By Peter Knudson
With my cajón, shakers, and tambourine in its belly, the flight landed in Amsterdam on January 30th of this year, kicking off my 11th tour with the Pura Fé Quartet.
Pura Fé is a singer, songwriter, lap steel player, and Native American leader of an international renown band. She leads with a powerful message and voice of incredible range and expression. Her sound has been described as Amer-Indian blues. Some say her style is similar to Cary Morin’s; who is a pillar in the Fort Collins music scene and a remarkable singer, songwriter, and guitarist. As I’ll explain, this tour was different, for the first time, singer Charly Lowry joined us, rounding our trio up to a quartet, enabling four-part harmonies that made for a huge sound.
I’ve played percussion with the group since 2009. Cajón means box in Spanish,and thats what it is, a wooden box with snares inside that you can sit on and play with brushes or hands. It’s a simple instrument that can produce incredible sound over a good PA system, and perfect for travel. Its case even doubles as a percussion table on stage.
Fred Loumagne, our tour manager and sound technician, is an unofficial fifth member of the group and a death-metal guitarist in his spare time. Fred got some relief from his driving duties this time, since we took the train from town to town for the first part of the tour. This also allowed us more room to sprawl out, relax, and catch up on sleep when we could. The only drawback was carrying luggage from train stations to hotels in cold, rainy weather, but I packed light, with only a carry-on, a small suitcase, and my cajón case to handle.
From Amsterdam, we rode by rail to Utrecht, Holland, a town full of bikes and pedestrians, with a river running through the middle. We played the following night, which gave us time to explore the city, battle jet lag, and squeeze in some rehearsal at the hotel before the first show. This gave us all a chance to get into the groove, focus, and come together as a band before we started performing.
One nice thing about European venues is that when you arrive, the stage crew stops and greets you one by one, so you meet each and every person. Then, often, we eat dinner all together, with the crew, band, and promoters all around a big table. They are typically home-cooked meals. It’s nice to get a taste of the local food and experience the culture and hospitality. We tend to eat really well on tour, and in France, meals always end with dessert and cheese, which I try to partake of only rarely, since it’s easy for the weight to start creeping up, with all of the good food and so much sitting in planes, trains, and cars.
I exercise whenever I can by sightseeing and walking. I often end up on the outskirts of town, and once I accidentally discovered a castle in the hills of a small town in Southern France. It stood by a giant, mossy rock that had a waterfall flowing over it. The old walls and turrets still stood, though the rest of the structure had been remodeled. Exploring is a nice bonus on days off.
Generally, we kick off performances with the whole band. Pura Fé sings lead, and the rest of us sing backup on most songs. Cary typically performs some of his original tunes, and this time, Charly did as well. I play a solo on cajón for the encore before Pura Fé and Charly sing some traditional Tuscarora and Native American pieces to wrap up the show. Soloing is a real treat, as I have total freedom on stage. I usually start by talking about the cajón and its origins, and the origins of drumming itself. I approach soloing with the idea that I’m trying to tell a story, and with this tour, the idea of the heartbeat was central. You can check out one of my solos from the tour in the video section of my web site at http://pkdrum.wordpress.com.
Touring in Europe always feels a little bit surreal. It’s an incredible privilege to play with such talented musicians and to get to experience all of the fascinating history, cultures, people, and places. I’m grateful to be able to share my drumming and our music with people who are more than happy to pay a handsome ticket price to have a live performance experience.