Friday afternoon we played at the prison in Geissen, Germany. The show was not listed on our website because it was closed to the public. But, really, who would want to go there? I’m sure the whole audience would rather have been somewhere else.
We had to surrender our cellphones and passports before entering the prison, so we couldn’t take any pictures. I copped the photo above from the Geissen JVA website.
Peter, the man who had booked the gig, said, “The rest of the day will be good, because these guys will go back to their cells happy. But they are very cool. They will not come to you, even halfway. You will have to take it to them.”
As the audience filed in they separated in to several distinct groups. To our right, a guard later told us, were the Germans. The back row on the right reminded me of the bad boys in the high school assembly, laughing and cutting up and tossing out pingpong balls. In front of them was a large group that, according to the guard, had mostly American GI fathers. They seemed to follow English well, and when I introduced “Clear Blue Flame” by saying moonshine was something like schnapps, a stir went through that part of the room.
The men on our left were another story. They sat stolidly with their arms crossed in front of them, faces screwed shut like doors not just locked but boarded over. The guard later told us these guys were eastern Europeans, mostly Lithuanians and Russians.
It’s hard to know how to perform in front of a crowd like that. I started with a smile and a bright “Guten Tag,” and knew immediately I’d struck a wrong note. So I decided to let the music do the talking.
The improvised double slide solo that Mark and I do on “Going Down South” has an element of danger to it. We never know where it’s going until we get there. Sometimes it flows and sometimes it feels like we’re fighting each other. But on this day we connected and the notes rang true like magic. When we finished the whole room burst into applause. As we walked to the side of the stage, Mark said, “I think we’re in.”
Marlon’s drum solo went over even better.
Then came “I’m a Witness,” which I start with a guitar riff as Franher leads the crowd in clapping to the beat.
“Don’t clap,” Mark called.
Franher said, “Man, I’m clapping.”
And then the whole room was clapping, the guys on the right loosely, the guys on the left with military precision. Although the most closed faces never really opened, we did see them relax a little.
After the show, two prisoners helped us carry the gear to the van. As soon as the van was packed, they threw themselves onto the narrow strip of grass between the driveway and the wall. They rubbed their hands in the grass and raised them to their faces to smell. I remembered then that the courtyard inside the prison had been completely paved. Grinning, both prisoners plucked small daisies and stuck them behind their ears.