From White Bear Enterprises:
© 1996 White Bear Enterprises, All Rights Reserved


Originally published in the "Folk Harp Journal," Spring 1995

ST. JOHN SERENDIPITY:
Travels with the Gravikord

By Pip Klein and Bob Grawi


"Radha," the beautiful tanned woman cried out as my husband Bob and I boarded the ferry from St. Thomas to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"What?" I called back incredulously.

"Radha... Just find Radha at the Mongoose Junction." She was giving us that information in response to her query about Bob's oddly shaped conical instrument case. We told her we were musicians on vacation in search of possible performances and that had been her instant response. I wasn't even sure if Radha was a person or a place, but I scribbled the information down on the side of the St. John advertising map she had just handed me as the boat churned away to our destination on the brisk morning waves.

On the ferry, we thought about the hectic couple of weeks which preceded our arrival in the Caribbean. Our schedule was a travel agent's nightmare considering we had originally flown out of New York, into Rome for a week, took trains to Florence and finally to Venice where we spent two weeks representing new American folk music performing for the Venice Carnevale. Then we flew back from Venice to Florida where we played with our bassoonist at the Boca Museum Festival of the Arts. Then, after a short break we headed to St. Thomas for a "busman's holiday," because as musicians, we've found there are always creative ways of combining travel and performing. The only problem was our equipment – it's OK when we cramp the living quarters on our own sailboat, but we didn't want to monopolize the space we would be sharing with our friends, newlyweds Ed and Jean aboard Laika. their Pacific Seacraft 34. Besides our regular luggage, we were also hauling a bag, two small battery powered amplifiers, and a huge backpack with my flute, percussion instruments, tapes, CDs, and flyers – and Bob's own new instrument, the Gravikord, an electric double harp (that was in the oddly shaped case). One of the really great things about the Gravikord is that it's a harp that actually fits in the overhead compartments in most airplanes.

As we pulled into Cruz Bay, there were masts everywhere in the beautiful turquoise waters. Ed and Jean were on their boat just yards away from the ferry dock waving from their cockpit. "We made it!" we called out. Another seamless connection.

After ferrying all our luggage out to the boat, we enjoyed a delicious boat/home cooked pasta dinner and a perfect sunset from our new vantage point. After turning in early, we decided that the next day we would set out to find the mysterious "Radha" and hopefully a place to perform.

As we walked through the bustling rustic downtown area, we found out that the Mongoose Junction was only a half mile up the road. Created from local stone, the "shopping mall," which we later learned was formed by a community of local artists, featured courtyards with many shops and an open-air bar and restaurant. After making some inquiries, we found that Radha was indeed a person and she ran the Caravan Gallery. On our way up stairs, she was on her way out to lunch. Standing on the steps, we took out our promotional flyer to show her. An expression of amazement came over her face. A native of the northwest, Radha had only been to New York City twice in her life.

"And on one of those trips," she smiled. "I heard you performing near the Metropolitan Museum of Art – and bought one of your tapes!" So with no further introduction needed, she immediately arranged for us several different performances in the courtyard and restaurant, where our "fee" would be collected. We have found that when doing ad hoc booking at the last minute, it is almost impossible to get a monetary fee, but since we always travel with tapes and CDs if there's an audience, we can usually make our normal fee in recording sales. Instead of a concert, it becomes sanctioned busking. Then there's always the trade in kind, i.e. dinner for four. The timing was perfect as it was Jean's birthday and we would be able to treat for the party!

Performing in the sun, our island sounds wafting through the tropical breezes, small clumps of people gathered as they ate their ice creams, listened to our music and wandered through the area. We sold tapes, handed out flyers, and enjoyed interacting with our fellow tourists.

"Hey, you guys played at my birthday party in Connecticut two years ago," one gentleman came up and told us. Indeed we had. Because we need to recharge the amps after we play, we were in search of 110V. outlets. Again, Radha to the Rescue! Because she lived nearby the center, she offered to let us store all our equipment at her studio, where she created some of the jewelry she sold in her shop. It was upstairs from her beautiful stone home and we never had to bring the equipment back to the boat until the night before we left! She then gave us a tour of her home, their exotic colorful birds and we met her husband Glen who had actually designed and built the entire center. They suggested we explore Leicester Bay by boat, a destination a day's sail away where we could spend the night. We spent a relaxing day snorkeling, swimming off Water Lemon Key in perfectly clear 79 degree water. Now this was a real vacation! Only two other sailboats were there, it was a tropical paradise...with wild donkeys braying in the distance, many brightly colored fish and exotic coral to see, good friends and good sailing!

We decided to see more of the island and sailed back to Great Cruz Bay, several miles around on the other side of the island. One perfect crescent beach after another passed off the port side, including the famous Caneel Bay.

Great Cruz Bay, where we finally anchored, is the home of the Hyatt's plush tony resort. When we pulled in and saw it, we realized, yes! this was another possible performing opportunity. Early the next day, we told our companions Ed and Jean that we were going to try and get another booking. Ed gave us a VHF hand–held radio and as we dinghied ashore he yelled out to us "Show us how it's done!" A half hour later we radioed back, "Gravikord Duo to Laika, come in please. Meet us tonight at the Hyatt, it's dinner for four, at 8 o'clock. We got the gig. Over and out."

By contacting a manager and showing him our flyer – (no, he hadn't seen us in New York!) – we had just arranged to perform that very Saturday night at their restaurant on the bay during dinner and we would collect our fee – dinner for four – in exchange for our music. I can't over emphasize how important it is to have good promotional flyers in hand on this type of operation.

Since we had the day open, we decided to explore the island and picked up a shuttle tour right at the hotel with our amiable guide "Beaver," an island local who showed us the most spectacular vistas from his red–striped open–air jitney. From a precarious pull–off overlooking the east end of St. John and the broad expanse of Sir Francis Drake Channel, dotted with the British Virgins, one of the truly great cruising grounds of the world, we had Piña Coladas and said to ourselves: 'this is a place we have to come back to...'

Then we visited Cinnamon Bay – a great camping area, and another place Glen had helped design and build in the local style of masonry, very much like the Mongoose Junction. As the sun began to set, we headed back to the Mongoose for another set of music in the courtyard. "Beaver," curious to hear these American musicians, came by after his last run, liked what he heard and offered to be our personal chauffeur and returned us with all our musical gear back to the Hyatt for our evening performance.

It was becoming a beautiful sunset, with the boats, including our own Laika rocking gently in the bay spread out before us. Besides the regular hotel guests, a wedding party from Ohio was ending their celebration with a private dinner party for about 40 people. As we were about to pack up, the father of the bride slipped us two 50 dollar bills to continue playing for another hour because they were enjoying our music so much. "Do you always play here?" he asked. We said, "No, this was your lucky night, we just happened to be here and they didn't have any live music planned." Actually we are often booked for weddings and it does fit the occasion very well.

Later, as we were enjoying our exotic seafood dinners and toasting our good times, our party of four were the last ones left in the restaurant. Bob and I would be departing the next day for New York. Contemplating our sailing departure to St. Thomas in the morning, we suddenly realized that we didn't have anything on board for breakfast, and there were no groceries nearby. Voila, the magic of the music continued! We asked to see the chef, who at one point had come out to inquire about the unique sounds that he had been hearing from his kitchen.

"Since you liked our music so much we'd like to offer you a trade," we said."How about a dozen eggs for our cassette tape Rising Tide?" The deal was struck and shortly afterwards the four of us crowded into the dinghy, balancing our eggs and instruments as we headed back to our cozy anchorage for our last night.

What a magical musical week it had been on our first Caribbean adventure. It was the kind of travel experience you have only when you can really become a part of the place you are visiting, and there's nothing like harp and flute music as an introduction to meet new friends!


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