There are plenty of things Bobbo Byrnes is grateful to have back in his life after two months touring abroad in Europe. He's glad to be back in the OC music scene, reunited with his wife and band mate Tracy Byrnes of Fallen Stars, and to write new music inspired by his travels. But let's keep it real: He's mostly happy to be back in a place with decent Mexican food.
"Man, I really missed the Mexican food," Byrnes says. "I had some, well, they called them nachos at an Irish restaurant on the Baltic Sea. And it was basically just chips with salsa on top, and it was the sweetest salsa I've ever had. . . . It was, like, cherry-flavored. It was terrible."
Of course, the tour was the adventure of a lifetime for the local singer/songwriter. Years of writing songs for Fallen Stars (dubbed the Best Live Band in OC by the Weekly in 2015) made him anxious to take a slightly different path, one that would allow him an outlet for songs he'd written in his spare time that highlight his search for an identity in a haze of endless adventures, gigging and soul searching. Eventually, those tunes helped to launch a tour throughout Europe this summer set up by Songs & Whispers, the German label Byrnes is currently signed to. "To say there was a grand plan . . . there really wasn't," Byrnes says. "It was all an opportunity to play shows and sell CDs with just my name on it. Sometimes, it's easier to make decisions when it's just one person instead of a committee."
Byrnes booked 65 shows in 70 days, playing everywhere from mid-sized festivals to tiny pubs as he bounced from the U.K. to Germany to France. He even performed for a bunch of elementary-school-aged refugee kids in Germany and taught them the words to some Woody Guthrie songs.
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Though the crowds may have been different from one show to the next, Byrnes says there was a common factor in how polite and attentive everyone was in the audience, even when he decided to bust out some obscure cover songs. "I was playing a gig after a soccer game at this pub, and I did a Roxy Music song called 'Virginia Plain,' a weird song from 1972," he recalls. "I play that in OC, and it goes over like a fart 'cause nobody knows the song at all. And I play it in the U.K., and people were into it and ready to listen to more of my stuff. . . . And German audiences are so polite; they really listen to songs. When you play, it's dead silent."
Though he was thousands of miles from home, Byrnes' wife was able to visit and play Fallen Stars gigs; even his mom showed up for the last leg of his tour. "It's not normal to spend so much time with your mom as a grown-up," he says, "but it was cool because I got to show her Europe through my eyes . . . and spray some graffiti on the Berlin Wall." (To clarify, it was nothing gang-related, but rather a sweet message to Byrnes' deceased father.)
Now Stateside, Byrnes says he has already planned his next trip to Europe. As his songwriting continues to evolve, being a citizen of the world is becoming an identity that feels most like home. Life abroad has given him a broader perspective of what it means to stake his own claim in the world. "I've been struggling a lot with the idea of hometowns," Byrnes says. "I call Orange County home now, but I grew up on the East Coast. You go back and visit these places you think you're from. I've been questioning the idea of what it means to be from somewhere. I don't have the answer yet; I'm still trying to figure it out."
Bobbo Byrnes performs tonight at Beatnik Bandito as The Fallen Stars along with Young Valley and Mario Rojas, 8-11 pm. For full details click here. He's also performing at Can't Stop the Serenity Orange County (a Firefly-themed show benefiting Equality Now) at AMC Classic Woodbridge Movies, 4626 Barranca Pkwy., Irvine; www.cantstoptheserenity.com. Sept. 17, 2:15 p.m. All ages.