Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Update of Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music

October 25, 2016

Guitar baggage claim in Austin Bergstrom International Airport

Guitar baggage claim in Austin Bergstrom International Airport

I have updated my Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. I have not actually added any new venues, but I have updated ones that have either moved to a new day and location, or I have finally attended at the usual location, after they had temporarily moved to a new place on my last visits.

The big discovery was the new location (and day) for the Austin Songwriters Group’s open mic, on Monday’s at the legendary Threadgill’s off South Congress by the river in the center of town. I still have yet to do my blog write up about that one, as well as my visit to Speakeasy last night after the ASG event. (Two in one night.) But as I had a few minutes free in the airport before I fly to Atlanta and then Mexico City, I decided to update the guide.

So take a visit to my Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

So check it out!

Breath-Holding Moment: From Japan to Paris to Milan to Austin, and from TAC Theater to Ligera to Stay Gold to the White Horse to Dozen Street

October 21, 2016

Tac Teatro

TAC Teatro

AUSTIN, Texas – In the last week and a half I have travelled from Japan to Paris (leaving out Dubai) to Milan and then back to Paris and then to Austin (leaving out Atlanta) and here I am in the sun in Texas after two musical nights with my friend from Paris who used to run the amazing Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic…. Wait, let me backtrack. That’s the problem with these blog posts that cover a week and a half!!!!

So it all started off with the return from Japan, and a couple of nights Paris before I took a train to Milan to visit a friend. And there, two fabulous cultural experiences, one in the really cool TAC Teatro, founded and run by the amazing Ornella Bonventre, whom I met on my last trip to Milan in early September, and while I visited the Spazio Ligera! I wrote a big story about that fabulous night at Ligera, but had no idea it would lead to another visit, and the experience at the TAC Teatro, which is now located right next-door to Ligera.
Improv group at TAC Teatro

Last week, at the new location of TAC I arrived just in time to see the presentation of the teachers of the TAC of their upcoming year of instruction in the theater arts at TAC. There was a fabulous and fun improvisation group, that teaches improvisation, and which put on a small show that I caught bits of in video. Anyway, I’ll probably write more about TAC in the future, suffice it to say that probably this all-purpose theater is best summed up in the name, which is short for Teatro a Chiamata, which basically has to do with the “calling” of the theater. For Ornella, theater is not just about a stage and actors facing an audience; for her the stage, the actors and the audience are all one. And the brief look I had at TAC confirms that concept.
A Dario Fo moment at Ligera

After the evening of presentation of the upcoming courses, some of us went across the street and visited Ligera again. I had not been back since early September, and despite feeling quite wiped out, fatigued from a cold, I had my guitar with me, and although I didn’t really feel like playing, and the evening was more about drinking, carousing, and talking, suddenly, someone pulled out a guitar, and suddenly, there was again an ambience of music in the Spazio Ligera. A “pop-up jam session” dare I call it? It became absolutely impossible to refuse the idea of playing.
More of jam at Ligera in Milan

And this, by the way was the day after the death of Dario Fo, the Nobel Prize winning Italian dramatist, and the same day after the winning of the Nobel Prize by Bob Dylan. So after some of the people in the bar – including one of the owners – played a tribute to Dario Fo, it seemed normal, or inevitable, that I would play a Dylan song…. And that was the beginning of many more songs, and much more fun. I absolutely love the Spazio Ligera.
Another moment of the improv group at TAC Teatro

And then back to Paris before flying off to Austin and the meeting with Sundown

I took a train from Milan back to Paris, packed, then caught a very early morning flight to Atlanta and from there on to Austin, and no sooner had I got my rental car on Wednesday night than I drove off to meet up with my friend Ollie Joe Yaco of Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of “Some Girls” open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of Sundown fame all over the world. I’m referring to the guy who I have mentioned for years on this blog, who ran those open mics, and who now has his band called Sundown. It turned out that Ollie was in Austin travelling around on what seems like his once or twice a year visit to the U.S. for playing music in some great cities like Austin and L.A.
First at Stay Gold

I think I had just missed him in Austin last year, so I was determined not miss him this year. He was doing a gig at a place in the east end of town, called Stay Gold. So I showed up for that, and from there he led me off to a very cool bar called the White Horse, which could not sound more British, or be more Austin-like. More on that place later, I think, but hearing and seeing Ollie playing his music in Austin was a fabulous moment – although in fact I arrived too late on Wednesday to catch his set.
Second at Stay Gold

But that was fixed by him inviting me to his next gig, at a place on East 12th Street, called Dozen Street, last night. In fact, Ollie got the stage for himself last night, and decided in his typical way to share it with friends. So it was that he did a nice set with both solo stuff, and guy on the spoons, and then the French barman at the Dozen Street bar, who played lead guitar for him. I played a short set, and two fabulous women singer songwriters played sets as well. Those the completely opposite style performers Alison Gail Self and Cari Q.
Four handed piano moment at the White Horse in Austin

The Dozen Street bar has existed for about two years, and it is one of the many long, long bars with a back stage and a back courtyard of a type I’ve seen spotted all about Austin. The evening finished off with another band that had nothing to do with the rest of us, and which went on until quite late, I think. Very cool, all together, very very cool. A kind of evening that really makes you realize just how unique and cool Austin is musically. This kind of thing is just going on all over the city. It can take a while to find the hot spots, in fact, but once you do, you realize they are all over the place.
Sundown and spoons

Sundown and spoons and lead

Sundown solo

duet with ollie sundown at Dozen Street

fourth at dozen street

Third at dozen street

Group at Dozen street

The Opposite of A Laid Back Night at the Plastic Factory in Nagoya – and NOT to Have Been Missed!

October 9, 2016

plastic factory night club in Nagoya, Japan

plastic factory night club in Nagoya, Japan

NAGOYA, Japan – And then came one of those dream nights as I love them: A combination of a fabulous stage, a fabulous sound system, a fabulous crowd, a bunch of fabulous “other” musicians, and lots of fabulous people to talk to! That describes in a (fabulous) nutshell the evening I spent at the Plastic Factory last night in Nagoya. Any regular readers of this blog will know that I have been going to the Plastic Factory annually for a few years now, but I have to say I think that was one of the top two times I spent at this very cool, in-place in Imaike, owned and run by the fabulous Heinz Senn, of Switzerland.

I had to stay late at the racetrack, interview lots of people, pack in a few stories and organize my racing life. So I figured that I would not have the time to make it to the Plastic Factory, where Heinz told me that I was welcome to come, and maybe even if those who had booked the night allowed it, I would be able to play some songs. “Those” people being a group of musicians who meet at the Plastic Factory once a week, or once a month, or once in a while, to play a kind of open mic that actually consists of each of the musicians taking the stage for two or three songs and then handing it on to the next musician….
first at plastic factory

And so on until the early hours of the morning. And so it went last night, with a nice mix of expat musicians and some Japanese people in the crowd, and the wonderful Japanese harmonica player who accompanied me on “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” of Bob Dylan, and with some other musicians.
fourth at plastic factory

In any case, I had the most amazing time, and I was so glad that once again I proved to myself that I must never take “no” for an answer to myself. I realized as I got to the Nagoya station from the Shiroko station – near Suzuka – that if I ate a horrendous fast-food meal in the Nagoya station, and if I did not go back to my hotel to pick up my guitar, then I would make it to the Plastic Factory easily in time to see much of the show – and maybe even play.
second at plastic factory

And that’s what happened. The Plastic Factory is a fabulous venue with, as I said, a great stage and sound system, and on the first floor a space that is used sometimes as a gallery, sometimes for other things, and all together, it is a great meeting place for like-minded individuals looking for…great music, fun and chat.
third at plastic factory

What can I say. Just check it out. And check out the videos on this page to see the variety of musicians! They call their group, I believe – writing this from memory – “The Good ‘Ole Boys.” And indeed they were.

PS, and I almost forgot to mention! On the last weekend of the month, or something like that, they also have a real bona fide open mic at the Plastic Factory. So when in town and looking for an experience, or a place to play, check out the Plastic Factory.

Laid Back Night at the R&B Melrose in Nagoya – Edition 8, for Me

October 7, 2016

R&B Melrose, Nagoya

R&B Melrose, Nagoya

NAGOYA, Japan – I realized last night that it was the eighth time I have played at the R&B Melrose permanent open mic in Nagoya, last night, and I will gladly return again. Later, today, I found I must have missed another open mic that I have never done before, but somehow the thought of checking Facebook never occurred to me. But little does that matter aside from the area of big experiences of life events…. The R&B Melrose is a jamming bar hors paire….
fourth at the R&B Melrose

It is in the cellar room of a place in downtown Nagoya, with a fabulous little stage, the wonderful couple who run the place, and piano, drum set, acoustic and electric guitars, the Marshall amps, and the regular flow of Japanese musicians.
Third at R&B Melrose in Nagoya

I was feeling kind of tired last night, thanks to the ongoing tale of jet lag, and I ate a meal of a pizza and wine at a bar not so far from the R&B Melrose, and I was almost ready to go directly back to my hotel and flop over into bed. But I could not resist aother visit.
second at r&B melrose

And so I went, found several musicians there, even though it was not advertised as an open mic night, and I got to go up and play several times, the most fun being when I got to play with the 1973 Martin of one of the musicians – it reinforced my faith in Martin guitars…but from 1973….
first at the R&B Melrose

I suddenly had a real feeling of the kind that I look for all around the world of sharing a bit of real life in another country far from my own with people doing what they do all the time, with no consciousness of the same thing happening elsewhere in the world, with no consciousness of the thing that draws me to this part of the world, with full consciousness of living their life rituals, into which I dip momentarily.

I returned back to my hotel, found that the evening had given me enough energy to go out for a nighttime jog, and then I slept soundly for 10 hours! Welcome back to Japan, Nagoya and the Live House, jamming bar, permanent open mic of the R&B Melrose….

A Last Night in Kuala Lumpur at the Fabulous Lorong BlackBox – and Just My Luck in the KL Taxi Saga and the Internet Sweepstakes

October 4, 2016

lorong-blackboxKUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Just my luck. I was all excited about how I have a 27-minute ride on the KLIA Express train from downtown KL to the airport before boarding my flight to Osaka, Japan, and that I could use the KLIA Express train’s wifi in order to write and post this final post from Malaysia. The wifi on the train is just fabulous and never ever let me down. Until now. Suddenly, for the first time on this trip, and possibly on any trip for me to KL, the internet wifi connection is not working on the KLIA Express. I might as well have taken a taxi! Wait, no, not that! That takes me full circle back to “Just my luck!”

I’m writing this in a Word file that I will post at the airport – either KLIA or Osaka, which ever delivers wifi first – and my reference to “just my luck,” has to do with the taxi drivers of KL. As I arrived about 45 minutes late last night for my evening at Lorong BlackBox, the new food and music emporium of my friend Atraz Ismail, and I complained to him about the horrendous taxi ride I had to his place in Shah Alam, which is located about 45 minutes from downtown KL but took me around 1 hour 25 minutes to get there, he reminded me that I have a long history of terrible experiences with taxis in KL!!

Syahidil Aizat at Lorong BlackBox in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

It is true. They ask if I have GPS because they don’t. They ask if I know where I’m going, because they don’t. They stop to buy GPS refills on their phones, since without it we end up in Thailand. They then fail to understand how to follow the blue line of the GPS on the road and end up taking the same 10-minute stoplight twice because they made a wrong turn…. Don’t get me started.

Another Syahidil Aizat at Lorong BlackBox in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Suffice it to say that as often as I have been let down by taxis in KL, I have been blessed with fabulous evenings at Atraz’s ventures. That started five years ago at his place called Senyap – which means silence in Malay – and it continued this weekend with his new food joint – that I mention a couple days ago – called Lorong BlackBox.

Atraz at Lorong BlackBox in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Located in the small back room of a bigger food emporium in a commercial area in Shah Alam, where you have offices, restaurants, markets, and other commercial entities, Atraz not only serves wicked local spicy dishes from his truck kitchen (and the outdoor barbecue-like wok-like kitchen – but he also continues his passion for music, especially young and upcoming talent.

He only opened this place around three weeks ago, and he plans to put on an open mic, maybe a festival or other concerts, and generally liven up the back alley in which the BlackBox is located. Last night, he invited me to do a mini gig and jam, and he played some tunes too – first time I ever heard his music! – and he had a special guest in the fabulously talented and original singer songwriter Syahidil Aizat, who is also a member of a band, the CD of which I was given and will be giving a listen to as soon as I have a CD player. But if it sounds anything like the originality and sensitivity of Syahidil, it’s sure to be a treat.

I’ll write about it in a future edition of my morning exercise listening. For the moment, suffice it to say that I learned my lesson once and for all about taxis in KL. Atraz and his friends ordered me up an Uber, and despite the driver having to stop to figure out how to use his program on his phone to set the charging in motion, we spent half as much time and a third as much money getting back to my hotel as with the taxi on the way there.

It was a revelation in more ways than one, then, last night at the Lorong BlackBox.

Now off to Nagoya, where I never take any taxis – oh, except from the circuit to the train station in Shiroko. But that’s another story.

PS, So, I managed to find an internet connection at the airport, after nearly one hour of trying – first at the airport free system, which was out of reach for the restaurant where I am eating, called the Dome, and then in the Dome system, which is too slow and did not allow WordPress to work, and then in the Starbucks next-door, which took all of my personal information as it baited me into a connection before it then said that I had to ask for a wifi code at the counter!!!!!

4 Nights in Kuala Lumpur, 3 Performances, Lots of Heat, Humidity and Jet Lag – But One of the Most Interesting Places Musically on Earth

October 2, 2016

Kuala Lumpur Skyline

Kuala Lumpur Skyline

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – I am never let down by my trips to Malaysia, and despite being hit from every which side from the jet lag on this trip so far, and despite very little planning in advance, KL has again proven to be one of my favorite destinations on my worldwide musical journey. I decided to pass up on any idea of a musical joint on Wednesday night, but I then ended up playing in three completely different venues on the following three nights, and hung out at a fourth – one of the most interesting – without playing.
Shaneil and band at Timbre open mic in KL

I have always been amazed at the level of talent of the musicians in this country, and what’s really freaky too is that while I am so used to travelling the world and hearing people for whom English is not their native language singing and composing in English, here you might THINK it is not their native language, but English IS one of the main languages spoken in Malaysia. This comes, no doubt, from something like colonization, but despite the presence of so many other languages – notably Malay – I hear almost exclusively English being spoken in KL, the capital city.
first at Timbre

And that means that when people sing and compose in English here, it is not just in order to try to achieve some illusion of worldwide success – it is to express themselves. So it works. Furthermore, this is a country full of fantastic, velvety singing voices. I have no idea why. But who cares.
second at Timbre

Heading out to Shah Alam for the Lorong BlackBox

My first stop was at the new venue of Atraz Ismail in Shah Alam, which is about 45 minutes drive from downtown. This is a combination of a street food vending operation along with a small back of the room, tastefully decorated dining and music playing area called, “Lorong BlackBox.” Atraz is the man behind that place where I had such an amazing time five years ago, called SENYAP – which means “silence” – and which burned down a few years ago, causing Atraz to forget about such ventures for a while.
third at timbre

Thursday was not an official musical evening at Lorong BlackBox, but I had my guitar with me, so I was invited to sign few songs for Atraz and his cooks and whoever else happened to be there. I ate a magnificent rice meal and played my heart out. I wish him great luck in the future with this place, and its location in a back alley in this interesting conglomeration of restaurants and boutiques – reminiscent somehow of images I’ve seen of New Orleans (I’ve never been there!) – promises some cool stuff, like a kind of music festival Atraz plans for the back alley and is currently seeking permission for.
sixth at timbre

Another Open Mic at the Merdekarya Hang Out Venue

Friday it was off to the open mic night of the venue that I have not missed for several years now, where I attended one of the best open mic nights I have ever attended anywhere, a few years ago. That is Merdekarya, which is also located fairly far outside KL – although only around 20 minutes’ drive this time – and is also located in a funky food stall kind of area, on the floor over a neat Asian semi-outdoor restaurant. They hold an open mic several times a week and you can sign up on the Merdekarya web site for an open mic slot well in advance.
Merdekarya panorama

The open mic this time was not quite the dream it was on that first dream-like evening I spent there, but I enjoyed visiting Merdekarya again, of course, as it has such a feeling of a “scene” surrounding it, and indeed, it DOES have a scene. It’s not only the favorite open mic venue of many young musicians in KL, it is also their favorite hangout. One of those people is Sheneil Devaser, who was there on Friday night and who runs several open mics around KL. He invited me to attend his new Saturday night open mic at Timbre, in the center of KL, despite his list already being full.
trombone at merdekarya

Finally, it was on to the Open Mic at the Timbre

But before I turn to Timbre, I have to mention that I met up with Andy Peterson, who is one of the world’s greatest bass guitar players – in my, and many other peoples’ opinions – at Merdekarya. Andy is Malaysian, but he travels the world playing bass in both the studio and live performances, for a wide variety of musicians and bands, and he has also released his own absolutely fabulous CD of compositions.
second at merdekarya

Andy said he was going off to the Backyard Pub after Merdekarya and asked if I wanted to join him. So I gladly and thankfully agreed, since Backyard is also one of my all-time favorite music destinations in KL. The musical director, Edmund Anthony, has impeccable taste in music, and always has a list of fabulous bands at the venue. Backyard is known as one of the top music venues in the city, and when you hear the level and variety of the music, it’s no surprise. Edmund has lately been staging his own band on Tuesday nights, by the way, and it sounds very original…. We caught up on news, as it had been a few years since I was last there, having spent most of my time in KL attending open mics, rather than listening to other bands – although I did do a set once at the Backyard.

Saturday is was off to Shaneil’s open mic at the Timbre bar and restaurant, which is located in downtown KL, not far from my hotel near the twin towers. It is located on a street that has begun to be a magnet of new bars and restaurants, and Shaneil has started up this open mic that features several musicians playing their singer songwriter stuff before the feature band plays for the rest of the night. Last night, Shaneil’s band also did a nice long set, and that was really rich, and nice to hear a full-fledged rock band with some nice melodies and cool guitar, featuring Shaneil’s strong vocals.

I had a fabulous time singing on that huge stage with a great sound system and a sound man permanently there to adjust the levels. Rich in reverb, I didn’t even need more than a single pint of beer to feel relaxed and safe behind the mic.

A great three nights so rich in experiences that I realize once again how much I like KL and its musicians and its music. Oh yes, and music is so prevalent, I have seen buskers all over, and I even saw some kind of impromptu outdoor music and dance moment just before the open mic at the Timbre – which I made a little video of….

Dancers in the street in KL

PS, I just realized I said nothing about the heat and humidity that I mention in the headline – and little about the jet lag. That just shows that despite this horrendous heat and humidity and jet lag, if you have enough amazing musician moments to distract you, then you don’t notice those things so much….

More Paradise at the Paradis Jam in Paris

September 26, 2016

Le Paradis

Le Paradis

PARIS – After a long summer break – I HATE THOSE THINGS – the open mic and jam session of the Paradis bar in Paris has started again. I attended on Saturday night, and I can say that this place just cannot put a foot wrong. This time, they changed the location of the “stage” area by putting it in front of the door. In the past, they’ve had it at the opposite end of the main room, and before the past, they had it in the middle of the room. It makes no difference: Once this open mic and jam gets going, it really gets going.

Located just a few steps away from the Barbès metro in one of Paris’s seediest areas, the ambience at this bar could not be better for an open mic. There are always good musicians, there is a manager and owner who loves to have the jam, and there are organizers who never let go.
Cool bit o Brice at Jam at Paradis

And the thing can go on so long that it can tire even me out, and I can arrive later, and still get to play. I really like this place. You don’t have the classic stage where you stand in front of the audience, but one of the things that makes this Paradis bar open mic and jam special is that you are in amongst the audience. Standing on the floor, playing the guitar or bass, or drums, or sax, or whatever you like, and you are not “confined” to a music area. Music is everywhere.
first at jam at Paradis

And then you can go outside and chat on the sidewalk out front.
fourth at jam at paradis

Or go in the back room and sit at a table and chat there. But mostly you’ll want to stand inside and listen to the music or take part. Everything from solo stuff to jamming with a bunch of like minded musicians.
funky rap type thing at jam at paradis

And the beer price is good too!!! Designed for poor musicians.
Nice intro we all know at jam at paradis

nother cool bit o brice guitar

Second at jam at Paradis
Third at jam at paradis

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