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“What’s With the Videos?!?!”: The Worst of America, the Best of America

August 12, 2011

Wednesday night at the first open mic in New York that I went to, at Paddy Reilly’s Music Bar, I was recording a performance with my Zoom Q3HD as I always do when I like something. I was sitting at the bar, not moving around, just holding up the camera like it was a cell phone and recording. In the middle of the song, the guitar player/singer guy – there was a woman singing with him too – stopped playing the guitar, stopped singing, and he looked in my direction and said, “I have this guy filming, can you shut that please?”

Here was the second guy to tell me to stop the video:

His tone was of anger and self-righteousness and he made me feel very uncomfortable as I had not been in the bar very long and had not yet had a chance to meet and talk to anyone or even sign my name to the list to play. And before I had a chance to respond he pointed at me and raised his tone more aggressively and repeated in a commanding manner, “Can you shut that please?”

Watch this video till near the end, at the 1 minute 13 seconds point, where he tells me to turn off the camera:

My defenses went up, and I said, “I can….” with the sense of, “I can, but I may not.” And he said, “Would you please,” trying to show how perturbed he was and how wrong and impolite I was. I defended myself as well as I could, shocked as I was at finding myself in a situation I had never been in before, which was embarrassing.

“It’s more important to stop your song and ask me to turn that off???”


How odd, I thought, that the song and his expression of his music to the audience came second to the need to stop in the middle of it and tell me, self-righteously, to turn off my camera.

“You think I’m going to steal your song, or something?” I asked, feeling very much as if I was being embarrassed on purpose.

“Can you just shut it?” he said without answering.

And as soon as I said I could turn it off, he said thanks and then left the stage and said he had finished for the night.

Here was the MC telling me, impolitely, in front of everyone over the microphone that the polite thing is to ask:

I felt a little sorry for the woman singer who had no say in the matter, but she seemed to agreed with the man. So, okay.

I was trembling and wondering if I myself wanted to hang around. I decided that not only did I want to see it all through, but I actually had some nice video material of a kind I had never had before in the whole world. So I signed my name on the list and waited for the next performer to go up as the previous one left the pub.

The next was a man with a banjo who said he would sing “John Henry.” I was delighted, as I’ve heard some nice renditions of this traditional American song around the world, and I really wanted to get that one on video. So I turn on the camera and the guy started playing and and within only a few phrases he stopped and said, “Taking a video of me? What’s with the videos?” He was more aggressive than the first man.

Unfortunately I turned off the video camera too quickly here as I would have loved to have recorded the confrontation more. I did get it into my mind to turn it on again when the MC of the evening joined the other and started to tell me that I was impolite to make videos and that this was a nice environment that did not need such unruliness. But I only got a bit of that.

The amazing thing here, was that this second performer also stomped off the stage and said he wasn’t even going to play any songs – no John Henry or anything else – and was finished for the evening, and “Thanks for the kind reception.”

Holy crap!!! I could not believe that these performers in the land of “the show must go on” were so sensitive and aggressive as to prefer walking out of a performance without having finished a song because someone was recording their music enthusiastically. This, I thought, could ONLY happen in America. In fact, it only HAD or HAS happened in America.

I have traveled the world for the last three years playing and recording at open mics on every continent and more than 30 cities and since last year began recording with a small video device – not just sound – the acts I liked or, occasionally, thought were just far out. Throughout the world people in general are happy to have videos made of their performances. They appreciate it, and sometimes ask me if I can send them the videos.

On only three occasions out of the hundreds of videos that I have made have I had a performer tell me they did not want me to video them. A Frenchman feared losing his music as it was not registered. An American in Paris I had made videos of for several evenings before he told me that he did not like it, so I stopped. And a British person told me she did not want the video up on YouTube, but was otherwise agreeable to the videos even on my blog. But in none of these situations did the performer speak to me during their performance, or even in a public manner to embarrass me. In all cases, it was done after the performance, or days later.

I think that when someone performs music in a public place for people they do not know, they are exposing themselves to having their music remembered – ie recorded in the brain -, spoken about, appreciated or hated. They are also exposing themselves to having someone record the sound and the image, with a telephone camera or any other kind of recording device or camera. It happens all the time, I see it around the world. I am not the only one to record performers on video (check out YouTube).

Fortunately, however, two other things happened on Wednesday night that made me feel much better about America: two other performers at the same evening – among them the very cool Sterling8 – actually approached me and asked me if I would record their number on video for them because they would like to see the result. A third performer seemed a little bit uncertain as to whether he should join the herd mentality of the beginning of the evening and hang me up and tar and feather me, but he too accepted that I make videos of him.

The next very heartening thing was that I had time to go to a second, much better open mic, at the Arctica bar, with a much nicer and more professional MC, named Brian Bauers, and I videoed to my heart’s content all evening long, sitting at the front of the stage, and no one objected. There were around 20 performers, and this was a very cool and open open mic.

By the way, at the first open mic, the herd had continued to gang up on me through to the end. A member of the audience seeing what happened earlier made a point of going to the spot at the bar where I had recorded the videos from and he recorded me on his iPhone.

He then as I left the bar said that he had made a recording of me and wait till I see how that feels. I told him I knew how it felt, and that I often did not like what I saw of myself, but that I had to accept that what I saw was what I projected as a performer, and I had to accept it.

I also told him that I thought that it was normal that a performer expect that he or she may be filmed if performing in public, but that filming someone in a private situation was clearly out of the question. He said he disagreed. I told him I did not feel the evening was cool at all, and he said, “You’re not cool.” He also added, when I told him I never had a problem with this before that, “You’re not in Canada here, you know.”

P.S. I later learned that Paddy Reilly’s calls itself the “home of traditional Irish music in New York City.” But my experience of Irish pub open mics around the world is nothing like this. In fact, this was not the only open mic at the place, just the one on Wednesday.


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  2. WOW. I’m so sorry to read about your less-than-happy introduction to the New York open-mic scene, but I’m glad that both the music and the hospitality improved as the night went on. I wish I could offer an explanation for (or even a theory about) the rudeness you encountered. Instead I’ll just issue a global apology for my sometimes-brash paisanos. [Heather shrinks away in embarrassment.]

    • Hi Heather, thanks a lot for the comment and support. And for the previous comment, which I was going to answer imminently, but now add in here: So you were looking forward to my reports of open mics in NYC and you get this thing!!! Anyway, I’ve already done a second night of an open mic and I have had another superb experience. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

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  4. Banjo guy is scary. The MC could have really taken a stand and supported you,calmed the situation down but I guess he didn’t want to lose his crowd. He could have done it more discreetly, in private but…

    A friend of mine had a similar experience here(In New Delhi). He had brought his camera to a small cafe. When he started clicking photos of the band, the cafe manager walked up to him and told him to put the camera away or he will be thrown out. My friend was appalled and asked for an explanation but the manager refused to budge.

    Now this was just a small cafe. He has never had this sort of trouble anywhere else.Hard Rock Cafe(Delhi) had even given him permission to go on-stage to click photos if he wanted.

    • Thanks Abhinav, for both bits of observation. Yes, I felt too that the MC could have dealt with the situation in a more amenable manner, but I also thought like you that maybe he had had these other performers there before but had never seen me, so sided with them. But your story of New Dehli is heartening too, to see that a similar thing can happen elsewhere. Of course, that was the cafe owner, not the musicians….

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