Category: Travel

Marrow Video from Grounds Oranges TV

// June 11th, 2013 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, Music, Performances, Travel, Videos

Check out this new video of “Marrow” recorded in Sicily!

The Ground’s Oranges crew did a beautiful job on a spontaneous and last-minute shoot in the countryside outside of Catania.

There was a lot of drama surrounding how to mount this little camera to my harp. Worth it for the extra cool angle though, right?

Thanks to the Ground’s Oranges crew and to Radio Rocketta for putting this together!

You can also listen to the full taping of a live-performance and in-studio interview I did with MAPS radio in Bologna here.

Italian Tour Dates Announced

// March 26th, 2013 // Comments Off // Music, News, Performances, Travel

Italian Tour Dates Announced!


Gillian will be completing a month-long tour of Italy and Sicily in March and April for RockettaBooking. See below for the complete tour schedule:

giovedì 28 marzo: IL CONVIVIO, Modica (RG)
venerdì 29 marzo: PIZZAPEPPER, Siracusa
sabato 30 marzo: AL KENISA, Enna
domenica 31 marzo: LA CHIAVE, Catania
mercoledì 3 aprile: BIRRERIA 34, Taurianova (RC)
giovedì 4 aprile: MOLLY MALONE, Lecce
venerdì 5 aprile: KEY DRUM, Sarno (SA)
sabato 6 aprile: BAR PINO, Campagna (SA)
domenica 7 aprile: GODOT ART BISTROT, Avellino
lunedì 8 aprile: LE MURA, Roma
martedì 9 aprile: FAT, Terni
mercoledì 10 aprile: “InModoAcustico” @ BAR MODO INFOSHOP, Bologna
giovedì 11 aprile: LENINGRAD CAFÉ, Pisa
venerdì 12 aprile: LA MELA DI NEWTON, Padova
sabato 13 aprile: BAGNO SOLO SOLE, Cervia (RA)
domenica 14 aprile: LOCANDA SAN ROCCO, Fermo (AP)
lunedì 15 aprile: CIRCOLO ARCI LEBOWSKI, Gioia del Colle (BA)
April 16: Foggia, Italy: Tolleranzazero
April 17: Reggio Calabria, Italy: Circolo 79
April 18: Castellemmare Del Golfo, Sicily: Picolit
April 19: Caltanissetta, Sicily: Sale & Pepe
April 20: Catania, Sicily: TBA
April 23: Rovereto, Italy: TBA
April 27: Berlin, Germany: Sofa Salon

NERFA, New England, & New Ts

// November 15th, 2012 // No Comments » // Music, News, Performances, Travel

I just spent a whirlwind weekend at the North East Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference in Kerhonksen, NY, hanging out with a wonderful bunch of folk DJs, concert presenters, venues, festivals, and very talented musicians. Saw some old friends, and made many, many new ones. This was my first time attending NERFA and let me tell you, when you’re at a hotel with 800 folks in the industry and the music starts at 9 AM and doesn’t quit till 6 AM the next morning, you can wear yourself out a little. But hey, if Gene Shay can do it, so can I.

I earned myself these blisters, which I consider to be little badges of honor for jam sessions well-had.

Feet Dry and Fancy Free

I had a couple days off right after the conference and spent them hiking and camping on the Appalachian Trail near Bennington, VT. Sunday night I lay out under the night sky on and listened to the wind gust up the valley and over the ridge all night and lost count of all the shooting stars. I woke up the second morning in the Melville Nauheim Lean-to to find the forest transformed by snow! Sometimes taking time to get myself a little lost in nature is just the medicine the doctor’s ordered.

On Wednesday it was back to civilization for my first show at the legendary Caffe Lena! I taped a performance and interview with WEXT’s Chris Wienk that aired the same day – he was a real treat to work with. Also, if you missed it, here’s the little piece where I tell some stories about my very first band…

Looking forward, I’ll be up in Middlebury playing at 51 Main this Friday night. Send your friends, it’s free entry, great food and drink. I’ll be playing from 9-11 PM. I’m back in NYC on December 8th to perform for the 10th Annual Advent Hope Benefit Concert, proceeds to assist Hurrican Sandy relief efforts. That starts off at 7 PM at 111 E 87th St. The Winter Solstice will find me performing a special holiday show at The Tin Angel in Philadelphia on Friday, December 21st, with an as-yet un-named special guest. Get your tickets early folks! In the New Year, I’ll be down in the D.C. area for a house concert on January 5th, and up at the Acoustic Long Island series on February 6th. And Keep your ears peeled for news about The Hinterhaus release this winter!

German tour, TedxEast, & a staged reading

// May 1st, 2012 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, Music, News, Performances, Travel, Videos

My dear friends,

Spring has sprung and new beginnings abound. I’ve been listening to a few versions of The Hinterhaus master and am chomping at the bit to share this music with you! Look for an official release sometime around September. As a teaser, I hope you enjoy this video of a live, solo performance of the title track at the Kito Theatre and Museum in Bremen, Germany in January:

The Hinterhaus – live at Kito in Bremen, Germany

In the spirit of trying new things and being adventurous, I’ll be joining the talents of Liz Filios and Tara Demmy in a staged reading of a new play by my dear friend Amelia Longo called True Stories. The performance will be at The Painted Bride in Philadelphia this Wednesday, May 2nd, as part of their Bridal Salon Playreading series and is being directed by Alison Garret. Now, friends, it has been a LONG time since I got up on stage to do anything other than sing and play harp, so if you’d like to take the plunge into uncharted waters with me, I’d welcome your company. The show gets started at 7 PM – $5 gets you in the door AND free food AND free booze (yes, please!). True Stories is a memoir performance that tells the story of a woman struggling with the ideas of truth and expectation in a relationship and in love. It drills down into her experiences to explore the idea of multiple perspectives in one individual; taking direction from the line “The true story is vicious and multiple and untrue after all,” in Margaret Atwood’s poem “True Stories,” it is an active search for truth in a world of multiple possible truths.

I’m also thrilled to be a (small) part of the TedxEast conference in New York City on May 11th (eep!), where I’ll performing a few songs for the conference guests and speakers, including, yep, The Roots.

After that it’s off to Europe again where I’ll be playing a few dates in Germany, thrilled to be sharing the stage again with Stefan Honig. German folks, stay tuned, because I’ll be announcing a few more shows (including Berlin!) in the coming weeks as well as an appearance on Balcony TV, Hamburg.

Fresh of the plane, I’ll play the other side of the river in NJ at Barrington Coffee House on June 22nd, and join Karen Gross & Suzie Brown at the Tin Angel on June 30th in a concert to benefit Girls Rock Philly. July sees me at the Princeton Farmers Market and co-billing with Zack DuPont and The Darling Side downstairs at World Cafe Live, Wilmington: The Queen.

If you want to see/hear more from me, please don’t ever hesitate to get in touch with venue suggestions or house concert inquiries. I’d love to play for you this summer.

Much love,



// May 24th, 2011 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, Music, Performances, Press, Travel

I’m sitting in our hotel in Manizales, finishing some delicious café con leche, & savoring the last few moments of our time in Colombia. What a whirlwind the beginning of this tour this has been! Since we left San Francisco a week ago, the Ramblers have taken six flights & are about to catch our seventh & eigth this afternoon to Bogota & Quito! Using planes so much for travel has been nice in that it allows us to visit many more cities & schools than we’d otherwise be able to, but it’s been harder for Brendan, who couples an astonishing amount of obscure technical & trivia knowledge about plane models with a mild fear of flying.

Ramblers being silly

Before we take off for Ecuador, I wanted to give you all some highlights of our amazing week in Colombia.


We began our journey in Bucaramanga, where we were met by our effervescent cultural co-ordinater from Bi-National Center, Juliana. We hit the ground running with a workshop at the Escuela Normal Superior with two big classes of enthusiastic (and energetic!) students. We worked off some of that energy by having them jump, walk, run, swim, drive, & ride around the verbs of motion in Old Joe Clark, & then learned some interesting noises for animals in both Colombia & the United States during Old MacDonald. I especially liked learning about the Chiguiro! Also, I’m always excited for the opportunity to showcase my super-realistic chicken sound, cultivated over many afternoons of serious practice as a child. In between the classes, we were offered a refreshing carbonated beverage called Malta that looked for all the world like cola, but tasted like a dead ringer for the milk in your bowl post-Lucky Charms. Brendan, Matt, Jordan, I were reminded of our time in Russia at the end of the class when all the kids rushed us for autographs & facebook contact info.

Jordan strikes a teacherly pose...

Jordan strikes a teacherly pose...

We were delighted to discover that the venue for our first public concert was the stunning Casa del Libro Total Museum & were well-received by the audience there. Our program ranged from rousing songs about Union scabbers (“Casey Jones”), to ballads about the hardships of growing up in poverty in the Appalachian Mountains (Ola Bella Reed’s “I’ve Endured” & Gillian Welch’s “Red Clay Halo”), to songs about the railroad (“John Henry”) and the range (“Home on the Range”) and heartache (“East Virginia”), to silly children’s songs (“The Fox”), and examples of “contemporary American folk music” when Brendan, Jordan, & I each take a turn playing original compositions. I also like to throw in a traditional Irish song called “The Blackbird,” which provides a good opportunity to introduce the idea of The United States as a nation of immigrants & talk about the relationship between some of the traditional music in America & that of the British Isles.

sound check at the museum

One of the main ideas behind this project is that, in addition to being a fun way for ESL students to learn through music, we feel that traditional American folk music is a terrific way to share another side of American culture that is perhaps not very well represented by our most pervasive cultural exports (Hollywood films, pop music, MTV, etc). The United States is a vast & complex nation filled with many different people with rich & varied heritage. The stories told in Folk songs are stories about real people, ordinary people, about hardship & joy & suffering & history, & we are as excited about sharing these narratives of American culture with other parts of the world as we are about learning more about the lives & history of our hosts & the students & teachers we encounter.

Matt & Gillian ramble through the streets of Bucaramanga

One of the ways that we like to explore new cultures is through food! Brendan in particular has made it his mission to taste every local specialty cuisine he encounters, which is how we came to sit around a small plastic table, contemplating a bag of fried ants. The ants were much larger than any I’d ever seen – each abdomen section about the size of a small pea – and (I can personally report) are crunchy, salty, & not altogether unpleasant save for the disturbingly tangible legs, which got stuck between my teeth.


After two wonderful, busy days that ended too soon, we packed our bags once again & caught a flight back to Bogota & then to Pereira (interesting fact: we will pass through the Bogota airport three times on this trip without ever actually seeing the capital city itself! Guess that means we’ll have to come back soon for a proper visit). Next update: Pereira!

revisiting a favorite Russian card game

West Coast Adventures

// May 14th, 2011 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, Music, News, Performances, Press, Travel

It’s a cloudy, early morning in San Francisco, and I’m sitting in the kitchen with the day’s first cup of coffee, listening to a quiet house.

morning run by the golden gate bridge

morning run by the golden gate bridge

I’ve been staying with some friends in Outer Richmond this past week to rehearse with the ESL Folk Project in preparation for our tour in South America. I met Matt, Brendan, & Jordan last summer in Tomsk where we began our first tour, bringing a special program using American Folk music as a cultural supplement for students learning English in Russia. The U.S. State Department loved the project so much, they decided to fund us again for a month-long tour in Colombia, Peru, & Ecuador. It’s the first time that we’ve all been together since Ufa last summer & the reunion has been sweet indeed. Tomorrow morning we’ll catch an early flight to Bogata the adventure begins! We expect to be doing some blogging updates from the road, but I don’t know how regular our internet access will be, so I wanted to write a little post sharing some of the highlights of my past couple weeks in California.

Oh, hey there, Hollywood...

Oh, hey there, Hollywood

I flew to Los Angeles on April 29th to visit my dear friend Rosy, who had generously offered to host a house concert for me. We spent the weekend cooking & then celebrated May Day with music, a feast featuring dishes from all the countries I’ll be visiting on the ESL Folk tour, & over a hundred guests.

That there's 70lbs of onions. I cried.

That there's 70lbs of onions. I cried.

On Monday, fellow Fellow Ted & I visited the Caltech campus to talk about our recent experiences as Thomas J. Watson Fellows on a panel for prospective applicants. Here’s hoping one of their many intriguing proposal ideas gets funded next year! We drove down to San Diego & spent a couple days learning ridiculous covers on harp & guitar, playing them for dear distant friends on Skype, & sampling the finest fish taco stands in the city. Ted also treated me with a breakfast of matzo brie, which is kind of like Jewish French toast (and totally delicious).

Ted! You made Matzo Brie!

Ted! You made Matzo Brie!

I took the train up from SD back to LA (and, as always when traveling public transit with my harp, talked to lots of curious strangers) & then caught a rideshare to San Francisco with a woman who managed to fit me, my harp (in flight crate), & a young australian woman fresh from the airport into her Prius! I was dropped off in the Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood just in time to play another house concert for a super fun audience featuring a surprising number of AmeriCorps volunteers. By midnight, I’d made my weary way to Outer Richmond where the ESL Folk Project has been living & rehearsing this past week.

Brendan, Matt, & Jordan

We’ve been working hard, logging several 9 hour days of solid rehearsal, learning lots of new material & lesson plans for the students we are *super* excited to meet in Peru, Colombia, & Ecuador. This time around, the U.S. State Department is organizing several large public concerts in addition to our schedule with the schools, so we’ve put together an entirely new program! Some of my favorites to learn have been John Henry, Red Clay Halo, Old Joe Clark, In the Pines, & Casey Jones.

lots of lyrics-learning...

In our spare time, we’ve managed to share several delicious meals (Jordan’s a wizard with a cast iron skillet) & visit the Sutro Baths, a 19th Century swimming facility that now lies in ruins on the Pacific Coast, not far from the house where we’ve been staying. When not making a hootenanny in the living room with the guys, I’ve also been learning cover song requests from a kickstarter campaign for my next solo album, locking myself in the (acoustically pleasing & quiet) bathroom to make iMovie recordings, & posting them on YouTube. One of the covers, a version of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Theme on harp, was picked up by the online gaming community & went viral, making this one of the most viewed bathrooms in San Francisco! Big love & thanks to,,, The Elder Scrolls facebook & twitter feeds,, & thousands of individuals for spreading the video like wildfire. I stayed up late last night learning the Ultima Online Theme (which was one of the earliest follow-up requests from & posted it on YouTube this morning as a gesture of my deep gratitude for the outpouring of support that’s come from the gaming community over the past few days.

over 42,000 people have seen this bathroom!

We’ve already started getting some press coverage in South America, like this article: Ramblin’ Across the Andes.. Time to get back to packing – looking forward to sharing our stories from the road!

Much love,

sorry, Pickles, you can't come...

P.S. My next concerts in the U.S. will be on Monday, June 13th at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC & Saturday, June 18th at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia. The Tin Angel shows have been selling out, so if you’re interested in coming, be sure to reserve your tickets in advance!

Counting the Places I’ve Laid My Head: 2010 in Numbers

// January 14th, 2011 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, News, Travel

2010 was an immense year for me on many fronts, marking both the bulk of my Watson Fellowship experience as well as my first national tour. I’ve been struggling with how best to approach a year-end retrospective. Since most of my blog posts tend to be longwinded affairs and because January is supposed to be about both fresh starts and self-reflection, I’ve decided to examine the year 2010 in numbers, maps, and graphs. Mind you, I’ve never worked so hard to suck at anything in my life in quite the same way as Calculus, so this has been a bold undertaking. My rules in arriving at the figures below were that a location only counts if I spent at least one night there. Places I passed through in transit do not count. Enjoy!

Here’s a nifty google map marking the stops on my journey:

Travels in 2010
(You can view a larger version of this map with all the cities listed & twitter excerpts narrating each location!)

I thought it’d be fun to break down all that travel by modes of transport. The mile estimates, especially in terms car travel, err on the modest end of the spectrum. I actually put 16,000 miles on my car during the three months of the North American tour, but for the purposes of this blog post I was only calculating direct distances between cities. I didn’t feel that I could accurately track the miles I logged by autorickshaw in India, so, sadly, the long, hot, stinky, noisy, fume-filled hours I spent squashed under my harp & fearing for my imminent demise in those three-wheeled, two-stroke wonders of modern transport are not included.

miles traveled in various modes of transport. Notably, most of those bus miles were logged in Indonesia.

miles traveled in various modes of transport. Notably, most of those bus miles were logged in Indonesia.

While my carbon-guilt is great for having flown over 13,000 miles, I was slightly mollified to learn that I actually logged MORE miles by public transport (those 600+ miles spent on boats & ferry’s really sealed the deal). The grand total for miles travelled in 2010? 39,155

Other Facts & Figures

Continents Visited: 3
Countries Visited: 9
Cities Visited: 79
U.S. States Visited: 28
Languages Spoken (mostly very badly): 8
Currencies Held: 8
Hospital Visits: 2 (one for rabies post-exposure treatment in Indonesia, the other for a mystery virus in India)
Passports Stolen: 2
Consular Interventions on My Behalf: 1 (Thanks for getting me out of Russia, Wilma!)
Human-sized Hampster Balls oggled in Tyumen: 1

Now, I know this is a far cry from the wizardry of an OkCupid Trends post, but cut me some slack, okay? I was a Comparative Literature major! That said, if there are other calculations you’d like me to try and approximate, I’m open to giving it all of my XKCD-loving spirit.

Happy New Year!

Masterclass & Concert in Chicago at Northwestern

// November 10th, 2010 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, Music, Performances, Travel

I’m thrilled to announce that a concert and masterclass has been added to the tour schedule for Chicago this Sunday! I’ll be giving a workshop on non-traditional uses of the harp for the local American Harp Society at Northwestern University, followed by a concert. Both are open to the public at sliding-scale prices.

Sunday, November 14th
Northwestern University
Regenstein Hall of Music
60 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL
Room 117
5 PM

$25 participant fee
$10 auditor’s fee ($5 student/low income auditor’s fee)

Announcing The Do it Auf Deutsch Tour

// September 2nd, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Cool Stuff, Music, News, Performances, Travel

I’ve been abroad so long I’m afraid I’ve neglected my North American lovelies – so I’m hitting the road!

From September through November, I’ll be driving all over this great land, from coast to coast, to play for you in venues, coffee shops, bookstores, cafés, art collectives, basements and living rooms.

I’ve booked part of this beast, but there is much that remains to be confirmed. Anyone enthusiastic enough to organize a concert in their town/college/home, put me and my harp up for the night, or help with promotion will have my everlasting adoration. Also, I make excellent gratitude-omelettes.

Here’s my itinerary (details for confirmed dates are under the SHOWS tab):


9/5 New York, NY – Joe’s Pub – 7 PM
9/6 Cambridge, MA – Club Passim (Campfire Festival!) 4: 15 PM
9/7 North Kingstown, RI – Beach Concert! – 6 PM
9/8 Danbury, CT – Cousin Larry’s Café – 9 PM
9/11 Montpelier, VT – Langdon Street Café – 7 PM
9/12 Burlington, VT – Parima – 7:30 PM
9/19 Toronto, Canada – Tranzac – 10:30 PM


10/1 Philadelphia, PA – House Concert – 7 PM
10/3 Washington, DC – IOTA Club & Cafe – 8:30 PM
10/5 Lynchburg, VA – The White Hart – 7 PM
10/7 Greensboro, NC – The Greenleaf @ Guilford college – 8PM
10/9 Lexington, KY – Common Grounds – 7 PM
10/11 Nashville, TN – The Bluebird Café open mic – 7 PM
10/13 Gainesville, FL – The Civic Media Center – 9:30 PM
10/14 New Orleans, LA – Neutral Grounds – 11 PM
10/16 New Orleans, LA – House Concert – 7 PM
10/18 Austin, TX – House Concert – e-mail for details
10/19 Norman, OK – House Concert – e-mail for details
10/23 Los Angeles, CA – Genghis Cohen – 7:30 PM
10/28 San Francisco, CA – The Red Poppy Art Center – 7 PM


11/2 Portland, OR – The Knife – 9 PM
11/3 Victoria, BC, Canada – opening for Kuba Oms – details TBA
11/4 Seattle, WA – Hibdo – 8 PM
11/10 Aspen, CO – House Concert – e-mail for details
11/10 Boulder, CO – Cafe Sole – 5-7 PM
11/14 Chicago, IL – Northwestern University Masterclass & Concert – 5 PM
*****11/17 Philadelphia, PA – World Café Live NYSC Showcase – 7 PM*****
**UPDATE! Due to extenuating personal circumstances, I will NOT be hosting the SongCircle showcase on November 17th, but Suzie Brown will be covering for me and the show is definitely still on. I’ll return to host the next showcase on January 12th**

As you can see, there is much of my itinerary that is still, shall we say, malleable? Take a look at the accompanying Google Maps and if you’ve got an idea that fits the general trajectory, I’d love to discuss it! Please share this with your friends and family and help spread the word. This is an independent, grassroots, fan-fueled (ad)venture, and I can’t do it without you.

fill my heart, fill my gas tank, fill my belly… I’ll see you on the road!


* *Europe! I’m coming for you in the Spring, darling. I plan to pass some of those long hours on the highway this fall spinning German tapes and trying to learn the language of Rilke and Marlene Dietrech (hence the tour title). Quiz me when I’m back!







Where’s Gubkin?

// July 14th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Cool Stuff, Music, News, Performances, Travel

I spent most of June traveling around Russia teaching kids English through traditional American folk music as a part of the ESL Folk Project. The first of its kind, this project (fully titled “Ramblin’ Across Russia: Accessing Culture and Language Through American Folk Music”) was designed by Matthew Nelson and Brendan Mulvihill while they were living abroad in Vladivostock and Tomsk (respectively), working as English Teaching Assistants at Russian universities through the Fulbright Organization. All together, the “Ramblers” were Jordan Stern from San Francisco, CA (guitar), Brendan Mulvihill from Philadelphia, PA (mandolin), Matthew Nelson from Nelson, Oklahoma (banjo), and myself.

The goal of the project was not only to assist young Russians in their study of the English language in a fun way, but also to introduce them to sides of American culture that are perhaps not very well represented by Hollywood and other popular mass media. Because the cities we visited were not located in traditionally touristic regions of the country, we were often the first Americans these kids had ever met, and we spent lots of time entertaining questions about life in the United States. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, our two countries continue to have a complex political relationship, as highlighted by the recent espionage scandal. In light of these events, the opportunity to have positive interactions on a person-to-person basis felt especially satisfying.

I was ridiculously excited when Brendan invited me to join the Ramblers for this adventure, and we traveled countless miles to crisscross Russia and present our program at five summer camps. The following is a post I wrote for the group’s blog about our experience at the Gubkin camp. There are many more stories, pictures, videos, songs, bios, teaching materials, etc available online at Enjoy!


One of the best things about this trip has been getting to see towns in parts of Russia that tourists don’t typically visit. At the camps, people are often curious and ask us about the other cities we’re traveling to on the ESL Folk Tour. Whenever we run down the itinerary, there’s always one place that gets the same response: “Wait, Gubkin? Where’s that?!”

with Elena, our trusty camp leader

I was excited to check out this city that so few people seem to have heard of, and waited with no small amount of anticipation by the door of our train compartment with the Ramblers and our gear. We arrived in the middle of the night and our “train mom” had urged us to be prepared to get off quickly since the train would only be stopping for 2 minutes at the Gubkin station before pressing on. We grabbed our bags and instruments and were bundled off the train, and my harp and I fell directly into the arms of Elena, our camp coordinator.

harp sandwich

Elena and her family helped us lug our stuff over to the hotel where we were booked in four single rooms for the first few nights – an unexpected luxury after so much time spent cramped in platzkart bunks and squashed under my harp in the backseats of taxis. We were each handed a key with an ornate swan chain and ascended some sparkling stone diaz-style steps to the chimes of a thousand fire alarm bells set off by sportsmen surreptitiously smoking in their rooms. After some refreshing showers, we collapsed into our fluffed pillows for a few hours sleep.

David Fay, Sarah, and the Ramblers in front of the biggest hole I've ever seen

In the morning, we took a walk to explore this mysterious city. It turns out that Gubkin is a relatively young city, founded just seventy years ago, and built around an enormous iron mine – a vast, gaping crater seven kilometers wide that we visited with some guides from the camp. The town is beautifully laid out, with charming neighborhood apartment complexes each with their own playground and lots of trees. There was a neat park with a mining display and statues celebrating the town’s history and mining practices.

Matt plays with a handicap

We reviewed some new songs, got our materials ready for the next day’s teaching, and then prepared ourselves for the U.S.A. vs. Slovenia world cup match by playing pick-up soccer in the school fields with some of the campers. It was a “no parents, no rules” game that involved all sorts of inventive goal keeping and ball stealing.

The Ramblers practice the Camp Rainbow dance routine

The next morning, we were treated with a visit from David Fay from the English Language Office of the American Embassy in Moscow and his lovely sister Sarah (We’ve been tossing around the idea of re-naming our group the David Fay Tribute Band). They joined us for a rousing set of morning performances by the Rainbow Summer Camp teams. After being serenaded by the four camp groups, who had rehearsed songs for us, we opened up our introduction to American Folk Music with some songs of our own.

Jordan & Brendan getting their teach on

I thought that performing live song examples as we talked about their background was an nice way to break up the opening lecture, especially since listening to a long block of talk can be super exhausting for students who are learning English as a second language. The kids  seemed to especially enjoy an experimental mash-up of jigs in E minor that Brendan and I tried out when we were discussing immigrants from the British Isles and their influence on American culture and music.

the opening lecture/concert

After our presentation/concert, Matt played some samples of traditional folk music from around the world and the students had to try and guess what country each song came from. Brendan had the chance to visit Tuva with some other Fulbrighters this year and brought back some incredible music from that region. It’s always funny when the Tuvan throat-singing track comes on during this game, because none of the kids ever guess that this music is actually from their own country! I think it’s great to bring up Russia’s cultural diversity in these English camps, because it lets us shift the focus off of all the questions we get about life in America and remind the campers about how cool and interesting and vast their own nation is!

with new friends

One of the most remarkable highlights of this trip for me has been getting to experience Russian hospitality. It seems that every camp we visit adopts us Ramblers, and this was especially true at Gubkin. When we asked Elena for a recommendation of a local restaurant to grab some dinner, she responded by inviting us over to her house for some homemade okroshka, a traditional Russian cold soup made from chopped vegetables and hard-boiled egg with a broth of kvass – a beverage made (as I understand it) by straining water through dark rye bread and allowing it to ferment slightly. This is one of our favorite refreshing drinks, but I’d never had it in a soup before!

our family dinner

After a mere two days in the hotel, we were also invited to stay in Elena’s sister-in-law’s parents’ house, which was a welcome respite for both our budgets and souls. Turns out that after living in such close quarters for so long, those single hotel rooms were starting to feel pretty lonely! We were thrilled to do some laundry and cook a wonderful “family” meal, which we ate beneath the approving (I hope) gaze of an impressive collection of Russian icons.

Ramblers reacting to some local press

On our last night, we were also invited out to a dacha for some sensationally delicious shashlik (Russian bar-b-q)! We enjoyed the evening sun, homemade pickles, samagon, and – in addition to the scrumptious chicken and pork skewers – some of the best grilled carp I’ve ever tasted; a veritable feast! With Masha, Olya, Nastia, and Elena among the guests, the feeling was of a family reunion cook-out. Brendan wrote an experimental shashlik ballad on a makeshift guitar, and we finished off the night with some more crazy, hybrid ball games.
The morning came too soon, and with it the time for us to leave for Ufa. Our goodbyes were heartfelt and teary, but we took with us many memories – and some sweet camp T-shirts the campers signed!

The next time someone asks me where Gubkin is, I’ll just point to my heart.


Group shot!