After a magical few days in Utrecht, I bade farewell to my awesome hosts and hopped on a train south to Maastricht, a bustling university city sandwiched between the Belgian and German borders. The plan of action was to spend the weekend here, hop across to Germany to visit the legendary Palatine Chapel of Charlemagne and catch a concert in between.
Thanks to the epic Songkick app I found out about a nifty little indie band from Ghent, Belgium called Oscar & The Wolf. Without thinking too hard about it, I would say they sound a little like
Passion Pit but not quite as in-your-face and a lot more ephemeral. So, maybe not like Passion Pit at all, but music criticism is not my strong suit.
What really made the concert so epic wasn’t really the music itself–which I did enjoy–but what preceded it. I arrived by train in the early evening and decided to find the venue, the impossible to pronounce Muziekgieterij. I walked through the cozy city center and walked down a narrow avenue, passing by a few bars and then emerging into an old industrial area. There was a long row of abandoned warehouses to my left and right, and after several minutes of walking the entrance to Muziekgieterij appeared out of nowhere, a nondescript black door hiding out beneath an old brick building.
A sign posted outside said the hall wouldn’t open for at least another 90 minutes but I disregarded it and rang the bell. A short red-bearded man sporting a beanie and slightly grimy black clothes opened the door after about 30 seconds and, puzzled, let me in. I asked if there were still tickets available for the concert and he ushered me into the sprawling space, through a glass door and into the back office.
The floor was bare concrete but there were Persian rugs laying about and long rows of cheerful wooden benches extending back quite a ways. Several people were milling about, and the guy in the beanie went over to a middle-aged man dressed in a sweater and jeans and asked if I could buy a ticket. The man smiled at me, asked where I was from, then asked me to wait for a few minutes while he fumbled about on a computer.
After I paid for the ticket I expected to be told I had to wait outside, but instead the man offered me a cup of coffee and told me I was free to walk around. So I did, and that’s when I heard the strains of Oscar and the Wolf coming from a room nearby. I walked through a set of double doors and emerged into a cavernous room with black walls and a long wooden bar extending along the side of the room.
Technicians were milling about, a couple of kids–presumably the children of the middle-aged man or one of his colleagues–ran around, and Oscar and the Wolf went through a few of their songs and then a mic check. I sipped my coffee while they played, and then wandered back into the office when they finished.
A long table had been set with silverware and the entire staff and techs sat down to dinner. Soon the metallic clink of forks and murmur of conversation filled the room; I had sat down on the floor nearby, reading a great book about Spanish cheese and feeling a little out of place. Not too long after dinner had started the same man approached me and asked if I would like to join them for dinner–who was I to refuse a free meal?
This wasn’t just spaghetti and meatballs either; I was given a plate of smoked salmon and arugula to begin. A generously filled glass of red wine was proffered, and I washed it down with a plate piled with Brussels sprouts, potatoes and cream, and succulent roast pork.
At my end of the table were the techs, including the guy with the red beard and beanie. They were all about my age; one was 21 but had graduated high school at 16 in order to become a music technician. Another wore a Heisenberg beanie that covered a mop of long blonde hair and told me about a visit to the USA he made with his parents 10 years ago as a teen. I thought it made sense that he visited New York and Washington, but I laughed when he said they ended up in Jacksonville–not exactly the type of place one imagines tourists will go out of their way to visit. But then again, they thought it was a little odd that I was in Maastricht.
With dinner concluded came the first act, a band called Maya’s Moving Castle. I would say the most interesting aspect of their act was the white gown the lead singer wore–most people in the audience seemed a bit lukewarm on them.
During intermission I wandered around some more. Part of the building has been turned into a playground of sorts–rope swings had been attached to iron bars in the rafters. Lit up in neon greens, blues, and reds, the entire space felt like a ghostly recreation of childhood. After swinging around for a little bit I returned to the main hall and the VIP treatment continued–I was given a beer at half price by the bartender, who had also accompanied me at the dinner table.
When Oscar and the Wolf finished their set, I went off to finally put away my things–I had my entire pack with me, stored in the back office. I found the apartment of Ali, my Saudi Arabian couchsurfing host. Since it was late and Ali had work the next day, he went to bed and I headed back out into the city for a drink with some people I met at the concert.
It turns out that classes at the university and in the high schools had just finished for the semester, so just about every young person in Maastricht was out and about. The bar I went to was clustered with mostly young professionals though, but after an hour of hearing glasses breaking and being bumped into by tipsy old men I called time, collected my jacket at the door and set off for home.
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