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Budapest to Paris Transition, From Szimpla to Sous Marin: But a Common Problem Linking Both Venues

August 4, 2014

Szimpla Facade Budapest

Szimpla Facade Budapest

PARIS – I wrote nothing since my days in Budapest, which I left a week ago and spent two days driving back to Paris, via Vienna. But that does not mean I have dropped the open mic adventure. My final night in Budapest I dropped off at the fabulous Szimpla kert to see if one of my all-time-favorite open jam sessions still exists.

I had discovered the Szimpla open mic, open jam in 2011. It was also the year I discovered this now hugely popular phenomenon of the kert, which is a kind of beer garden, but very hippie, very ramshackle, temporary looking multi-space bar area part outdoors, part-indoors that looks a little like a futuristic, post nuclear holocaust meeting place. They are all over Budapest, often in ruined buildings, as is the Szimpla kert.

(This video above shows me playing a horrendously out-of-tune guitar and discovering that I would not be able to sing to my guitar playing at Szimpla, as the mic was turned off for the night due to noise problems.)

The problem, though, is that the jam session has never been what it was in 2009 since I have returned each year. At least it WAS happening this year, because I don’t think it was happening last year. The problem is, Szimpla has now put the emphasis on live bands doing gigs on the stage where the jam takes place, they play early, and when they finish the stage and its instruments is open to anyone who wants to get up and jam – until 11 p.m. Not much time. Worse, it is not possible to use a microphone for vocals once the band is off stage, as they do not want to bother the neighbors.

Szimpla is Not the Only Venue in the World With Neighborly Noise Problems – See Sous Marin in Paris

Bothering the neighbors is a leitmotif in open mics and jams around the world, in fact, in any bar live music venue just about anywhere around the world. So it was that I found once I had returned to Paris and on Friday attended the relatively new Sous Marin bar open mic on the Rue Mouffetard, that they had moved the “stage” from near the front door to the bar end of the room since the last time I attended.

The last time I attended – which was also the first time – I was a little pissed off when I got up behind the mic to find the manager turning down both my guitar and mic volume to the point that not only could the chattering spectators not hear me, but neither could I! A friend asked me to turn up the volume, but I felt I had to obey the manager. (Finally, the MC came and turned it up and things went really well after that, especially when the crowd was reduced.)

Friday, no such luck. The manager pushed me out of his path from the bar to the tables while I was in the middle of a song, and then he returned to turn down the volume of the guitar and the vocals. Given that the three musicians who preceded me were quite audible right to the back of the room, and given that I had been standing in precisely the same spot as one of them, I felt a little bit like my presence was not particularly welcome. So I stopped singing in the middle of the song and left, telling the audience that the great thing about not being a professional musician was that you did not have to be professional about what you do. (There are those who would argue with that – notably a quote I have in mind from a Hollywood mogul of the early part of last century who said something like, “Show me the star who does not give 100 percent all the time, and I’ll show you the next bit-part actor. Show me the bit-part actor who gives 100 percent in every role, and I will show you the next star….”

Anyway…. The bar manager told me that he constantly had problems with the police coming and relaying complaints about the volume of the music. So that was the reason behind putting a muzzle on me. Fair enough. But what good is an open mic where a musician cannot feel wanted, and especially, cannot be heard…? This same manager, by the way, clearly treats musicians well in other respects: It’s one of the rare open mics where performers all get a free beer! And despite my offer to pay my beer even though I had sung only half a song, he insisted it was on the house…. So check it out yourselves, and let me know if I’ve bad-mouthed a great place….

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