. It twists and turns up into the sky farther than any building I’ve ever seen.  We find our way to the space needle, get our tickets to go inside, and up we go. It is such a futuristic and funky looking building that I feel like I’m in a completely different world.

The Oriental Pearl Tower

Once we get to the top and look out across this beautiful city, my heart sings a tune. Shanghai is vast, colorful, and alive. We walk around in a complete circle around the tower, catching an amazing view in every direction. There is even a walkway that is built out of glass that you can walk along, and look down some 300 meters straight to the ground. At first, it can give you pause to be suspended so high, by just a plate of glass, but soon I find my feet and Liang Liang are dancing to our own music above the city lights. The open air draft adds a nice touch to the environment, and gives one the feeling that they are suspended in the middle of the sky, which, in effect, is the truth.

Looking out over the Huangpu River

After enjoying the needle so, we are all a bit tired, and head for home. We stop by to get some snacks and drinks for the house. Some sake, beer, fruit, meats, cheeses, and caramel candies fill the table. From there on we enjoy the evening, and each other’s company. We play and listen to some music, talk about life, laugh, and even make some more videos on Liang Liang’s phone. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the last evening of this epic Banjo Earth adventure. The Love is real. Keep making wonderful things in the world, and realize your dreams. Peace through Music. Community through Creation. Until next time, Andy

The Love is real

Banjo Earth: China – Chapter 29 – “Shanghai Jazz” (blog)

Shanghai –

At about 7:30, whether we are ready to wake up or not, China awakes and the construction begins. You can start to hear hammering, yelling, laughing, beating on metal, and whatever other abrasive building sounds that exist. It is quite awesome, despite the need for some extra morning sleep, how quickly and efficiently the Chinese put up marvelous and extravagant buildings. One day, there is a huge hole in the ground, and many workers standing inside it, and the next day looks like nothing ever happened there.

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The old, the new, and the umbrellas

The Wifi in China is spotty at best, and I need to make some travel arrangements, including flights and Airbnb spots. So, Ryan and I head over to a nearby Starbucks where I’m sure they will have some internet and coffee. Coffee they do have, but no internet. We do discover a red bean paste scone that is surprisingly tasty however, so all is not lost. It’s a rainy day in Shanghai, and the umbrellas are out in numbers. Although I enjoy a good rain every now and again, this weather makes it impossible for me to carry the banjo around on my shoulder, in typical Banjo Earth style. So I reluctantly leave it at home, and we head off to the JZ jazz club, located in the embassy district, to meet Lulu.

It’s a rainy Shanghai day

Lulu is a multi-dimensional entertainment powerhouse. Our friend “Famous” Kirk Kenney hooked us up with Lulu because we were looking for a singer to complete a Chinese folk song we’ve been working on. This seems to be the final piece of the Banjo Earth: China puzzle, and we are hoping we can get with Lulu and have her sing this part for the record. We meet her at the Jazz club where she is rehearsing with her band for an upcoming gig for the Mexican embassy. The band is hot and swinging, the club is swanky and lounge, like a hot Shanghai club straight out of the 1930’s. She runs through a few tunes on vocals and also does a little “Charleston” dance rehearsal. A grooving jazz band and a Chinese gal swing dancing is the last thing we expected to see once we got to Shanghai, but surprises have been around every corner on this journey.

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Rehearsal at the JZ Jazz club

Lulu happens to be a wonderfully talented singer, dancer, pin up model, burlesque performer, and just a really sweet and funny woman. We check her rehearsal for a bit, listen to our folk song, then head over to the Organic Kitchen next door for a snack and some conversation. She promises to give the song a try, though she is really busy, and we’re here for only two days, so we aren’t sure if we can “swing” it. Her friend Michael Jackson comes by, (he literally is Michael Jackson), and they take off. We head back toward our home on this rainy Shanghai day with some new adventures under our belt, and another new and talented Banjo Earth friend.

Lulu – singer, dancer, and queen of Chinese Burlesque

After a short rest, we set out to find some dinner. This is the last night of the tour, so we seek out a nicer restaurant to enjoy some of the finer cuisine Shanghai has to offer. There is a place nearby the house, and given the rain, we find it a nice choice. We all order a couple of dishes, mainly just by looking at pictures, and wait to see what we have selected. I ordered a soup that had all kinds of crazy things in it that I have never seen before. This is the first thing that comes out, so we dig in. At first it’s not too bad, but the deeper we get into it, the stranger it becomes. The flavor of the soup is not like anything I have ever tasted, and not in the best way possible. The rue is a deep red, which sort of reminds me of blood, and tastes like it too. There are critters with spikes, tendons, livers, and some other unidentifiable matter. I can’t say this dish was a winner, and chalk it up to the win some/lose some philosophy. Maybe this can just be our Halloween present. Luckily, the rest of the dishes are pretty tasty, and I finally get that soup taste out of my mouth. In any case, we have a great time sharing the meal, having a few beers, and talking about our experiences in China. Ben’s ready to rest and get out of the rain. But as usual, I’m ready for some more, so I recruit Ryan to join me to a jazz club that isn’t too far away.

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The red mystery soup

Earlier at the jazz rehearsal, we befriended the bandleader, Alec. He is a guy from Connecticut who has been working in the music scene in Shanghai for about 10 years. He invited us out to his gig tonight at a place called the Wooden Box. We arrive and sit down for a drink. The room is really cool. It is small, round, and filled with glass windows. The have a jazz trio, which includes Alec on saxophone, a drummer, and bassist. They are all really great musicians, and the music is thoroughly enjoyable. I enjoy a whiskey, meet some new folks, and relax to some hot jazz grooves. It’s time to say goodnight, as the rain and jazz bring the night to a close. Shanghai is such a beautiful city. It is filled with music, wonderful people, incredible architecture, and food that will lift (and spook) your spirits. Tomorrow is our last day in China, and we’ve got some more adventures ahead of us. Goodnight.

Lift your Spirit

Banjo Earth: China – Chapter 28 – “Love in Your Dream” (blog)

Beijing/Shanghai –

It seems like just a couple of hours ago that we were partying with the French folks at the pool bar. And in actuality, it was. It’s an early rise this morning to get ourselves together, and to make it to the train station on time. We’ve got a bullet train reserved for our trip to Beijing to Shanghai, and it leaves at 11:20 am. That seems like a pretty reasonable time to make it, but when you factor in packing, cleaning the place a bit, coffee/breakfast, walking to the subway, riding the subway to the train station, figuring out where to get our tickets, going through security, going through security again, then finding the right train car, we make it with just minutes to spare. Everything in China, even getting on the train, is an adventure. And that is just the way I like it.

The train is leaving the station

I’m excited to ride the bullet train. The last time I made this trip 14 years ago in took about 12 hours of pure discomfort. This trip will take 5.5 hours and the seats lean back in wonderfully relaxing position. Plus, on a train, you can look out the window and watch China go by in your window. It is completely fascinating to see the backroads and inroads of this country. From nuclear power plants, to farms full of tiny little gardens, to miles and miles of greenhouses, China’s industriousness and innovation is on display as you pass through at a couple hundred miles per hour. The colors span from lush greens to dark grays, the landscape from rocky mountains to jungle-like vegetation. You won’t see any of this way up in the air flying on a plane, which is why bullet train is my new favorite mode of transport. Come on America, let’s make this happen, eh?

The things you see from the window of a bullet train

After having a chance to make some videos, blogs, and enjoy the country, we stroll into Shanghai around sundown. We have booked another AirBnB house here that is in a great part of town. After finding the place, locating the keys, and figuring out how to use them, we find our way into our new home and relax for a bit. Not long after that however, the excitement, flavors, smells, and lights of Shanghai begin calling. Since I was last here in 2001, Shanghai has changed tremendously. The buildings are taller, more numerous, and more modern. The amount of skyscrapers that display beautiful and innovative architecture is staggering. And the food…..oh my! The plan is just to snack our way around the city for a little while, trying little bites and samples of whatever we can get our hands on.

Time to hit the streets streets

The Huangpu River, where the old French Bund, and just across the water, the business district, is located, is our first destination. The night skyline of the business district of Shanghai may be the most beautiful in the world, and it’s a good place to start to get an understanding of the kind of environment you are in. So we set out for the three mile or so walk, taking our time and soaking in the city. We find snacks in the form of delicious noodles, chicken, and the tiny little soup dumplings that Shanghai is so famous for. We happen upon the music district, which is full of instrument stores and live clubs. We pass through what feels like mid-town Manhattan, and even pass by Times Square of Shanghai. The lit up store fronts and LED laden buildings look like a mix of New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Shanghai is bustling and busy, making things happen with a sophisticated style and pace. It is very modern and fashionable, and is in stark contrast to the Beijing we just came from. Given their striking differences however, this is still China, and that Chinese pride and style runs deep, and even here, is unmistakable.

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World famous Shanghai soup dumplings

We finally make it down to the river, and the sights of the city just suck us in. The mix of high-rise business buildings and the funky fresh artistic vibe Shanghai has is really cool. The purple space tower jutting from the ground makes you kind of feel like you are on a different planet. Right across the river from these sights is the old French part of town, the Bund. It’s buildings are made up of classical western architecture, and make such an interesting combination. The people are out in force tonight, enjoying themselves and taking hundreds of pictures. The night is beautiful and warm, and a short sleeve shirt is enough to suffice. Weather wise, our trip from Beijing to Shanhai is sort of like having breakfast in New York, then eating dinner in Savannah, GA.

The Shanghai skyline

We enjoy the night, have a beer on a riverwalk patio, and take it all in. Banjo Earth is nearly at its end, and it has been an incredible journey. The first few days feel like months ago. All the amazing people we’ve met, things we’ve seen, and music we’ve made and heard is unfathomable. It may take a few months to sort this all out. All I know is that it feels great to Be Here Now, and to be doing the things that I know I was put on this planet to do. I looked deep into my heart, found this idea, and began the work. From there, the Universe took over; the love of my friends and family, the support of fans of my spirit and music, and the wonderful talents of the people around me.   I truly believe if there is Love in your dream, than anything is possible.

Monument to the People’s Heroes