Robert Burns, the noted 18th century Scottish poet, once famously wrote that, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley.”  The well-known translation reads more like, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  Though Burns was meditating darkly on the relative burden of a conscious mind, I’d like to get obvious and talk a bit about how some of my own recent plans went a bit agley.

Turi and I had hatched a plan to go see Jason Riley, my former guitar instructor, play a European tour date with The Nova Project, a classical fusion group in which he is involved.  I’d seen the Nova Project once before, and watched with some amazement as Jason, another guitarist named Anthony Glise and their bass player rocked out a classical tune, adding an old John Donne poem for metal-physical gravitas.  Anthony, a St. Joseph, Missouri-born maestro who spends half his time living in Europe, was gleeful afterwards.  “This,” he said, “is going to fire up the classical community.”

To me, firing up the classical community seemed roughly equivalent to dialing back Matlock viewings at the old folks’ home to twice a day, but, hey, I’m all for sticking it to the Man.

Still, I really enjoyed watching great guitar players do what they do.  So, determined to catch up with my old musical mentor on this side of the world, Turi and I set off for Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, where The Nova Project was scheduled to rock the KKF Hall.

Upon arrival, the town impressed us primarily with its dual use of umlauts.  Being a random European town, Schwäbisch Gmünd was sufficiently endowed with standard cobblestone streets, 13th century churches and frowning old ladies, but something was missing.  After a bit, Turi and I realized that that something was people.  I hadn’t been expecting Woodstock crowds, but I figured the place would be a little jazzed.  After all, it was a summer Friday night, live music was on tap and we were in the land of a thousand beers.  Surely, someone could summon the funk.

I wasn’t too worried, though.  As a veteran of club events, I had seen first-hand the beauty of a few hundred people crammed into a smoky club for the express purpose of rocking.  Club shows are truly a wondrous thing, much different than their amphitheatre brethren.  In arena concerts, I suppose it is rather awe-inspiring to trudge among the loaded masses, glassy-eyed and shirtless, on the long and arduous journey from a distant parking lot to an even more distant stadium seat.  In many ways, the arena concert is like a great aviary migration, with legions upon teeming legions flocking to the warm climes of power-chord land.

Club crowds, on the other hand, often possess a distinct long-lost-jungle-tribe feel.  Instead of strange facial tattoos and bamboo tools, however, they have a propensity toward horn-rimmed glasses, furtive glances and ironic t-shirts.  And facial tattoos, sometimes, too, I guess.  But those are pretty much solely reserved for underground metal shows.

At any rate, Turi and I searched the empty streets of Schwäbisch Gmünd for Nova Project posters.  We didn’t find any.  We asked four people for directions to the KKF hall.  Two hadn’t heard of it, and the two that had pointed us to an arthouse movie theater.  Picking our way past a dumpster and down an alley, we found the hall and, sure enough, it was showing “Super Size Me.”

Marching up to the spiky-haired ticket taker, Turi asked, “Is there a concert here tonight?”

“No,” he frowned, “Only movie.”

Baffled, I chimed in, “Are there ever concerts here?”

“No,” he sighed, “Only movie.”

Thus, we were at a bit of an impasse.  I had come three hours to see a really talented group of guitarists from thousands of miles away play weird classical music, and was bummed that they were nowhere to be found.  By now, it was nearly 9 p.m. and I had sampled two German beers in hopes of sparking some festive fire, so escape was impossible.  Our plans, well laid though they were, had gone awry.

And then, I thought of Robert Burns, who, aside from dispensing bits of universal wisdom, had also once written a poem about falling face-down drunk in a field of thistles.  When his plan – remaining upright – had gone awry, he had seized life by the marrow and squeezed a hilarious poem out of it.  Now, presented with my own field of thistles, would I seize the day?

Sort of, as it turned out.  A jazz quartet from Switzerland was playing in one of the beautiful old 12th century churches, so Turi and I ducked in to check them out.  And, when I was able to stay awake, they sounded amazing.  As for the mice, I’m not sure whether they enjoyed the music or not.

– Nate Cairney