Friday, April 10, 2015


Augustana Symphonic Band Tour 2015

At the end of February this year, I took my second tour with the Augustana Symphonic Band. This year, we stayed in the states and took the first ever trip to Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. I had so much fun staying with families along the way, enjoying home-cooked meals graciously provided by the churches we played at, and--most of all--making music that embodied the South. So many people thanked us for our performances, and there is nothing that makes me happier than giving the gift of music. Here are the pictures I took to document this amazing experience, which not only was the first time for the band to travel to the South, but also happened to be my first time!

We began our trip in Tulsa, where we spent the whole afternoon exploring the city, eating lunch, and enjoying the sunshine (some of the only nice weather we got on the whole trip!). My roommate Barrie got the Tonehead (aka a hat given to the person who does the dumbest thing of the day) for the day for failing to wake up on time the day before, then falling down the stairs in front of all of us while running to catch the bus on time. For lunch, the gang ate at a local chain called Rib Crib, where I had a barbecue pulled pork sandwich with bacon green beans (the authentic way to do barbecue beans). It was delicious. 
Our concert venue had beautiful stained glass windows different in style than most of the others, so I was of course fascinated with them and took hundreds of pictures. After the concert, we stayed with a great girl who took us out for tea and hummus at a local place called Cosmo. We stayed there until about 11PM, despite having an early call the next day, but hey--you only live once. I had the most fun in Tulsa the entire trip, and I would love to go back someday. 

We arrived in Texas with a bit of a whirlwind, considering we had to cancel our first concert in Dallas due to an ice storm. (An ice storm. In Texas.) We got an extra night in Austin, where we took an Uber car for the first time and had a delightful ride to downtown, where we ate at a place called El Arroyo. The chicken tacos were delicious, as were the chicken nachos, as were the free chips and salsa that seem to accompany every meal in Texas. We appreciated that. 
The next morning, we had an early tour of the Texas capitol building, where we got to see the Senate and House rooms and tour the grounds a little bit. Based on the decor alone, Texans certainly take pride in their state! After lunch at a local dive called the Texas Chili Parlor and some of the hottest chili I've ever eaten (with free chips and spicy salsa, of course), we got Starbucks and took pictures with statues. That night at our homestay, we also got to see a scorpion for the first time--in the apartment where we were staying. Terrifying, yet pretty cool. I loved the vibe in Austin, and I wish we would have had more time to explore it! 

For a completely different feel, the next stop was Houston. We started the day with a humbling trip to the Houston Holocaust Museum, one of the best in the country. As history buffs, my friends and I really enjoyed learning even more and seeing some of the sobering evidence present at this fantastic collection.
After that, we headed back downtown for lunch. According to our homestay hosts, Houston is more of an industrial/commerce city, so not as homey as Austin or even Tulsa. Think lots of tall buildings with very few shops or restaurants on the ground level. The city does have an underground network of tunnels with some shops and a few restaurants, much like Japan, but we ended up eating in a giant mall complex with a food court that took up an entire floor. I think that place was even more confusing than Woodfield mall in Chicago, but we loved it. With smoothies in hand and bellies full of barbecue, we walked around the concrete jungle and saw a bunch of pigeons and tried to avoid getting run over by the tram...

And finally, we arrived in New Orleans! The whole trip seemed to work up to this stop, and it certainly lived up to expectation. Everyone loved it. But before we left, I had to experience Whataburger, a Texas specialty. I did not go crazy for the stuff--basically a less-buttery version of a Culver's butter burger--but I'm not the burger aficionado, either. Meh. 
After our concert to one of the most appreciative audiences on our entire tour, our gracious hosts took us to the satellite version of Cafe du Monde, the New Orleans institution for beignets and coffee au laude. The next morning, we went to the original Cafe du Monde stand in the French Quarter, walked around serenaded by the collection of amazingly talented street musicians, and visited a Voodoo shop. Bourbon Street was disgusting, as expected, and the gumbo was delicious, though not a favorite. My friend ordered a plate of alligator sausage for us to share, so I can cross that one off the list. While the boys visited a smoke shop, we found ourselves this amazing bookstore crammed with reads of every kind. I bought a volume of English history, my friends got some research literature on plant and geographical information of New Orleans and Louisiana, and my other friend got a record of Wynton Marsalis tracks from back in the day. Definitely put Arcadian Books on your list if you are a bibliophile like myself--it was surreal to even just walk through that many books piled up. Also add La Divina Gelateria to the list, too, as they do some very unique flavors, like the dark chocolate, honey, and cayan pepper blend that I got a scoop of. Delicious. 
To end the day, we lit candles in St. Louis chapel, then watched in awe as a pair of eight year old twins teamed up with a young trombonist and the gang of regular street musicians to play a stunning rendition of Hey Baby. Those boys hit high notes that would put professionals to shame. That whole moment gave me hope that the arts are still being celebrated in young people and can be shared with anyone. Music has the power to unite people, and I think this whole tour was encapsulated by that message that I got from witnessing that moment. When I gave them $5, the man told me, "Thank you ma'am, God bless you." And I felt that connection that I rarely feel with anyone else. I am not a religious person, but I feel that the music transcends that fact and gives me over to another sort of higher power that we could both understand. 
New Orleans really is a magical place filled with the bright light of music, and I absolutely cannot wait to go back.  

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