I just got back from a brief European tour with folksinger Rod MacDonald. A folk tour can be very different from a rock tour. It's still the same magic when you walk onstage, and the music can be just as transcendent. But you miss some things rock and roll gets you accustomed to, such as: monitors on the stage, a bus & driver, a tour manager, backstage dressing rooms, a crew and venues specifically designed for live music. Folk shows are smaller and more shoestring. The distance between performers and audience can be as little as three feet - more intimate than rock that way. You don't walk to the bus after a gig and ride through the night to the next one. After a folk show you hang out with the good people who came to see you, maybe even dining with some of them, tear down your minimal stage gear, sleep in a local guest house, then drive to the next gig in a rental car the following morning. Less glamorous, but you're rewarded with a strong sense of place and people. Places and people you might never see another way: Laupen, Switzerland; Obing, Germany; Vipiteno, Italy.
By far the biggest and loudest show of this tour was in Gradisca, Italy. Members of the local rock group Mr Tambourine Band sat in with us at a gymnasium. The stage was rock and roll loud. There actually were monitors, but they weren't much help. As a result none of us had any idea what this performance sounded like. I clearly remember letting a few notes during a solo ring out in hopes of hearing just where the downbeat was, as it became impossible to tell on my side of the stage. The bass player assured me things were no better on his side. But the crowd loved it, so I can only assume it sounded good where they were sitting, which is the most important thing. Afterward we had a lovely pasta dinner on tables set up in the back of the gym.
Gradisca is a beautiful little town, as far as I can tell populated entirely by lovely people. As this was my third time there I've actually managed to get to know some of them a little bit. One guy, an actor in local theater, is a fan of the music, and really seemed to dig my guitar playing. He remembered that I like wine, and graciously gifted me a taste of the local vineyard: three bottles from the Friuli producer Blason, located right in Gradisca.
The Blason Cabernet Franc 2009 was a standout among them. It's available here in the US (at least in California) for under $15 a bottle. Usually I find Cabernet Franc a little difficult on its own. Wine made solely from this grape often seems to be missing something to me - it rarely seems balanced. This one is. Nice fruit up front without being excessive or jammy. It ends a little quickly, but with clean tannins, inviting another sip. The wine is just big enough in the mouth to cover its 13% alcohol and still feel medium bodied. Along the way you get spice and black pepper following bright red fruits. Not a wine to show off with, but surprisingly good given its price tag. No one in their right mind would balk at this wine. The only criticism I can come up with is that this wine is a little simple, and the finish is a little short. It's a pleasure and a wonderful taste of Gradisca. If you're lucky enough to find this wine in your local shop I'd recommend picking up a bottle. It's one heck of a value. Made a wonderful gift, too!