Question: What happens when you combine the Icelandic volcano with a European jazz tour and a heavy metal festival in the Philippines?
Answer: A guitarist who has circumnavigated the globe.
In a matter of days, I have flown from New York to Europe, Europe to Asia, Asia to New York. Around the planet Earth, all because of a volcano. Welcome to my world.
I write this, I am resting comfortably at home in Brooklyn, NY while the two guys in my band, Alex Skolnick Trio, remain stuck in Europe. We were all supposed to fly back together, but the aftermath of the eruption, specifically the grounding of flights in Europe, changed all that.
It was just over two weeks ago we all flew from New York to Amsterdam to support the hugely popular acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela. Since the trio had yet to have made it to Europe, supporting Rod And Gab presented the perfect opportunity for us to debut overseas, before continuing with them in the US. But I never could have predicted how this run of the tour would end.
After the final French show, in Toulouse, I flew to the Philippines for a metal festival with my longtime band Testament and the popular metal group Lamb Of God. This show had been booked for a long time and marked the first time the group had ever been in the Philippines. I couldn’t let the bands or the Filipino fans down. I had to be there. Besides, it coincided with some festival dates that Rod and Gab were playing on their own, so the trio had the time off anyway.
It should have been a perfect scenario. The trio stays with friends of ours in Paris for a few days, then meets me in Luxembourg. I fly to Manila from Toulouse, play the gig, then fly back to Europe and play the last two shows with the trio and RodYGab in Luxembourg and Brussels, Belgium.
Ok, it was a little crazy, but I’ve done stuff like this before. And it would have worked out perfectly. Who could have predicted that a volcano would erupt in Iceland, creating a massive ash cloud that would engulf the continent and cause a complete shutdown of every major airport in Western Europe?
I flew to Manila with no issues, had a bleary eyed dinner and wine with my buddies in Lamb Of God and a great nights sleep. The next day, I met up with my band who had landed in the middle of the night. We played a successful show for 30,000 Filipino fans. The following morning, rides to the airport were organized.
When I checked on my flight, I realized that it and every other flight to Europe had been canceled. My heart sank as realized I would miss the last two shows of the trio/RyG tour. including a sold out concert at for 5,000 people in Brussels, Belgium.
There was nothing I could do except try and get home or risk getting stuck in Manila. I called my airline, Etihad Airways, but the best they could do was reissue the ticket at another date. That was no help at all. When else will I need a ticket from Manilla to Luxembourg?
I asked about transferring the flight towards purchase of a flight to the United States. I was told that would be an ‘additional’ $5,500. No thanks. Meanwhile flights to the US were being snatched up left and right by people in my situation: scheduled to fly from Asia to Europe but forced to fly home instead.
Fortunately I was helped by a couple sources. First, American Express came to the rescue. While I’ve sometimes questioned the high annual fee I pay for the my Platinum card, their premium travel service came in very handy that day. They found me flight for under a thousand dollars. This service, which I pay the high fee for, actually saved me a lot of money and trouble. (Forgive me if I sound like a commercial for AmEx). Also, the Filippino promoter, Vernon from Pulp Productions, was also extremely helpful and extended my hotel stay for an extra night. And his assistant Karen and her friend Ivan took me out for an impromptu evening of food and drink in Manilla. The next day I caught my flight and after nearly twenty hours of travel, made it home.
I am still sad about missing those last two shows, and worried about my guys. But I take some consolation that we had some great European gigs, the Netherlands, Zurich, Switzerland and three cities in France, Paris, Marseille and Tousouse. The highlight was the two sold out shows at the legendary theatre, L’Olympia, considered the “Radio City Music Hall” of Paris.
Next week we are scheduled to play the real Radio City here in New York City. That is, if my band can make it over here by then.
As I write this, the band is scheduled to fly home tomorrow from Amsterdam, but everything is up in the air, pun not intended. Flight restrictions continue to be lifted, then put back into effect. Their connection is through London Heathrow, the airport which has suffered the most from the aftermath and continued eruption of the Icelandic Volcano. Many fingers are crossed that they make it.
This is one of those situations that will only make our band stronger. When this is all over, we will have one heck of a story.