hotel oloffson


The Hotel Oloffson was mind bending. First, because we had fans there. We were eating dinner when two British girls approached us—-“We wanted to see you at Coachella, but we couldn’t get tickets. We’re so happy you’re playing here!” Where’s here? Oh, right—-Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Wait, where?

The Oloffson is a beautiful old Victorian building, with lovely patios and details on the ceilings. Like a lot of buildings in the hot parts of the world, the line between inside and outside feels Escher-esque. Enter the lobby and go up an interior staircase to an outdoor raised bridge to another part of the building that overlooks a open courtyard that is, in fact, the back half of the lobby you were in.

The room that I shared with our manager was icy cold when we walked in-—blaring AC. Surprising—felt like walking into a movie theater in the middle of summer. The attached bathroom, though, was sweltering. Huh. But nice enough.

The show we played that night was weird in how ordinary it felt—-young professionals half dancing and enjoying themselves. People holding up cell phone cameras to post clips online. It was good, fun show, mind you, and it felt good to play in the hot humid air.

The Oloffson is a gathering place for foreigners in Haiti—aid workers, UN folks, tourists. The whole night I was pestered by the feeling that I would be a quirky detail in some future travel memoir of a jaded do-gooder. And I simultaneously felt that these future jaded do-gooders were doomed to be quirky details in some band biography. I guess I read too much.

We were just the openers that night. The world changed when RAM took the stage. In the US or Canada, RAM would feel like niche music, like world music. Good, even great, but classifiable. (Don’t take this as a slight on RAM—they are amazing. They opened our show in Quebec City last summer and they killed it. But it wasn’t their turf. The Oloffson? That’s their turf.) In Haiti, you were too busy dancing to classify. The full PA was blazing loud in the courtyard and lobby. People stood on chairs and tables. The bar was jammed. The temperature went up five degrees, and the humidity went up 20%. Can you have 120% humidity?

The sound was—well, when you play too-loud music outside, the sound just travels out and up and away and disperses to the stars. When you play too loud inside, the sound comes back at you from the walls. Nothing escapes—pretty quickly, the air gets completely saturated with sound. Every conceivable molecule of air is shaking. When the kick drum hits, the air doesn’t move out, it just compresses. You physically feel the waves in the air. And everyone around you does, too. And they’re a little drunk and really happy. It makes for good dancing.

Partway through their set I wandered outside and downhill to the pool. Synth horns blended with the vuvuzela-like Haitian horns. The bass still shook this far away. A group of drunk white kids in their twenties danced and giggled in the darkness. The pool smelled over-chlorinated—-probably a good thing. The air was perfect—-cool, a slight breeze. I was thirsty. Someone jumped into the pool—-“Goddamn it!” somebody else cried. Splashed in the eyes. It was a lot of chlorine.

It was a little too much stimulus for one day. I went upstairs to sort the guitars for tomorrow’s bus ride.

“With its towers and balconies and wooden frame decorations it has the air at night of a Charles Addams house in The New Yorker. You expected a witch to open the door to you or a maniac butler with a bat hanging from a chandelier behind him. But in the sunlight, or when the lights went on among the palms, it seemed fragile and period and pretty and absurd, like an illustration from a book of fairy tales.”