We toured Europe with two bands and 3 kids and lived to tell the tale.
“Dear god did you charge the iPad?”
On my most recent tour of Europe, questions like these were sink or swim. With two musical acts, twelve shows, four adults, and three kids ages 3, 4, and almost 12, there was no room for error. A dead tablet, misplaced headphones, or a forgotten stuffed animal could make for an impossibly long high speed train ride. A missed bus or broken guitar string could upset the delicate equilibrium of our down-to-the-minute itinerary, which included things like “Get off train and walk to playground (10 minutes), felafel on the way, then bus (20 minutes) to venue by 4pm for sound check.”
My co-conspirator for this four-countries-in-two-weeks DIY bum rush was Taina Asili, an immensely talented Puerto Rican singer, songwriter, and activist based in New York. These days she wins awards and headlines festivals with her 6 piece Afro-latin reggae rock troupe La Banda Rebelde, but I first fangirled her when she was the frontwoman for the legendary late 90s punk band Anti-Product. She’s also deeply involved in work to free U.S. held political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal.
I’m Evan Greer, Boston’s own friendly neighborhood genderqueer riot-folk singer. For whatever reason, my music got a bit more popular in Europe than it ever did in the U.S., I can draw more people in Cambridge, England than in Cambridge, MA. So I try to make it over there when I can. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as being thousands of miles from home and having a room full of people who you barely share a language with screaming along the words to all your songs. I try to play it cool, but honestly I live for that. In fact, this was my 4 year old’s second tour of Europe, his first one I booked while he was in utero.
The tour was called Break the Chains, named after Boston’s very own all-gender queer liberation dance party, which I happen to organize. In fact, the next one is this Tuesday, July 14, 6pm at the Community Church of Boston, headlined by Taina Asili and legendary Navajo rebel punk band Sihasin, (who are touring with their kids too!) It’s our “home from tour” party, and you’re invited!
Some of you might be wondering something: what the hell made us think that bringing three kids on a DIY punk-infused tour of Europe was a good idea?
The answer? Revenge. The mainstream narrative among twentysomethings about parenting is that once you have kids, your life as you knew it before was over. There’s no more time for playing in bands or trying to overthrow the government, it’s all just diapers and making lunches and an endless cycle of Dora the Explorer books and toys for the rest of time.
But that’s bullshit. And we were out to prove it.
In the process, we wanted to give visibility to queer parents, and help push for a better music scene that accommodates all kinds of voices. The Break the Chains dance party is all about bringing down the walls of oppression that keep us apart and using music to bring people together. The tour had the same goals, but required some next level logistical magic, including my co-parent coming along as a nearly full time childcare provider.
Along the way we soaked up the music, food, and politics of revolutionary Europe, and took about a bajillion pictures. Below I chronicle the journey in photos with (hopefully) witty commentary interspersed. I hope you enjoy, and that this article encourages some Boston soccer moms dig that bass guitar out of the basement, buy a used van and hit the road.
Enjoy. See you at Break the Chains on Tuesday?
We kicked off the tour in Ireland, partly because having someone named Erin Fitzgerald and a kid named Saoirse along with us make for a speedy customs experience, but also because we freakin love it there.
Our first show of the tour was in Belfast, in North of Ireland that’s still under British occupation. We played a lovely little LGBTQ friendly pub called the Sunflower, to a ragtag crowd of young queers, old socialist Republicans, (if that sounds like an oxymoron to you, read up on Irish politics) and punks.
There were a few kids who got kicked out of the show for having fake IDs. I played for them outside on the sidewalk. This is my official policy in such situations, for future reference.
We were honored to play the gig with Pol Mac Adaim, a renowned Irish singer and longtime anti-colonial activist. Above, he sings the revolutionary classic, “The Internationale”, in Irish-gaelic, a language that was long outlawed under British occupation.
I left the stage to get the crowd singing along. Was worth it.
Before the show, Pol took us on an incredibly detailed political history tour of Belfast, starting in Ardoyne, the working class community where he grew up, which is considered to be the home to some of the most dedicated Irish rebels. Political murals are everywhere, and messages like this one, telling the Police Service of Northern (PSNI) Ireland to stay out of the community, surround the perimeter.
These are murals on the “International Wall” on Falls Rd in Belfast. Irish Republicans who have been fighting colonization for decades have also been on the frontlines in solidarity with many other struggles around the world. Note the mural dedicated to Leonard Peltier, a U.S.-held Native American political prisoner.
There is a ton of visible solidarity with the indigenous people of Palestine everywhere in Ireland, but especially in the occupied North. Lots of people hang Palestinian flags out their windows, and there are many murals showing the parallels between the two struggles.
Not thirty feet away from that “Free Gaza” mural above, across the line into a British Loyalist neighborhood, this glossy “professional mural” exposes the mentality of the colonizers.
Obligatory “Ireland is pretty” photo taken on the train from Belfast back to Dublin.
In Dublin we played at Tenterhook’s Gigspace, a new explicitly queer and feminist DIY music venue. It was our host’s birthday, and this pretty amazing thing happened after Taina’s last song.
The next morning we were up at 6am and headed to the airport. We had a gig in a different country that night, and had a flight, a bus, and four trains ahead of us before we got there. One word: coffee.
Through no small feat of luck and logistical prowess, we made it to Bristol, England. The activists who were setting up the show met us at the train station and we walked through beautifully painted alleyways to the venue. Bristol is a graffiti hub for all of Europe and there is incredible street art everywhere.
We made it to the Kebele Social Centre, a formerly squatted community space, cafe, venue, and library in a bustling, mostly Sikh, neighborhood in Bristol. Here the two younger kids are chilling out in the space while we got ready for soundcheck and dinner.
Once again we had a totally packed house, and Taina and Gaetano had everyone dancing like crazy to their revolutionary afro-latin rhythms.
I always hate playing after them, but the crowd greeted me by practically screaming along all the words to my first song, and I knew I was among friends. I left the microphones and played unplugged in the middle of the room and it was great fun.
Before kids, pressing questions on tour were things like: “Where is there cheap food? Where is there cheap gas? Where is there cheap beer?” Now: “where is the giant oversized chess set that the kids can play at while we regroup?” Wi-Fi was also a hot commodity. We made a rule that any adult who found a free wi-fi network and started using it without first notifying the others would be fined 2 euros. It was harsh, but it worked.
After Bristol, we made our way by train to London, which was buzzing with the massive End Austerity Now rally. We played a lovely little show for a bunch of protest-weary activists at the London Action Resource Centre, one of the city’s most venerable radical institutions.
We mostly stayed with people or at the venues we were playing at, but we got a cheap hotel in London that had a loft bed for the kids, and it was worth every penny.
The next day we were off to Brighton, England, which is sort of like San Francisco and Portland and Jamaica Plain all rolled into one, but with a more adorable accent. We got off the train and immediately went in search of food. We scored big. Vegan full English breakfast = yum. The English may be colonial wankers (no offense, pals!) but they sure do know how to eat a freakin breakfast.
That night we played in a packed little pub called The Greys along with a brilliant English band called POG, who I highly recommend checking out. I’ll be back in England playing a few shows with them in October!
You may be wondering: between getting around and playing until the bar closes, when did we find time to sleep? The answer: whenever we could.
From England, we loaded up the iPad with Transformers episodes and flew to the Netherlands. If you’re as ignorant of European geography as I was before I started touring there, you may be surprised to learn that the Netherlands is NOT in Scandinavia. It’s that other country, also called Holland, where Amsterdam is. Anyhow, here’s our whole crew waiting for the train from Amsterdam to Bielefeld, Germany, where we were headed for our next show.
Taking three kids on tour definitely could have been a recipe for relationship disaster, but halfway through we were somehow still all friends. (We still are too!)
In Bielefeld we were playing at a massive and gorgeous formerly squatted social centre called AJZ. Germany and the Netherlands are full of these community spaces that began as squats, meaning that activists and community members took over abandoned buildings that were not being used and turned them into spaces that benefit the community. Squatted centres often have free or cheap vegan meals several nights a week, radical movie showings, space for activist meetings, and concerts almost every night. They all have their own little cafe/bar that sells ridiculously cheap beer, cider, and Club Mate, a sparkling caffeinated tea beverage that’s tastier and more addictive than coffee. These squatted spaces provide a central meeting place for resistant communities and seem to give the radical scene in Europe a huge edge compared to the U.S., where space is incredibly expensive and draconian laws make public squatting almost completely impossible. Anyone want to squat the Harvest in JP that closed down? I’m down to try.
There were awesome stencils and graffiti art all over the inside of the squat, and tons of queer visibility. We felt right at home. There’s a running German joke that Bielefeld doesn’t really exist. Not only does it exist, it’s pretty awesome.
The show that night was something else. Taina was on fire and the crowd brought her back for 4 encores, eventually just chanting in Spanish, “Otra! Otra! Otra!”
I was having so much fun it was hard to stop smiling long enough to sing.
It was such a welcoming crowd I decided to sing some brand new songs, like this one that deals with the insecurities of being a transgender parent.
Also, we really need to step up our visual art game in radical spaces in the U.S. Here Gaetano’s walking up a staircase at the squat that’s just covered with amazing art and revolutionary messages. The quote behind reads something like “We workers have no fear because we carry a new world in our hearts.” There’s more to it too, but that’s what Google-translate is for.
The next morning we were back at the train station bright and early. The kids were in good spirits, partially because German vegans seem to like to put chocolate on everything, including morning toast.
We had two gigs the next day, because we are workaholics. The first was an early afternoon show at Knoflook, a squatted vegan cafe and social centre in Den Bosch, Netherlands. The food was amazing and I had a white beer during my set that knocked my socks off.
Our second show was totally different energy. We played the queer night at Vrankrijk, one of Amsterdam’s oldest formerly squatted venues. The dance floor was sweaty and packed with people from all over Europe and Taina and Gaetano brought the haus all the way down to the ground.
The next day we had another show in Amsterdam, giving us some time to explore. Rather than looking for coffee shops and beer tastings, we found the biggest park we could and let the kids get all their energy out for hours. We also managed to get a wallet stolen while one of us was watching all three kids at a playground. I’d like to propose that playgrounds should be off limits to thievery, like churches in the middle ages or something. Just a thought.
After a too-short stay in Amsterdam, we were off on the train to Emmen, a more rural town a few hours north. We played at Huize Spoorloos, a social centre built in an old bank that’s been squatted for more than 10 years. The guest sleeping space was in the vault. It was quiet in there, but not terribly well ventilated.
The venue in the squat had a sound set up that would make the engineers at the Middle East Downstairs jealous. Taina & Gaetano turned up their punk vibe for the occasion.
The squat had a free store full of kids toys, which the little ones took full advantage of.
The next day we took a city bus into Germany. There is no meaningful border there. It’s pretty awesome. Imagine taking the 66 bus out of Allston and ending up in Canada. We got off in Hannover, our last stop of the tour, and headed to a Kiosk for some Club Mate. We were addicted at this point.
In Hannover, we were performing but also offering a workshop on Mumia Abu Jamal and other political prisoners. The venue was UJZ Korn, another marvelous formerly squatted social centre full of artwork, radical people, and resources for the community.
This squat had a freakin playground built into it, y’all.
The kids were in heaven.
We were too, because the show was packed and the audience was ALIVE!
As usual Taina and Gaetano had everyone dancing and getting down. Germans are kind of like Bostonians, so that’s an accomplishment.
We closed out the tour with a totally impromptu Anti-Product song at the request of our host. It was a fitting end to an epic journey.
After the trip, when we got back to the U.S., we got off the plane at JFK and immediately headed for our favorite vegan restaurant. Saoirse, who had been a total angel for the whole trip, asked me, “What country are we in now?” I said: “Brooklyn.”
“I will never forget that trip we just took,” my four year old told me. I smiled. We may not have much money. We may not have any record label backing us, or a booking agent, or pre-sold tickets, but our kids are growing up watching us pursue our dreams, and hopefully it will inspire them, and maybe some of you, to do the same.