Year: 2010

DAY 25: (Danny) In Cambodia, we played two big concerts and conducted a Master Class. Most of our days were quite busy – sometimes 16 hours long. So, on our one free day, we woke up early and left our hotel at 6:00 AM to fly to Ankor Watt to see the great temples and ruins. The flight from Phnom Phen was about 45 minutes long and a lot shorter than our other flights (with a lot less gear). Our liaisons, Michelle and Pekaday, were kind enough to set up the flights and arrange for a driver/guide. Mony is a friend of the Embassy and one of the most knowledgeable guides in the area. He was assigned to show the Secretary of State around just a few days before he was scheduled to show us around. And he had done the same for President Clinton so we knew we were in great hands and would learn a lot about the history of the temples. We got our passes to the Ankor Watt Eco Park for about $20 (U.S.) and proceeded to the first stop: Angkor Watt.

There are water filled moats surrounding the temple. The grounds are lush and expansive. We saw some funny monkeys by the entrance who were entertaining us and begging for bananas. Mony called them “tourist monkeys.” Our guide knew so much about every detail of these temples, I understood why he was chosen by the State Department to guide us. It was a bit overwhelming to hear all of the history at once and reminded me of touring the Vatican and cathedrals of Europe, except it’s easier for me to wrap my head around the Christian history. We were all really tired and the heat was pretty intense but we made it through the grounds. Mony took us to lunch at a great open air restaurant where we had an amazing meal and purchased some gifts. After lunch, we went to see the famous temple filmed in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.Nature had taken over the temple and the tree roots were growing through and over the rock. We took some great band shots and learned so much about this ancient culture. Pu Klaing had told me to pay attention at the temples in order to understand the Cambodian people and their history. He said to take it all in and someday, to try to put it into a song for all the world to hear. No easy task, but one that is inspired. We hit one more temple on the way back to the airport which was called the Smiling Buddha temple (look at the picture and you’ll know why). I had to sit this one out and relaxed on the stone wall outside the entrance, where I observed the structure from the outside. I realized there are some things that can only be felt and are not possible to describe in words or intellect. I was overwhelmed by a sense of impermanence when I saw the crumbling stone and felt that just like these temples, all structures are unstable and pass one day back to the nothingness from which they were formed. This ancient city of temples was once home to millions of people who lived and died within the shadows of the temple walls. Their voices echo in the ruins and are a reminder that we are the awareness in which all life unfolds.

DAY 25: (Danny) In Cambodia, we played two big concerts and conducted a Master Class. Most of our days were quite busy – sometimes 16 hours long. So, on our one free day, we woke up early and left our hotel at 6:00 AM to fly to Ankor Watt to see the gr…

DAY 22: (Joe) I was just preparing my first blog post in several days about our tour in Cambodia when I received news of the terrible tragedy which took place at the end of the Water Festival in Phnom Penh. We played last Friday night for an audience of 3,000 at Veal Preah Mehru, a park near the National Museum in Phnom Penh, as an opening concert for this festival. It’s difficult for us, as a band, to comprehend such a horrible ending to such a wonderful event. As a band, we send our deepest, heartfelt condolences to all our new friends in Cambodia. We were so well received and are so thankful to the Cambodian people for the wonderful experience and love they brought to us and our music.Cambodia is not what I had expected. I could write a huge blog post on what I saw and learned but I think for now, because of the pace we’re keeping in The Philippines, I’ll give the short version of something that touched my heart. I’m very sensitive about filming or photographing the pain of people who have suffered great losses in their lives. It’s a bit voyeuristic, I feel, and nothing positive can come of it. However, on the entry path to Ankgor Wat, we passed a group of musicians playing traditional Cambodian music on traditional instruments.It all seemed normal to me, you know, the Cambodian version of street musicians. Upon closer view, I realized they were land mine victims from land mines left behind over the course of three decades of war. The fact that they were land mine victims wasn’t as striking as the spirit of the music they played. One of our main messages to students who attend our Rhythm Road Master Classes is to never give up one’s dream.These musicians are the living example of the power of the human spirit. Cambodia itself is proof of such a spirit. The most impressive thing about young Cambodians – more than 60% of the population is under 30 – is their forward-looking spirit. How do a people, whose recent history is so tragic, whose culture was all but destroyed, who lost by various estimates one quarter to one third of their population, how do these people maintain such a positive outlook on the future? I’m amazed by the Cambodians I met in my short stay. As an American, I feel a bit spoiled. We speak often of the dark cloud of slavery in our own county’s past and how the music we play is the silver lining of that dark cloud – all of the American music which finds its roots in slave songs, gospel and the blues. It seems we are about to see a cultural rise in Cambodia descending from the pain and suffering dealt by the Khmer Rouge reign and civil war. The people of Cambodia seem on their way to building a new Cambodian culture out of the ashes of the past.In our concert at Veal Preah Mehru, we invited a guest ensemble led by Keo Sonankavei, a professor of music at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) to perform. Keo brought a couple of very special instruments that he, himself, created based on traditional Cambodian instruments.These new instruments are based on the chromatic scale rather than the older traditional Cambodian scales. The modern versions of Cambodian instruments and the Cambodian musicians fit right into our ensemble jam session at the concert. For me, this was a wonderful cultural bonding experience, one that only happens when musicians share the thing they love: music. I have quite a bit more to say about this land of gentle people and great hope.But, for the moment, for myself and the rest of the Johnny Rodgers Band, we again send our deepest condolences for this recent tragedy at the Water Festival.

DAY 22: (Joe) I was just preparing my first blog post in several days about our tour in Cambodia when I received news of the terrible tragedy which took place at the end of the Water Festival in Phnom Penh. We played last Friday night for an audience o…

DAY 21: (Danny) I’ve mentioned before that it’s always bittersweet when we leave one country and travel to our next destination. This time, I feel especially sad to leave Cambodia and its lovely people. I’ve made so many friends in Cambodia and wish I had more time to spend with all of them. Even though only 1% of the country’s population has Internet, I was amazed that almost everyone we’ve met is on Facebook. I’m looking forward to staying in touch and sharing pictures and videos.

We were so busy in Cambodia, we didn’t have time to write or post many pictures or accounts of our time. We worked 16-hour days for almost the whole time. Driving, loading, unloading and of course, sound checks and performing. We love it all and the music is why we came on this trip but meeting all these people and the sharing of cultures is what’s changing our lives. I was constantly blown away by the youth of the population! 60% of the population is under the age of 30 and although the reason for this is unbearably sad, the resulting youthful population seems poised and ready to catapult into the future. Humble, kind, beautiful, warm, smiling faces greet you at every turn and there is a spirit of peace which permeates the air.

The day after we landed, we conducted a Master Class at the Ministry of Culture. There was a mix of western classical and traditional Cambodian music students and faculty.We had the singers improvise over the blues and had a great question and answer session.After the class, we rehearsed with some local artists who were to join us in our two big concerts. Meas Sok Sophea, a local singer who has the top song in the country and the great Cambodian rapper/MC, Pu Klaing, brought their artistry and flavor to the table. We rehearsed with the Ministry’s traditional percussionists and a great young band called Blackwood. This short rehearsal was all the time we had to put together a multifaceted and bi-cultural show to perform in Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh for more than 3,000 people at each concert.We had the chance to visit the U.S. Embassy and to meet with the Ambassador, Carol Rodley, which was both an honor and a thrill. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting three U.S. Ambassadors on this trip and always enjoy seeing the Embassies.

The drive to Kampong Cham was a three-hour journey through the artery of Cambodian life outside the city.The road was bordered by lean-to shacks and stilt houses that sometimes doubled as stores and sleeping quarters. There were no gas stations so there were stands on the side of the road selling gas in coke bottles for the scooters.The traffic thinned out some and the scooters gave way to bicycles as we got into the smaller towns and most of that traffic was school children coming home from the first shift. The students either went to school from 7:00-11:00 AM or 2:00-5:00 PM. The early shift seemed preferable because the temperatures weren’t as high. We saw rice fields, Cambodian white cows, chickens, little horses and lots of dogs. We stopped for our first rest stop at a conglomeration of roadside stands and as soon as we stopped, young girls and children mobbed the van, trying to get us to buy their fruit and bananas. Each of the teenage girls had live tarantulas on their shirts and one gave me one to hold. I saw a giant basket of fried tarantulas and crickets at a nearby stand.

The drummer from Blackwood convinced one of the girls to let him have a tarantula which he brought into the van. I asked him to pass it to me where I was sitting in the front next to Michelle, our Embassy liaison. I had mentioned we had a spider in the car, but she thought I was joking until she saw it crawling around on my hand. I was impressed by how fast she jumped into the back seat. In the meantime, Joe and Johnny were getting a kick out of the CB radio in the van. They hadn’t seen one in a while.When we arrived at our hotel in Kampong Cham, the afternoon sun was shining on the Mekong River. I’d heard about this river since I was a young child and finally, to see it was amazing. I heard Cambodian music coming down the river and I saw a junket-type boat pulling a traditional dragon boat. This type of long thin boat seats 50 rowers was being transported to Phnom Penh to participate in the Water Festival. Every year, crews and dragon boats are transported to the river festival to participate in races and competitions. Three million people were already descending upon the city to celebrate this year’s festival.The hotel in Kampong Cham had beautiful, wood-carved statues and chairs. The rooms had beautiful, ornately crafted wooden beds. My room also had a little balcony that overlooked the Mekong.In most of the countries we’ve been to, I’ve been a lobby rat, where I’m sometimes able to find wireless. The wireless at our hotel was down but I was able to get wifi at a great cafe next to the hotel – Smile Café – an open-air Cambodian restaurant that helps young people in need in conjunction with a Buddhist association. The owner and I became friends right away and because they were open daily until 3:00 AM, he saw a lot of me.

We went to the football (soccer) stadium to load in and do our sound check.As soon as we started playing, the field filled up with people on scooters and bicycles who were on their way home from work and school. They sat there on their bikes and watched us sound check and when we left to change, they rode away.

We came back to play the concert and when we saw the stage and lights, we were amazed by the volume of bugs flying around. It looked like it was snowing bugs! My white drum skins were covered in black bugs. When I walked on stage, I was swarmed by critters of every shape and size. I thought, I am one with these bugs, I accept them, they won’t bite me. We’ve all been taking Malarone pills for malaria but forgot to bring our Deet cream. Not that it would have worked in this situation.I thought, don’t open your mouth on stage, but I knew I had to sing and wondered how much protein I’d be taking in that night. Probably not as much as Johnny! It was funny to watch the guys battling the bugs at first and I saw everyone have a big one fly onto their ear or mouth. While I was playing, I found a Praying Mantis hanging on to my floor tom and I had to play around him for a few tunes. Brian went to play his gogo bells for Mary Jean and there was a giant grasshopper on the bell so he was late on his entrance because it freaked him out. Then I saw a giant brown bug on his neck that looked like it was about to suck the blood out of him.The stage had a giant backdrop with our pictures and there were about five smoke machines that kept clouding the stage. During one of the quieter tunes, I requested they be turned off because they made too much noise. There was a strobe light by the footlights that, at one point, made me feel as if I had been hypnotized.The MC Puh Klaing really got the crowd going with his intros and antics. He was great helping translate the song intros and keeping the crowd informed and entertained. They loved our music and when Sophea came out to sing two of her songs with us, they were even more excited. We played more of our set and then Puh Klaing came out with the Blackwood Band who gave the crowd some of its signature rock. They were great and when we came back on stage, he joined us for a great version of Ain’t No Sunshine! We really enjoyed being on and off stage with him! Sophea came back with her dancers and after, we did a rocking version of You Can Leave Your Hat On.After the show, we hung out at the Smile Cafe with Pu Klaing by the Mekong River.

To be continued…