I think I found out last night why all the music bars have been empty in the new downtown area of Mokpo: The entire population of the city and all its visitors have been congregating down at the waterfront in a music and fun festival surrounding the Formula One race. I made a quick visit to see if there would be any chance of finding a microphone or stage for MY music, and quickly realized it was not possible.
So I headed back to the downtown area – the new downtown as opposed to the old downtown – and made my way to Rose Street, also known as “The Street of the Roses,” where I reported finding some music places yesterday. It was getting late and I’d had Korean barbecues for the last two nights, so I opted for pizza at the “11 A.M. Coffee Shop,” which is just below Moe’s Bar and Grill.
After I ordered the pizza I asked my waiter if he knew of any places I could go and sing and play my guitar and my music. I decided to cash in on his friendliness and his excellent English.
“Oh, just out there,” he said, pointing to the square on the pedestrians-only Street of the Roses that faced the coffee shop. “These guys go out and play there every night at 10 PM. You could go out and join them.”
I was slightly skeptical, and I could not quite believe that some guys would show up at precisely 10 PM to play in the square.
But as I sat down at 10 PM and began reading my MOJO magazine – still stuck in the August issue, though I have the November one too – as I waited for the pizza to cook, the waiter came up to me and said, “Come out here for a second.”
He led me out onto the terrace and pointed out two or three guys sitting on a bench and playing guitars and singing. They had just arrived.
“Great,” I said.
“They play pop music,” said the waiter.
“So do I,” I said.
“Oh, good, I’m really excited to hear you!” said the waiter, and that seemed to seal it for me.
Not to mention that I knew I had an open mic lined up for Monday in Seoul, so I did not want to take the risk of seeing all my time in Mokpo disappear without a little musical interlude of some kind. For the moment I had only managed a few songs each night in my hotel room.
So I ate my pizza, then ordered a cup of ice cream, then went out to the square. A small audience of mostly young women had gathered around the boys on the guitars. There were two guys who played guitar, and another guy who added some vocals and another who mostly watched, but occasionally drummed on the guitar case.
As soon as I entered the square one or two of the guys motioned me over to play, as they saw my guitar on my back. I nodded, took a concrete post as a seat and finished my ice cream while I listened to them.
Ice cream finished, I whipped out my guitar and began playing what would turn into an hour and a half of jamming, singing along, playing together, with Won Jin, Ye Eum, Seo Hyun and MJ. They all looked in their late teens to early 20s. They played some Korean songs, bust mostly the pop standards we hear all over the world, like “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” and all the rest. I played some Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Dylan, Beatles, Lennon, and even a couple of my songs too, and they played along. We exchanged rhythm, lead, harmony and other vocal roles, and basically had a great time.
They all want me to return tonight. “Every night, here, after 10 PM,” said Won Jin, who seemed like the most dominant of them all – and the one I record mostly on the guitar and vocals on this page.
So I may well return there for another jam tonight. After I played last night I returned to Moe’s for a beer, and there I met an American expat English teacher woman from Florida, named Kelly, who told me that she saw these guys all the time. If they are indeed the same ones, she said they are actually professional musicians who play in bars in the old downtown area regularly. But they like coming to the Street of the Roses to play in that square at the end of the night.
I did too. Again, it built up the human dimension of my visit to this country I had huge misgivings about visiting before I came here – stories of a lousy rural area where the race takes place, a long horrible ride down from Seoul, inhospitable this and that – and which I actually now find to be one of my favorite trips this year….