After many years of the open mic being run by James Iansiti, the Tennessee Bar open mic is now run by Ollie Joe, who also MCs the open mic at La Tireuse on Tuesday nights. Ollie has been doing it for a few weeks now, but last night was my first opportunity to attend the “new” open mic. And I am pleased to report that it is a live, well and really kicking.
Ollie has changed the format somewhat, as James used to have people play three or four songs or more, especially if they were new performers, while Ollie is doing the same thing here as he does at the Tireuse: two songs per performer, unless there is time afterwords for another round. The downside to James’s way was that sometimes people who came regularly found that there was no longer time for them to play by the end of the night.
Last night the place was just bursting at the doors with people, and it really felt to me like a cross between an open mic at the Tireuse and the old Tennessee itself. What really stood out for me was that it once again confirmed my belief that some bars are better than others for holding successful open mics, and the Tennessee is one of them. The fact of the basement being small, cosy, a great stage, but also isolated from the ground floor where people can go to talk, is one of the things that makes the Tennessee so good for an open mic.
Of course, Ollie’s superb moderating and MCing will also ensure that this place lives on.
One of the reasons I made sure I went last night despite having to pack up and get ready for my flight the next day to India was that Tim Menees was in town and intending to play. Tim wrote a fabulous article in the Pittsburgh Quarterly about his time playing at the Tennessee Bar last year while on a vacation in France, and I really wanted to meet him and perhaps play with him. I had a chance for both, and we did “Mad World” and “Wicked Game,” with me on guitar and vocals, and him on piano. And he is a mean piano player, as you will see and hear on the videos….