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Astounding Study in Contrasts, Age, Style and Other – Acoustic Bazar vs. Ptit Bonheur

May 16, 2012

I never intended my evening to split between the generations, styles and locales. But last night it all just came together that way, and I ended up attending and performing at the Acoustic Bazar open mic and then the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, two venues divided by the generations and styles and all of Paris….

I have only been two or three times to the Acoustic Bazar open mic at the Satellit Café near the Oberkampf metro, and the last time feels as if it may have been almost two years ago. One problem for me is that it happens only once a month, on a Tuesday, and you can be the first to arrive and the last to perform, and you have to be there right at sign-up time, which is 8:45. But the quality of the performances, the locale, the sound system, and the history of this open mic all make it a fabulously interesting evening whenever I go.

This year the Acoustic Bazar celebrates the 20th year of its existence. It started out being dedicated to acoustic guitar music alone, but eventually decided to allow singer songwriters on the guitar too. You can play cover songs or your own compositions. It is very open, and there is a sound man behind the board throughout the evening, and a quiet and usually large audience. It usually runs on the first Tuesday of each month, but with two national public holidays this month on the first two Tuesdays, it did not run until yesterday.

One of the main differences between this open mic and others is that there is always a very, very high class act in the middle of the night doing a 30 minute set. I have seen some good ones, and last night’s was no exception. Or rather, perhaps I should say, was exceptional. It was the French guitar player Michel Haumont, who specializes in finger picking. He was brilliant, and he invited several brilliant guitar-playing guests, and one singer who knew who happened to be in the audience.

There were several other extraordinary guitar players in the line up during the open mic, and some excellent singers too. For the second night in a row I heard a woman play “Jimmy” by the French/American band Moriarty. There was also Gaelle Buswel, whom I met a couple of years ago at the Cavern vocal jam, here trying out some of her new songs.

Then it was my turn, and after hearing some of these extraordinary musicians I felt very small, and my guitar playing felt worse than small. On top of it, I had not sound on my voice on the monitor – which has never happened at this place for me – so after my slot I decided I needed a change of air despite the coolness of this open mic. In fact, one thing I really noticed here for the first time was that while the quality of the Acoustic Bazar music was very high, mature and accomplished, the audience tended to be in the upper area of middle age. This was normal for an open mic that has been going that long, no doubt. But it also meant a kind of orderliness and professionalism and calmness to the evening that I felt I needed a break from after my average effort on stage.

Looking at the time, I realized I had enough time to get to the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar on rue Laplace, which is another reason I went so rarely to Acoustic Bazar, because the Ptit Bonheur has been so much fun. I thought I would be too late to get behind the mic, but I ended up lucky and got a slot not long after I arrived. Still, the Ptit Bonheur was full of spectators, musicians, including one of the Frangins, whom I had told about it the night before at Coolin. And most of all, I saw immediately the difference in the vibe. We were not talking about accomplished musicians of the level of Michel Haumont. But we were talking about a crowd of magnificent young people of an average age closer to 22 than 62. Oh, or even the oldest of them, Wayne Standley, who may be closer to 62 than 22, but who has a young spirit and shows up week after week.

There was me, of course, closer to 62 than 22. But I felt immediately at home in the musical vibe of Ptit Bonheur, and after playing my slot and then lending my Gibson J200 to two or three performers – including Wayne – the open mic ended and we went up to the bar. I was still hungry for playing, and I pulled out the Gibson to show it to Baptiste W. Hamon, and then I started playing some songs, and I was soon joined by another guitarist – from the band LA//KVLKD, and soon we were jamming like madmen, and had everyone singing and clapping along.

I then gave the Gibson to one person after another and the jam continued until 2 AM. It was about great music, youth, hope, fun, laid back musical revelry and a general sense of anything goes. It was so revitalizing that I didn’t want it to end. And it also made me think of the extraordinary contrast between the two open mics, defined mostly by the age and accomplishments of the participants. But both have their place. Looking forward to doing it all again sometime.

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