Bill Murray Plays the Acropolis – Report From Greece

A sentence one probably did not expect to see, after first watching Caddyshack or Stripes: Bill Murray performing with a string trio in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens.

Our daughters had some trepidation about seeing a performance starring Murray when we were in Athens recently, they had no early Saturday Night Live history and they weren’t sure how the guy in Groundhog Day would be interesting with strings. But the day before while atop the Acropolis looking down into the Odeon amphitheater they became intrigued.

The highlight of the performance was the Moon River melody leading into Murray’s reading from Huckleberry Finn. But I am getting ahead of the intriguing backstory.

The idea for a program entitled New Worlds originated when Murray and cellist Jan Vogler met and decided to make a project of their mutual love of music and literature. The program showcases American values in both art forms and how American writers, actors and musicians have built bridges between America and Europe. New Worlds was released as an album in 2017, with subsequent performances around the world. The world premiere took place on June 4, 2017 at Germany’s Dresden Festival and the American premiere at the Napa Valley Festival on July 20, 2017.

As Vogler recalled:

On a sunny day in June 2016, Bill sent me a text message saying: “Meet me at Brooklyn bridge, Manhattan side, 5 pm.” When I arrived, I joined Bill and a diverse group of New Yorkers for the annual poetry walk of the Poets House across the Brooklyn Bridge. The poetry walk was beautiful and oddly romantic, with workers and policemen stopping their jobs and joining us in listening to poems being read at the foot of the bridge, with the East River flowing by. The evening’s highlight, however, was Bill’s reading of Walt Whitman. It felt as if the words were suddenly alive and talking to us, ready to be understood in an instinctive way, reaching directly into each of our hearts.

The two began exploring and discovering connections between sterling musical compositions and compelling literature selections. That is what we and a full crowd at the Odeon experienced in the warm summer evening as the moon rose over Athens. The juxtaposition of experiencing the performance where Sophocles’ works had been first performed eons ago was mesmerizing.

The performers blended Murray’s mostly spoken word (and occasional crooning) with eclectic musical selections: Bach and Hemingway, Walt Whitman and James Fenimore Cooper, Stephen Foster, Van Morrison.

Murray got very pumped up (understandably) during a rendition of Tom Waits’ The Piano Has Been Drinking. James Thurber’s If Grant Had Been Drinking At Appomattox was intriguingly accompanied by Ravel’s “Blues” from the 1920’s.

As the evening progressed it was clear that Murray wanted it both ways, fairly straight and loving interpretations but then veering toward the lounge lizard (the latter especially evident during his take on Leonard Bernstein’s I Feel Pretty). Our daughters eventually appreciated the seemingly absurd juxtapositions of the evening.

Regardless, I doubt Nick Winters ever expected this gig was in his future.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.