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A Great Open Mic, a Crappy Open Mic

March 5, 2015



PARIS – Oh the number of times I have written about the Baroc open mic on this blog goes beyond belief, really. It’s one of the longest lasting in Paris, and not at all one of the most hip, cool and young open mics. But sometimes it is. And always it is one to be counted on for passing an interesting evening, with kind MCing, and a certain moment of musical fun and diversity.

Yes, diversity is the keyword as always at the Baroc, with people ranging on Tuesday night from absolute beginners, a Hungarian passing through town, to Bernie the songwriter of a certain age, the sax player, and guess who? Vanina Michel, who specializes in putting the poetry of Jacques Prevert to music. She was one of the original cast of Hair in France way back a few decades ago, and on Tuesday she lulled us all into submission with a recitation of a text by Georges Moustaki, who died recently, and who she knew personally.

That was Tuesday. Wednesday? Last night? Let’s just say, “Let’s just forget about the Orphée open mic.” I’ve written about the Orphée open mic in Pigalle in years past. I think I’ve even said nice things about it. And clearly the Orphée is a venue that has more than just potential: Located across the street from the legendary Bus Palladium, in a ground floor apartment-like bar where you need to ring a buzzer to be let in, I’ve seen some nice and fun open mics there.

But last night was one of the worst experiences personally that I’ve ever had at an open mic anywhere in the world. I do not want to go into all the details about why I was so let down, but suffice it to say that everyone I spoke to last night as I enquired whether there would be an open mic responded to me in either the very much assured positive, or the “normally there is, but the MC is celebrating his birthday and we’re not sure,” to finally tracking down the MC of last night’s show, and hearing him tell me that it is NOT an open mic, but that he’ll make it an open mic.

Then as soon as he took to the mic he announced it was the beginning of the open mic night. I then approached again after several performers had taken to the mic, and I asked him if I could plug in the guitar and take to the mic. He again warded me off, saying, “Yes, sure, yes. But let me finish this set up, and then you can do something later on.” The set went on eternally from there, and eventually my young woman friend with whom I was attending the open mic decided she would ask if she could plug in the guitar and sing and play. The guy said “yes” immediately and she played two songs.

So after her second song, I went up and grabbed the guitar and the guy came up, and I said, “I’d like to sing a song if I can.” “Well, yes, but the boss wants ambiance here, there’s lots of people and we really need ambiance.” So it was that I realized why he had been pushing me off throughout the night, and preventing me from getting to the mic: Most of the singers had been young women, and most of the songs had been recent, well known pop songs that he felt gave ambiance to the massive crowd that was looking for a specific kind of ambiance.

It was the first time in my worldwide open mic adventures that I felt very clearly that because I was a lot older than the average age of 23 of the clients of the open mic, that I was being prejudiced against for my age! Just for the way I look! Hmm, some old fogey, must be boring!

So I said, “Yeah, sure, you want ambiance? Ambiance? Ok. Ambiance. I’ll give you ambiance.”

So I played “What’s Up!” by the 4-Non Blondes, and I created a little bit of ambiance. People sang along, as usual. I’ve seen much hotter crowds for that song when I do it, but the Orphée crowd is very, very specific in the context of the Orphée, and it is far from an “open” open mic as it stands at the moment – or as it was last night, in any case. Oh, the owner passed by as we were leaving and gave the thumbs-up on the ambiance we created briefly, so apparently an open mic MC cannot tell everything from appearances….

There were lots of good singers, and it was certainly an open mic of “ambiance,” but the open, free and true spirit of what makes the best open mics was clearly not there at the Orphée last night.

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