last night's festivities included live performance by Rag Mama Rag, a blues duo playing 20s and 30s country blues since 1991.
The venue was La Rhue, a Dutch gites site/camping ground that apparently has delved into the live music arena this year. They are located (as some of you might remember) on a difficult to find country road with little signage or fanfare. After my first unsuccessful attempt, I rang them up for directions (I really wasn't far last time) and drove over during the day to make sure I'd have my bearings. There was a small sandwich-board sign on the side of the road, alerting passers-by to upcoming music. After going there, I think they may be on to something with their formula. At 6 euros per head, plus drinks ... and all they do is fling open the doors and let the band and audience in ... seems like a lower-than-some-others effort business affair.
At the last minute (luckily) I called again to confirm they served food. Which. other than some quiche ... they didn't. I first decided to have dinner in Jumilhac (the closest village) but as I headed out I changed my mind and stopped by The Fiddler's Rest, just outside of Thiviers.
The Fiddler's Rest is hosted by an amiable Irish couple, Ronan and Jo. They bill themselves as serving 'pub grub', but I will give them points for being a cut above that. The food is fresh, hearty and the portions are actually too large. Ronan fronts the house and Jo is the cook. She is great with child right now, and it is entertaining to eavesdrop on her predicaments surrounding sleep and such. The pub is done up nicely, with warm wood stoves, bright red walls and all else you'd expect from an Irish cubbyhole. The downside is, as I'm finding with these expatriate-run venues ... is that it seems rather cliquish ... I've been 4 or 5 times and, with the exception of the one night when live music was on offer, the clientele is predominantly english speaking, mostly Irish or Brit. If you want a spot to go and listen to people bitch about the French, these are the types of places to frequent.
Fortunately, I've never heard Ronan or Jo partake in the grousing ... as proprietors I imagine they are required to listen and nod affably. Thus far, I've never come across someone I'd want to engage in a conversation beyond exchanging hellos (other than the owners). But, the menu presents something outside of the french norm and the hospitality of the owners is genial ... so I'll venture back now and again. Maybe more so in the summer, when they are bound to have more consistent music nights.
On to La Rhue. La Rhue's music venue is in a large converted stone barn, and when I first entered it was empty and appeared promising. Until I was roughly elbowed aside by the first of what were hordes of Dutch groups ... descending en masse for the music. I mean they really were loud, pushy and ungracious. It was a family style occasion ... from 6 to 66 were in attendance. The proprietors were, again, quite friendly. With high ceilings, beautiful exposed stone walls, new wood floor and large music posters festooning the walls ... the spot was visually appealing. Many of the tables were marked 'Reservé', so I had to ask if there was a spot for a single. I was told to choose any seat I'd like. More and more folks clattered in, I was overdressed. They all looked as if they were fresh from a day of milking (except one tall slim beauty with legs up to here clad in tight denim jeans and a pewter-toned belt who ended up sat right next to me).
It was interesting to hear the Dutch accent surrounding me ... loud and boisterous. I soon realized that whatever approach was used with the wood floor could use some rethinking. There might have been too much space or the wood was too thin ... every footstep echoed and pounded.
I made my way up to the bar and Monsieur explained their system. They gave you your own little order form, throughout the night the tally was taken and when you left, you turned it in and paid up. He noted my American accent and asked where I lived. When I replied Brantome, he immediately recognized me as the woman who had called and got his wife. She greeted me warmly with bises, asked if I was hungry, etc etc. Very kind.
I returned to my seat and watched the room fill and morph, as tables and chairs were dragged hither and fro. It was like they all knew each other and were comfortable enough to rearrange the floorplan.
FINALLY, (nearly an hour late) the music began. The acoustics were not perfect, but the music was grand. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, mississipi blues to east coast rag ... it was great. I believe they were a husband/wife pair ... with him on the guitar and she on a variety ... washboard, harmonica, etc.
Unfortunately, the large group of Dutch (including the glamour girl) talked loudly throughout the entire evening. That, combined with their incessant foot stomping that echoed loudly over the music drove me from my seat and out the door after the first set. Well actually, I grabbed my drink and relocated to standing at the bar for the last song and as I tallied up. Madame made sure to notice me and check on my evening. At break, I bought a c.d. and headed home. I was 50 minutes away so I was still home past midnight.
It may not sound like it, but on reflection I had a fun night. There was one silly frenchman at Fiddler's Rest who decided to hit on me ... drunk as a skunk and half the time I couldn't tell if he was talking to himself or me. And at La Rhue, mercifully to my left was the only french couple in the house. We had fun exchanging eye rolls as we observed the other members of the audience gab and trip over each other!
(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)