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Roller Coaster of a Time Over the Days and Nights in Paris at the Open Mics and Gigs

January 12, 2015

Paris Skyline

Paris Skyline

PARIS – For once I don’t feel any sense of guilt about writing about several days’ worth of open mics in Paris on a single day, having saved them up or been too lazy about writing after each one. In fact, as everyone in the world – or a lot of the peopleulation – knows, there have been unprecedented horrendous events happening in Paris since last Wednesday.

I put up a blog post on Thursday talking about how life goes on. But actually, I had no idea about how the terrorism would also go on, and how then the whole world – seemingly – would meet in the streets of Paris to march for peace. During that period, Thursday night, Friday night, Sunday night, I nevertheless went to gigs, open mics and other musical meetings, in what amounted to a roller coaster of a ride through the emotions, both musical and otherwise.

We were still shell-shocked when on Thursday night we went to eat in the Barbes area of Paris, the highly Muslim-populated part of town, in a great cheap local restaurant serving mostly maghreb-type food. And then I ended up being even more shell-shocked when at the open mic of the Barbara Center, Fleury Goutte d-Or cultural center right next to the restaurant I learned that a whole lot of musicians and other people had elected to not go out, for fear of the terrorism.

So it was that we passed a quiet, but wonderful time at this bi-monthly open mic called, FGOpen Stage, which exists not only to show off the talent of the musicians who are being aided and helped to grow through the Barbara center FGO itself, but also open to any musicians who wish to show up and play. The sound system is fabulous, the warm of the room in the lobby of this Paris-city financed cultural center, is a great professional-feeling place to get up on stage, which I did at the last minute after actually showing up to watch a friend’s featured act.

Behind the stage was a backdrop of “Je Suis Charlie” signs written in various languages. This was the night when the idiots who ran amok with machine guns were still running amok. The feeling was that it was probably all finished, and that either the idiots would escape the country, or they would be ambushed or they would get captured and put in prison for two or three years before being released for reasons no one could imagine.

The evening ended with a burlesque class putting on a quick burlesque show – which was fun and took the mind off the moment for the first time that day!

And Then off to the Concert at Jam at the Petit Balcon

Then on Friday, all hell broke loose. The idiots were spotted at a factory near the Roissy airport and then a third idiot, who had killed a cop the previous day, suddenly took a bunch of hostages at a Jewish food market and threatened to kill everyone if his friends at the factory were killed. This led to general chaos in Paris, and in truth, around the world the repercussions were being felt.

But the idiots decided on a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid kind of end to their charge, by running out firing into the bullets of the law, at the factory. And simultaneously, the idiot at the food store ran into the oncoming bullets of the special forces at the door of the food store. But not before he had taken four more victims. It is worth noting just how idiotic these people were and how uncoordinated, as the idiots at the factory had told the factory owner to leave that morning as “we do not kill civilians.” But then the idiot at the food store actually killed four civilians – because they he obviously considered that as Jews, they were NOT civilians. Whatever.

So that set the scene for Friday night: Do you stay inside and absorb the shock of this horrendous nightmare, or do you go to a friend’s gig? My feeling was that it was precisely the moment when it was time for everyone to go out into the streets of Paris and live as usual, and NOT let the so-called “terrorists” win their battle to terrorize the city.

So it was that I went to the Petit Balcon to watch Raphaëlle Pessoa’s show, during which she exchanged musical moments also with Insu, and she sang along to the humming sax of Stephen Saxo. The number of potential spectators had been greatly decimated by last-minute decisions not to attend thanks to the terrorism, but all in all it was a great antidote to the terror. And it all turned into a fabulous jam at the end of the evening, within which I decided to play some songs both solo and with Stephen Saxo and Insu. A memorable evening in a fabulous musical bar.

The March Through Paris, and the Café Oz at Denfert

So after a day on Saturday pulling thoughts, spirits and perspective together about the massacre that had just taken place over the previous days, and about how quickly civilization can break down into barbary, Sunday was the day of the great march through the streets of Paris by people who all came together from around the world – including 40 leaders from 40 countries – to demonstrate their solidarity with France in this time of tragedy.

I took that opportunity to stay at home and watch it all on television and achieve a few creative things in my life that I never seem to have time for – like doing my laundry – and basically had a great birds’ eye view of the whole thing throughout the day thanks to BFM television. At the end of the day, it was off to the Café Oz open mic at the Denfert RER station.

Here there were fewer musicians than usual as well, and fewer people in the audience, but there were just enough for everyone to do long sets and feel really relaxed, and feel like taking a step towards normal life – and I realized while singing one of my cover songs, just how appropriate it was for the events since Wednesday: “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty. It could have been an anthem for Paris as strong as “I am Charlie.”

Hoping that’s the end of that chapter of human history, I sign off….

Paris on Monday and Tuesday, at the Open Mics

January 8, 2015

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo

PARIS – Woke up yesterday with the horrendous news that the entire world is trying to absorb: How three deranged idiots could go and kill 12 people at a newspaper because they don’t like the newspaper’s art. Five public figures, five brilliant, fun and life-affirming artists among the dead at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, as well as a couple of policemen who were clearly not as well-armed as the deranged guys. So it was that I did not much feel like writing my insignificant blog yesterday of my insignificant visits to open mics on Monday and Tuesday in this same city of Paris.

But since life does go on, I am going to put up my usual collection of videos and a few words about the evenings: Monday was the Galaway and the Coolin, like the previous week. Oh, wait, I also dropped into the Tennessee Bar open mic, which was long one of the best in Paris. I have no idea what has happened to it at the moment, but it seems to be floating in a netherworld of insignificance as no one seems to be running it, but the stage seems to be occupied by musicians as they feel fit to take to it.

I was so depressed by the lack of atmosphere that I immediately moved on to the Galway and had a nice dose of what I expect from this mainstay of Paris, which never ceases to try to improve and expand the open mic show. Catch the TV screen to the left of the performers showing performers at the open mic in the past throughout the evening. Neat idea. And now there are calling cards that seem to offer happy hour drink rates or something like that – I’ll have to confirm what the meaning of that is during another visit!

The Coolin was cool again, and yet it was so low on musicians on Monday night after New Years that I still managed to get a couple of songs behind the mic despite arriving around 11:30 p.m. Although I’ve had some of my best moments in the raging madness of the Coolin when it is full of people and I can belt out a crowd-pleaser, some of my warmest moments are like those of Monday, when there are few people, and you can sing quiet songs to a quiet crowd. And on Monday, there was the pleasure of discovering the interesting Melanie Horsnell, an Australian singer songwriter of international stature.

Tuesday was off to the Baroc again, and there I found a slightly more quiet night than usual as well. But it was fun. We couldn’t know that it was the calm before the storm.

Two Nights, 3 Open Mics – or Almost – in Paris

December 31, 2014

Outside the Coolin

Outside the Coolin

PARIS – Monday night was the first time I did an open mic “crawl” in Paris for a long time, on a route I used to take all the time: First the Galway, then the Coolin. The latter was the place I had not been to for the longest time, and I did not regret returning at all!

In fact, I always loved the Coolin, but for one reason or another, I haven’t been since around the beginning of the year; or was it just the summer??? If I possibly can, I’ll have to return more often in the coming months because the Coolin is closing down on 22 March. Apple is buying the whole block of the location of this fabulous Irish pub, the block being the former St. Germain Market, and for years converted into kind of shopping area full of different boutiques. Apple is buying the whole thing, if I understand correctly, to make a humongous Apple Store – as if we need another in Paris. But I may be wrong on the intentions….

The intentions of the two open mics, though, are clear: Celebrate music, give anyone a chance, play a few songs, and drink too much. I did them all, and don’t regret it. Both of the open mics were in full-swing when I arrived a little late at each one, but both made room for me to play some songs. It was pure pleasure playing at both places, but I found a particularly hot audience at the Coolin, and so I played to them the stuff I felt they wanted. (Cover songs: “Mad World,” “What’s Up!” and “Wicked Game.”) Judging by the amazingly warm response (and call for an encore after “What’s Up!,” when I was supposed to pass on the mic to someone else!).

Back to the Café Oz Blanche on Tuesday, and Another Full House

So it was off to the great and successful open mic at the Café Oz on Tuesday. The only problem with arriving there while it was already in full-swing just shortly after 9 P.M. is that this open mic is such a success now that if you get there even by 9 P.M., you are not likely to play before 1 A.M., and even then you’ll probably get only one song! Such is the cost of success – get there early. s

Ultimately, I got fed up after two pints, and despite enjoying a lot of the music, I decided to move on and not play – so for this blog, it has to be considered as a “sort of” open mic experience. But it was good, and I’ll return again – earlier next time….

Finding Warmth in the Cold Night at the Café Oz Denfert Open Mic

December 29, 2014

Café Oz Paris

Café Oz Paris

PARIS – Winter finally came to Paris, the temperature was below zero – or certainly felt like it! – and on a Sunday night I could not imagine finding life, warmth or music in any of the open mics.

It turned out I found all three and more at the Café Oz Denfert open mic, finding myself not only surrounded by musicians at this great relatively new open mic – with the former MC from the Tennessee Bar, James Iansiti – but also finding a very big audience of spectators and imbibers all coming in from the cold to take in the music and drink some warming alcohol.

There were a few surprises amongst the musicians, including one whose really cool songs I have written about in years past, but who dislikes having videos put up on my site, so I won’t say anything more on that. But there were some regulars as well, like the fabulous Alvaro, who turned his set into a jam, as well as at least one person who came without musicians but managed to band them all together for a few popular and well-received songs….

I played around five or six songs, mostly covers, and then left as quickly as I arrived, back into the cold. Cold. Cold.

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Paris

December 26, 2014

Paris Skyline

Paris Skyline

My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.

This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Paris since I first started.

Facing the Face – Finally – and Chanting the Chansonniers (again)

December 21, 2014

Face Bar

Face Bar

PARIS – I have had a week of many open mics and little gigs, even if I have not much been present on this blog for another reason (the editing of a teaser that has sucked up all of my free time). But while I will not write about all the little gigs and shows and open mics that I attended, I do want to mention two that I did on Wednesday night.

I had heard of the very occasional open mic at the Face Bar on the Rue des Archives for what feels like at least a year, but I was never free and in Paris at the same time as the open mic. So I never attended. But on Wednesday evening, I had the time and was in the right place – Paris.

The Face is a tiny little bar that reminds me in some ways of what I think the Shebeen bar must have been like in its days as the wildest open mic in Paris in the middle and second half of last decade. And as it turns out, The Face open mic is run by a regular musician at the Shebeen and features others who go back to that period – or at least one other last Wednesday.

It is a free-for-all open mic with no list, and a pretty average sound system at the back of the room blocking entry to the toilets. So as you play, you get to move aside occasionally for the movement of clients going to the toilet…which is charming in its way!

The atmosphere is really cool and laid back, and it’s particularly “rock ‘n roll,” as was the Shebeen. It is run by Paul Hazan, who now has a band called Electric Discharge Machine, and was previously in Mister Soap and the Smiling Tomatoes. I’ve always been a fan of Paul’s raspy-voiced singing and the songs that sound like mid-1960s garage rock, and are strong on melody.

Unfortunately I missed Paul’s singing on Wednesday, and as it turned out, after I played several songs and listened to a couple of other performers, I decided to run off from the Marais to the once-per-month Chansonnier open mic in Menilmontant. There it was much more quiet and laid-back, and having lost its regular MC the open mic at this small hotel – in the lobby – has a completely different feel to it, and a completely different kind of “free-for-all.”

But the important thing was having fun singing, and that I did.

So that was my pretty short and insignificant blog post of the day – and unfortunately the week… but I’m hoping to show off that teaser at some point soon….

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