Australia….It’s been on my top 5 dream destinations for as long as I can remember. And now, being at this exciting stage in my fine art career, there really was no reason not to go. After all, I have consciously manifested a lifestyle which not only allows it but demands it. But like many people, it never seemed like the “right time” before this, whatever that means. And let’s face it, traveling 60+ hours on eight flights in less than two weeks is not too fun no matter how you candy coat it.
It’s almost been a month since getting home from “The land down under”. I think it’s taken this long to just mentally digest it all enough to put my thoughts down. So much happened, so many personal moments and self-realizations.
One of the first things I noticed was how familiar everything was. Lots of franchises and cars I recognized, the fashions are identical, a very different experience than when I traveled to Europe. I didn’t see any kangaroos running across the highway or Koala’s throwing Fosters beer cans at us. Nothing like Crocodile Dundee or the Discovery Channel at first glance either.
Sydney has got to be one of the nicest cities I’ve ever been in. The streets feel safe and are clean enough to eat a vegemite sandwich off of. There’s a symbiotic marriage of structures both old and new with with aquatic ferries and a monorail to rival Disneyworld. Checking into the hotel signified the beginning of my pathetic Aussie accent attempts, which I am sure Chelsea was very happy about.
We explored the streets of Sydney before the jet-lag completely kicked our arses. Found a Starbucks and was good to go for a few hours. Yup, we saw all the standard tourist stuff…Botanical gardens…Harbour Bridge…Sydney Opera House.
We took some day trips on the Ferries to Bondi Beach and Manly Beach (above) both of which were all time.
After a couple days of walking what seemed like a marathon of miles we took the rainy day opportunity to hit up The Art Gallery of New South Wales which was quite the legit art museum. Also we got to see the new Kelly Slater 3D IMAX Movie, “The Ultimate Wave” which I highly recommend! (My friend and fellow surf artist, Phil Roberts painted the art for the film’s promotional poster too…Go Phil!)
(above) Me and Ben (MeSurf)
I had a really great meeting with Ben Salkeld who runs MeSurf.com.au, a leading Australian surf website. For the past year or so, I have been fortunate enough to collaborate on many occasions with MeSurf but haven’t until now had a chance to meet face to face as friends and industry colleagues. After business talk was through, I got Ben on the topic of Quantum Physics and we nerded out for a while. Nothing bonds people more than talk of electrons and particle accelerators. (insert dorky laugh here)
Later that same evening pro-surfer and fellow surf artist, Brett Walker and his good mate, surf photographer Matt Smith were able to hit the town to share some brewskies with us.(see above) It’s pretty bizarre getting to connect with like-minded creative people over 10,000 miles from home.
After five mellow days on our solo-mission, it was time to turn on ‘party mode.’ We flew out to The Gold Coast to meet up with our friends Donavon Frankenreiter, his bandmates & crew. Included in our traveling circus was our dear friends Eric Brigmond (keyboardist) and his wife Cat,Matt Grundy(bassist) ,Craig Barnette(drummer),Pete Winders(guitarist), Tito (tour manager) and Pete Santa Maria from Rook Productions.
Eric and Cat are just really great souls, they were kind enough to let us crash on the extra bed in their suite and in the first five minutes of being in the room looking out at the water view, we saw a sea turtle pop his head up. You don’t see that sorta’ shit happen in Jersey.
Shortly afterward, we got picked up in the Billabong bus by our new friend Dave Ferry. From that point forward, let’s just say that things got weird to say the least. We got stopped on two DUI checks (passed both with flying colors for the record), got lost for an hour through the picturesque hills of Byron Bay, the band had to track down instrument cables, find the address of the new venue of the private Billabong party we were headed to, Cat’s purse got attacked by creepy Aussie insects, Donny got a wee bit tipsy, pro-Surfer Dave Rastovich showed up and hopped on stage to jam and we almost ran out of gas on the way home. That’s the abridged version…it was a memorable night.
(Above: Jay with Stirling Howard from Billabong)
The Byron Bay Bluesfest 2010
The next day Donavon and the guys were to play the Byron Bay Bluesfest. A huge 5 day music festival which a handful of our musician friends were playing. We pulled up to the festival grounds and got to the backstage VIP area which was one of the more impressive ones I’ve seen. Donavon’s backstage trailer was across from the rooms for Jack Johnson,Lyle Lovett and Buena Vista Social Club. Oh and Mmm Mmm…unlimited Espresso drinks, fruit smoothies, full catering, cold beverages and good vibes all over.
(above) Cat,Chelsea,Jay,Jenna and Dan(ALO) with Estelle,Melissa and Steve (ALO)
A lot of our friends were playing and working the gig, so it was nice to catch up and exchange greetings with the members of ALO, Matt Costa and his manager Chris Fenn and others whom are just great people to be around. Not since my 2007 Brazil tour had this many of us been together at one gig. We also finally got to meet Dan’s(ALO) and Jenna’s beautiful new baby who was sporting some groovy pink ear muffs to protect her freshly formed ear drums.
The main headliner of the festival was Jack Johnson. I have been a fan of Jack’s music and surf films for years and many of my painted brushstrokes have danced to his tunes in my studio. While backstage talking to my bud Zach Gill, who is Jack’s keyboardist and a front man for ALO, Zach interrupted to introduce Jack to me.
“Hey Jack”, Zach said. “This is my friend Jay, he’s that artist I told you about who painted that picture of Donavon and me”… Without hesitation Jack reached out his hand to me as we exchanged casual greetings. Jack said to me something like, “Oh yeah, I know your work, you do those cool elongated surf paintings, it’s cool stuff, I like your work”.
I am not even going to attempt to pretend that wasn’t surreal for me to hear. It was….very. It’s always really an honor when someone whom you respect so much creatively and spiritually shares a mutual admiration.
The rest of the backstage pre-gaming was also super fun. At one point Donavon handed me one of his guitars he was about to play on stage and asked me to doodle something about Byron Bay on it. I dug around my backpack and found a thin marker and managed to do some quick improv-tagging up on it. I wasn’t prepared with the proper art supplies, but when the mustache talks, it’s hard to say no
After getting talked into going up on stage and throwing out hundreds of stick-on mustaches, Donavon and band went on stage with roars of applause and screams. From the first thump of the bass and the first guitar riff strummed, everyone sang every word.
In typical Donavon fashion at the end of their set he called upon a couple drunken fans to sing to the crowd favorite, “If It Don’t Matter” and following their encore, Donavon threw out in the audience the guitar that a couple hours previously I had sketched on. During the show, I was moving around the stage behind them in ninja-stealth-mode to get some cool shots and videos.
Jack is like the new “Elvis” down in Oz. Every surf shop and cafe seemed to have “Bubbly Toes” or “Flake” playing in the background. So needless to say, when it was Jack’s turn on stage, the thousands of onlookers went freakin’ nuts. Even if Jack’s voice was muted, you’d hear every lyric from the thousands of singing Aussies under the tents. We watched from side stage, as close as you could possibly be without being in the band.
As the show continued, Donavon, Dan Lebowitz of ALO and John Cruz all took turns on stage jamming with Jack. Looking around from side stage was a magical scene of friendship, fun and happiness. Musicians intermingling and singing along, photos of Jack and his family lined the inside of their guitar cases. One could witness conversations between crew and staff who have been there and done this way many times before. This was a moment when you realize that despite the politics of the music industry, everyone here just loves music for the right reasons and really likes each other a bunch.
After the Gig
After the madness of the festival subsided, it was time to figure out what the rest of our days in Australia were to be like. Did I forget to mention that we had traveled here with no real set accommodations? Yeah, we winged it the rest of the trip. Upon hearing of our lack of lodging, Donavon invited us to crash at his hotel in Burleigh Heads, a bit north of Byron on the Gold Coast.
Eight of us in total, crammed in his 2 bedroom hotel room. Beds,couches,floors…people everywhere alongside empty cases of beer and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the balcony. Hotel room jams, 80’s video countdowns on the TV, luggage and clothes where I could have sworn I saw the floor the day earlier. I don’t know a lot of “rock stars” that would give up their privacy and space as willingly as this, but for the record, this group of musicians and friends are the ‘real deal’, as generous and kind as humans can be.
(Above) Matt Grundy rocks out in the hotel
5am…..A figure with the silhouetted bristly mustache hairs in the doorway peaks his head in the room that Eric,Cat,Chelsea and I were staying in like college-roommates. I vaguely hear in my half-conscious state, “Guys…wake up…Dawn patrol…Dudes…Wake up….” And thus was the way we started the next few days.
First stop coffee…Lots of coffee…Next stop, cruise down to Kirra, Duranbah and the other epic Gold Coast surf breaks that I’ve only seen photos of before this journey. It was dreamlike. Maybe because I was still sleeping…maybe partly because years before this, like many of you I was just a fan of Donny’s surfing and music and now I’m one of the knuckleheads in the circus. Our morning drives felt like college roadtrips I’d been on. A bunch of tired, smelly dudes making fart jokes and ragging on each other. Whatever, no need to question it further, it was just fun.
(above: Eric,Donavon,Jay and Tito at D-bah)
Donavon, being the pro-surfing legend he is was on a mission to get some video footage and we were along for the ride. Eric and I paddled out with him as Pete swam around or shot video from the beach. The current was so strong at Kirra that it felt like I was going to end up in New Zealand soon. It’s a good thing I make a living off of my art because the waves showed me who’s boss.
Going back to Byron, to Byron, to Byron…
Eric and Cat and us went off on our own the last two days of our trip. We wanted to explore the town of Byron Bay, now that the festival had split. We found a nice place and scoped out the town. I was really impressed with the laid back atmosphere and earthy-people.
The next day we met up again with Neil and Will at Broken Head Reserve, a gorgeous local beach just up the coast from the Bay. Eric, Will and I paddled out and had a fun sesh’ in some sloppy surf and chatted with Neil on the beach afterwards about his upcoming China tour.
(above) Jay and Eric in between surfs
I remember imagining as a young kid what it would be like on the other side of the world. I’d wonder how different everything was. As a fairly well traveled man now, I try and focus on what makes us similar. No matter how far from each other we are. No matter the levels of fame. We are all just people, we are one…One love.