PARIS – I had the strangest experience on Friday evening attending for the first time the Pomme d’Eve open mic in the bar of the same name on the Rue Laplace in Paris. This was the very same cellar bar that had hosted the first ever open mic that in around 2010 immediately transferred up the street to the P’tit Bonheur la Chance bar and became one of the best in the city for years. But I loved the atmosphere of the Pomme d’Eve, with its kind of medieval cave and thick pillars, and small stage, and a great mixture of both intimacy and space. I had seen that my friend Riyad Sanford had been running this “new” open mic in the Pomme d’Eve for probably around two years, as a new addition post-Covid to the Paris open mics, and I had intended for two years to attend! Friday was the first time I could, and the strange thing was not so much the absence of Riyad – who had gone on a trip and been replaced this week by Vedit Raisinghani as host – but the fact that for the first time probably in more than a decade at a Paris open mic, I did not know or recognize a single musician in the open mic!
Yes, here I was, some 13 or more years later at this very same venue from which so much had grown, and at which now Riyad – who for years hosted the open mic at the Klein bar, as well as others like the Galway and occasionally the Highlander – hosted this one and so I assumed that I would find all of the familiar faces. In fact, no. Not a single face I knew. Or not, rather, until I later learned that the violin player who accompanied those who wanted to be accompanied, had remembered me from the Osmoz Café open mic of Sheldon Forrest, and I did have vague memories of him. Man on piano at Pomme d’Eve Open mic
But what I realized had happened was that a whole generation of performers had suddenly supplanted the previous generation of performers, in the period in which I had greatly reduced my own visiting of open mics due to both Covid and other activities – notably TAC Teatro activities – and so I realized only by not recognizing anyone and also seeing for the first time a new generation that looked sooooo much younger than the previous one, that I had been away a LONG time! MC and Ales on violin at Pomme d’Eve
But what I found was greatly reassuring: Faces change, generations come and go, but the music and the spirit of the open mic continues in the same way. Signup was advertised as being at 8:30. But by the time I arrived at about 8:35 I was already the 12th, and designated last performer, as there is a strict adherence to the need to close the open mic for the evening at midnight. With three songs each, I just barely managed to get in under the time limit to have my own three songs. But it was a huge pleasure, and there were still lots of audience members by the end of the open mic when I went up, since, I was told, the bar is one of the few that stays open until 5am! French one at Pomme d’Eve open mic in Paris
From where I was sitting and taking a few videos, you will not see that there was a very nicely sized crowd of musicians and spectators. And my only criticism is that I found the sound system could have been better for the vocals – as you will hear it is ever so slightly muffled. But that may well be because I was not sitting directly in front of the speakers.
This place also has something that is usually missing in most such open mic venues, which is a piano. So it is well worth it for a broad cross-section of performers. And the added touch last on Friday of having Alex, the violin player, was really great. I insisted he play along with me, as I thought he was about to leave as he had not yet recognized me either as the guy he had seen at Osmoz Café. I was glad he joined me on all three songs: “Mad World,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” and my “Borderline.” I was really touched when afterwards one of the other young musicians came up and told me the Dylan song is his favorite … or was it one of his favorites? In any case, it showed me that the generations may change, but the same great songs go on touching them all one after the other. Duet at Pomme d’Eve Open Mic
Oh yes, and I forgot to mention. Another shocking moment for me came right at the beginning when the MC announced that this was the 100th edition of the open mic! Boy, had I really been gone for a LONG time!
Sheldon Forrest on screen in Out of a Jam at TAC Teatro
AUBERVILLIERS – One of the beauties of live music is that every time you play the experience is something different maybe than you expected. That is, live theater, live music, live anything is unpredictable to a certain degree – some new nuance or moment will stand out and that’s what makes the experience “real.” I had been planning the projection of the Paris moments of my open mic film, “Out of a Jam,” at TAC Teatro for some time. I had been visualizing it in a certain way, anticipating it for what I thought and hoped it would be. In the event, two nights ago, it turned out to be nothing like what I expected, but so much more in so many ways. What a night!
It was a very intimate evening with some great musicians and other unexpected, and exceptional guests (my globe-trotting writer friend Adam Hay-Nicholls, who lives in London, blew me away with his presence), in a warm, thought-provoking moment of what was also a hugely nerve-wracking – but proud – evening of showing in public some excerpts from my film for the first time. A great core group of musicians from Paris showed up, as well as a surprise visit from the great science fiction novelist, Norman Spinrad, and his other half, Dona Sadock, who among many other things, once produced the Firesign Theater comedy troupe. I first wrote about Norman Spinrad in an article in the International Herald Tribune when he was selling the rights to one of his novels via the internet for $1. The book went on to find a publisher some time later, and he has continued to publish non-stop since. I last wrote about Norman Spinrad on this blog when I attended his 70th birthday party, in 2010 – which, when I re-read it, was a hell of a night!
Norman Spinrad and Dona Sadock and me in the middle presenting Out of a Jam at TAC Teatro
The film, “Out of a Jam,” was filmed the following year, but took me until now to complete the editing, and put it in what I consider its final shape: a 21-part series for streaming. Among the guests who attended on Friday night was one of the main “talking heads” of the documentary, Sheldon Forrest, who graced us with his presence despite it being a strike struck period in France and his living a couple of hours away from the Aubervilliers venue! I was thrilled.
The first truly nerve-wracking thing of the evening, though, was that my computer refused to boot! So there was no film. Fortunately I had brought my iPad, and while I could not show the Paris moments to start with, as we waited for more spectators to arrive and for my computer to boot, we watched the Istanbul episode of the series. After that, magically, my computer decided to boot. (Actually, it is not magic. Although I had just a few weeks ago replaced the battery for a similar experience, I think I have solved the problem: It is a Macbook Pro, and after losing my adapter, I replaced it with a non-Apple charger, which I think does not have the same performance capacity as the Apple charger, and so if the computer runs out of charge, it takes FOREVER to re-charge enough to boot!)
Earle Holmes on screen in Out of a Jam at TAC Teatro
I was therefore able to show the compilation of Paris moments from the open mic, which was a 37-minute film without form. But I got all sorts of great responses from the people present.
After that, Joe Cady, my violin-playing friend with whom I have play with several times over the years including at the F1 FanZone in London in 2014 – and whom I first met at Spinrad’s 60th birthday party! – suggested we do a song together, and the very-much-shortened open mic took place! I did “Mad World” with Joe, and it was amazing to play again together, and then Angus Sinclair played another cover with Joe, singing “Wicked Game,” in a wonderful rendition that made it his own.
The evening ended up being more about the film than the open mic and a couple of other musicians who came had to leave early so we did not go beyond that. So it turned out to be completely different than I either planned or imagined. And so much better, in the way it decided to be!
PARIS – It was 2011, and all through Paris, bands and musicians were playing at one open mic or another, honing their craft and crafting their hone. (A hone is a whetstone – very necessary to musicians playing late at night.) And I was filming it here in Paris and throughout the year all over the world. The open mic film series is now completed, is called “Out of a Jam,” and it is 21 episodes long, and more than 7 hours in length. Here I am presenting for the first time on the blog, the short video of excerpts that I made of some of the Paris moments. This is to give an idea to my readers who can be in Paris on 24 March 2023 (Friday in a week) what they will see during the big, giant, bursting at the seams open mic at TAC Teatro. Come to play, come to see the film! Come to have a drink and have fun!
PARIS – I had planned to celebrate the 3-week countdown to my giant open mic and film showing at TAC Teatro today with the publication here of a teaser of excerpts from a few of the open mic people and scenes from the Paris parts of the film. In other words, I wanted to show all my Paris-based friends the images of them playing music or being interviewed 12 years ago when I filmed « Out of a Jam, » the series about open mics around the world. But my computer yesterday, my faithful MacBook Pro, decided to fail me. At least temporarily. The battery died and I could no longer even start the computer. It is now being repaired at an Apple Store in Paris. (Marché St. Germain, where the old open mic of the Coolin’ Pub used to take place.
I was able to limit the damage to my life glued to my computer by discovering that the keyboard I have for a very old computer actually works on my iPad, which I use mostly for reading books and newspapers. (I hope to soon do a review here of the Bob Dylan book that I just finished reading yesterday about the philosophy of modern song!) But while I can write on this iPad, I cannot properly edit the film with Final Cut Pro – as the open mic film consists of 21 episodes of 19 to 22 or so minutes each. In other words, it’s a heavy m…. …..er.
But as soon as I get my computer back, within days I will try to have that teaser of the action in Paris up on this site and elsewhere. So that all my Paris friends – even those who now live in Timbuktu, can see themselves 12 years ago and have a taste of what is on offer on 24 March at the open mic at TAC Teatro.
Finally, I want to make if very clear here and now that this open mic and film showing is a one-time event. It’s not a new open mic. It won’t be repeated. So let’s make the most of it and turn out in the hundreds!
A view through the entrance to TAC Teatro in Aubervilliers.
PARIS – If you are in Paris on this date, please stop by TAC Teatro in Aubervilliers to participate in – or just check out – the open mic night we will be holding to celebrate the premiere of my Open Mic streaming series: “Out of a Jam.” This has now become an historic film of open mics in 20 countries over a one-year period – that year being 2011 ! This is my open mic film that ended up taking a year to film and a decade to edit into its final format: 21 episodes of between 19 and 23 minutes each. Each episode takes place in a different country – or some like NYC are spread out – and every one is structured with first, visit to the open mics of Paris – home base – and interviews with key people about a theme connected to the open mic; followed by a visit to a new country and its open mics, with interviews and films of the musicians there.
I have decided to show excerpts from the series for the first time anywhere, at TAC Teatro, and then hold our own huge open mic. In the coming weeks I will post more information about it all, including more details about the location – it will be a night to remember, as we will be able to play and celebrate in the theater, in the cabaret and in the courtyard. I want to give a few little tours of those spaces by video when and as I can. There will be beer and wine to drink for real cheap – a key to the success of any open mic – and I will create the best sound system I can. “Out of a Jam” open mic film series generique
I really want to see as many of the people who played in the open mic scene in Paris in 2011 as possible, since many of you will be in the film, and we can celebrate the time that has passed since then! And I want as many new faces, musicians and fans of open mics to attend as possible! This evening will be devoted to the open mic, and I will keep the film part to a minimum – unless people want more and more and more! – as my goal is to have as many of us play music, and talk and have fun, and I don’t want anyone feeling like a hostage in a cinema seat! That said, this series will be a real nostalgia trip for many of you, and the most complete look at the open mic phenomenon that I know of.
Inside the theater at TAC Teatro where the main stage of the open mic will be and the film will be screened.
I am giving you a little look at the opening credit video bit – above – that will go with each of the episodes. But keep in mind that while these little moments feature mostly me in different world settings, I repeat that the film is not about me. It’s about all of you who played or organized or attended as spectators the open mics at that time. During this evening in Aubervilliers I will focus as much as possible on the Paris parts where you can see yourselves – unless I have any of my friends from any of the other 20 countries showing up, and wanting to see their contributions… Japan, China, Malaysia, Brazil, Turkey… etc…!
A look at the courtyard at TAC Teatro during a recent event, and where the open mic participants can go to talk and drink and smoke while not wanting to disturb musicians singing!
The date is 24 March 2023. I’ll keep you updated as we approach the hour….
AUBERVILLIERS, France – Now that was a fabulous breath of fresh – and cold – air: I performed five songs in an outdoor open mic on Wednesday, during a neighborhood afternoon snack in Aubervilliers. The neighborhood was the Quartier Maladrerie, and it is located in the town of Aubervilliers, which touches on Paris. I have written a lot about this town in the last couple of years, since TAC Teatro has been putting on a lot of shows and doing a lot of work there. It was actually quite cool – I mean cold – to perform across the street from the Espace Renaudie, the place that hosted a couple of TAC events recently, which I have written about in previous posts. This open mic had nothing to do with that, but with a meeting and some open mics that I did 15 years ago!
A year and more before I started writing this blog, I had already begun my musical open mic adventures. Among the places I discovered in Paris and its environs, was a regular open mic in Aubervilliers, most often at a bar called “Le Chien Qui Fume,” or, “The Dog that Smokes.” I say most often at, because the open mic was run by an association called “Les Artistes des Couleurs et de la Diversité.” It was run by a musician named Zayen, of Kabyle origin. It started in a bar in Paris, called the Aveyronnais, where I first attended, and then moved on to Aubervilliers, which is a town with a large Kabyle population.
I attended open mics there weekly for around six months – sometimes even twice per week – and had all sorts of interesting experiences, including once when the mayors of the twinned cities of Iena in Germany and Aubervilliers attended one of the open mics. Zayen had a small success with a song called Baden-Baden, about a Kabyle refusing to fight in WWII, and then returning to his country and passing on his story there.
In recent months I made contact with Zayen again, finding that he was now an elected politician connected to the new mayor’s party in Aubervilliers, while he remains a professional musician with growing success. In fact, his small association has also grown since it was founded in 2008, and we recently met with it and another Berber association in Aubervilliers to share ideas.
On Wednesday, though, it felt like old times as Zayen invited me to play at the “open mic” in the street, organized to celebrate an afternoon snack, music and poetry, at this holiday period with everyone in the neighbourhood. I took along my Gibson J200 and sang five songs, and then gave my guitar to another musician, Malik Kazeoui, and he played some kabyle songs and something in French.
It was freezing cold, but I took off my coat and played hard and kept warm. It turned out to be a wonderful moment too thanks to an excellent quality of sound system and soundman support, provided by the same technicians from the Espace Renaudie, with whom I worked to show my film of Eugenio Barba a few weeks ago. That was a complete surprise for us all, as they had only known me as the journalist who interviewed Barba on film, or the man connected with TAC Teatro in its performance of Ajamola.
For me the most touching moment was when a five-year-old boy approached the stage after I had sung one or two songs and he handed me 1 centime as payment for my singing – or perhaps it was a signal to get me off the stage? In any case, I thanked him and told him that it was more money than I had earned in five years off the streaming rights to my CD, “Out of a Jam.”
Check out the videos to get a taste of this neighborhood event in Aubervilliers!
PARIS – Unless my mind is playing serious games with me, this last week I finally attended open mics in Paris again for the first time since the Covid pandemic began in early 2020. I have mentioned in these pages before that I have performed here and there occasionally in various performance formats – including the jam I did a couple of times in Sicily over the summer. But unless this old brain is fading, these are the first open mics I have done in Paris since 2020, or even 2019! And it was great to see that while I may have been playing it safe on the disease front for a lot longer than most open mic performers and spectators, clearly I am behind the times on open mic performing!
I have been waiting for a long time to attend the new open mic at the Cave Café, near the Lamarck metro in a part of town that – at least to my knowledge – has few open mics. This is the place where I used to love to go just before the pandemic, when Sheldon Forrest ran his “Montmartre Mondays.” I was very sad when it ended, because the Cave Café, owned by the American, Arthur, has such a wonderful vibe: Like its name, it takes place in a “cave.” Lest you get images of brutes with wooden clubs to beat you with, please know this has nothing to do with neanderthals. It is the French word for basement, and it drums up the beautiful image of precisely what we find here: a vaulted brick ceiling in the cellar room.
But the real cherry on the top of this cake is that the new open mic at the Cave Café is now the old Paris Songwriters Club run by Paddy Sherlock. This is one of the best open mics in the city, but one where you can ONLY sing or play your own compositions. No cover songs. Paddy had run this first at the Tennessee Bar, then at the O’Sullivan’s Rebel Bar. But this is not just his best location so far, it is also the most intimate and well-served sound wise. So it is also perfect for the precise kind of open mic it represents: play your own songs to an audience that listens in a location that makes you want to spend the whole evening there just for the comfort and fun.
I took advantage of this open mic to play for the first time in public anywhere, my song, “What’s All This Talk?!” which I wrote during the pandemic, in the fall of 2020, and which provided me the soundtrack for the video I made of and after the January 6th, 2021, attack on the Capitol. It’s always very difficult to sing a song for the first time in public, especially with that weak memory of mine – but I got through it pretty well.
From Tuesday’s Songwriter Open Mic to a couple of regular Wednesday venues
I mentioned Sheldon Forrest above, and on Wednesday, it was time to visit Sheldon’s open mic at the Osmoz Café in Montparnasse. From Montmartre to Montparnasse. Could anything be better? I have no need to introduce either Sheldon or his Osmoz Café open mic, as both have been around for years now. In fact, Sheldon was running this one at the same time as he did the one at the Cafe Café as I mentioned above. It was great to see that everything was the same as usual: Sheldon playing piano to accompany singers who do not play an instrument. Or if you do play an instrument then you are welcome to do that too. I took this opportunity to play a few songs that I had learned during the pandemic – or just before – so as not to be singing the same songs for more than a decade for Sheldon and his audiences. I also did “What’s All This Talk?!” and felt about the same as the night before at the Cave Café, so that’s down now!
I finished my tour of three open mics in two days by attending the open mic at the Bootleg Bar, heading directly from Montparnasse to the Bastille! How much better does it get than that? Montmartre to Montparnasse to Bastille!
I only discovered after I finished at the Osmoz that there was an open mic at the Bootleg. This is the one that I used to attend that was run by the former group running the Rush Bar open mic. It used to be on Mondays. Now, it is every Wednesday, and seems not to be run by the same groupe of people, and has a bit of a different feel to it: Wednesday evening it was mostly about jamming, with several musicians playing simultaneously. Although there was a woman who came to play her songs on the acoustic guitar, and she accepted some other musicians joining her – but it seemed not to be obligatory. First at Bootleg Bar
Here I was told I could go up to play, even though it was by then quite late, just before midnight. But after listening to the other groups and realizing I had a long hike across Paris to return home, I opted not to play. I had all I needed: I got to see that life continues at the Paris open mics, and now I will finally also be able to update my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, which through Covid, had been collecting cob webs, but remains one of the most often consulted pages on this blog.
CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – It seems not to matter how many times I live this lesson, I always come close to forgetting it – only to relive it and learn it again. A few weeks ago I wrote of my experience at the Chiringuito jam in Scopello, Sicily. I wrote about how one good thing leads to another good thing – and vice versa. I missed the last few jams on Wednesday nights at Chiriniguito for various reasons – a cold, a more important meeting, and, yes, inertia. I was almost going to let inertia steer me away from it again this time, but didn’t, and the reward was huge, and unexpected – as usual!
We had planned to have dinner in Scopello at the Nettuno restaurant with Ornella’s family Wednesday and then head off to the jam. But the dinner started late, many more family members arrived, and conversation and good cheer began to take over and extend the time at the table, and reduce the potential time at the jam. Then, as with the last outdoor restaurant meal with the family – last week – a sudden downpour of rain began. It never rains here in the summer. It’s not supposed to. Will not, does not. Unless we have a family gathering or a jam session to attend.
The conversation, family get-together and rain all persuaded me by midnight that I was going to miss the jam session again, and I was going to miss it for valid reasons. I had my guitar ready in the trunk of the car, I had made the “effort,” but it had failed. Once again. Then at about two minutes past midnight, Ornella said to me: “You are going to miss the jam! Go and play, Brad. Don’t worry about us.” In fact, I had been told that many of the members of the family had come to see me play, but I suppose inertia had settled in there too….
I decided not to let that get me down, and in any case, I fully expected to go to the jam – a few minutes’ walk away from the Nettuno – and find that it had been packed up, closed down, over with, all thanks to the downpour, which could have short-circuited all the guitar amps and everything else. There, I thought, I would have my excuse. Part of me had the jitters about playing the jam again also because it had gone so well the first time, and I had had so much fun, that I expected it would fall flat this second time.
I got my Gibson J-200 from the car trunk and went to the jam. It was bopping big time. The stage was curiously dark and wet, but there were musicians on it, playing to a vast crowd of manic spectators jumping up and down in delight at the front of the stage. Michelangelo, the jam organiser and MC, immediately saw me with my guitar on my back at the front right corner of the stage and he approached: “Brad, we had a problem tonight with the rain cutting out a lot of things, and we had to set up all over again, and try to make it work after that…. anyway, the point is, I had to change the format a little: You only get one song. And you are up next.”
Man! I could not say no to that. I had no more excuses! And anyway, I started feeling the pulse of excitement of the idea of going up and playing just one song and if it all failed, I had my excuse there too! I just finished a massive bacon and cheese burger, a massive chocolate Sunday, got wet in the rain, came over to the jam, had one song and got up with no warming up!
I got the Gibson out, waited, when the guy finished, I climbed up on the stage where someone said: “What chords?” I realised it was one of the other musicians – turned out to be the bass player – and he wanted to know what chords I would use for my one song. I didn’t even know what my song would be. I had, in advance, been planning three: “Crazy Love,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” and “Wicked Game.” I thought for a moment about the simplest of them, but also I decided to go for a contrast to the crowd pleasing, foot-stomping, fast-moving, singalong song of the guy onstage before me. I chose “Wicked Game,” by Chris Isaak. It is just three chords from beginning to end, and there can be plenty of room for the jamming of the harmonica and lead guitar between verses on those three chords.
I whipped through the song with huge pleasure – and a few rough spots – and then got off the stage fast. It seemed to go fairly smoothly, and the others had lots of room to jam. I blew my voice out a little, since I had a bit of a problem hearing myself and so I forced it too much, but in all, I was really happy to have done it, and I was happy to have been able to do it fast during what was clearly a difficult night for the organiser – with that rain storm!
Now here is where the real story starts: I got off the stage and began packing my guitar away in its case when a guy approaches and starts speaking English and congratulating me. He turned out to be another musician, a drummer, and he asked if I played professionally. I said no, and asked him if he did. He said he did, and that he was also studying jazz drumming at the conservatory. But he said his band was playing in Castellammare soon, and so I should come and listen. The band, he said, was called Babel Tower. It turned out that they had played recently at Picolit, where my musical adventure began last month.
We talked for some time about music, his life, and the band playing around Sicily. I was still a little breathless after performing, and I had to go and find Ornella’s family. So we parted without exchanging contacts.
Then Ornella and I later in the evening went to the Picolit Pub in Castellammare, and I tried to remember the name of the band that this drummer played in, so I could speak to one of the owners of Picolit about it. Since they have a lot of bands there, she had no idea! But then I looked at the names of the bands that have played there recently, and I recognized the name “Babel Tower.” I then found the Instagram page of the band, and looked at the photos and…there I saw the photo of the guy I spoke to at the jam session.
I returned to the owner, told her it was this band, and she said: “Oh yes!!! And by the way, the singer of the band is sitting at the table beside yours!” Unsure whether I should speak to the singer of Babel Tower and tell him I had just met one of the other band members, it was again Ornella who pushed for this. I decided that, yes, I’d love to know the name of the drummer I met and maybe send him a message on Facebook.
So we approached the singer of the band, and we explained the situation. He gave me the link to the Instagram page of the drummer of the band and I followed it. Then, we got involved in more conversation with the singer, pulled our chairs over to his table, and after some minutes of talk, it began to dawn on both Ornella and the singer that they knew each other! They had not seen each other for 15 years or so, but they realized that he had been one of Ornella’s sister’s best friends! And as it turned out, he had long been trying to make contact with her, but as she no longer lives here, he had not found out how to communicate.
This happy situation then led eventually to the singer inviting me to play with Babel Tower at their next gig, in a small town not too far from here on Saturday night! Now, let us remember and realize and think about all of these happy repercussions that came form a moment’s decision as to whether I should or should not make the effort to play at the jam! Had I done the easy thing and just sat back lazily, I would never have met these musicians, never had the fun of playing the jam, never been offered to play this weekend, and Ornella and her sister would never have met this old friend! Astounding what action, and music, can do!
Babel Tower, I learned, plays nearly 300 dates per year throughout Sicily, doing all manner of rock, pop and reggae. I suggest you look them up and give a listen! And maybe you will discover something that will change your life too!
CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – Just over 20 years ago I wrote a lighthearted Op-Ed column in the International Herald Tribune newspaper using a personal experience I had to show how a single bad action by someone can have many, many bad repercussions going on for days, weeks or more. This morning when I awoke and thought about the jam session I took part in last night at the Chiringuito pub in Scopello, I suddenly realized that precisely the same ripple effect happens when someone does something good, leading to all sorts of other good things.
I am talking, of course, about the results of the effect that began in my previous blog item, where the generosity of a musician – Francesco Riotta – in giving me the microphone and his guitar during his own gig at a bar in Castellammare del Golfo led to meeting another musician after the performance, who in turn told me that there was a jam session in a nearby village every Wednesday and I should go. After coming here for five or six years, once per year, I had never found an open mic or jam session, and it seemed the only thing missing in our summer paradise. All it took was the generosity of Riotta for the good things to start happening.
I took the first opportunity to go to check out the jam session at the Chiringuito Scopello pub, which was last night, Wednesday. This is also proof of how important it is to “get yourself out there” if you want any kind of satisfaction in life: Ornella’s uncle and aunt own a restaurant in Scopello, and we have also been going there for years without ever knowing that the Chiringuito hosted a jam session every Wednesday through the summer for the last three years!
Scopello is part of the commune of Castellammare del Golfo, where we are staying, but it is a kind of separate village suburb, about a 15 minute drive away. It is a beautiful tourist attraction area, with lots of restaurants, and beautiful views, beautiful nearby beaches, and a gathering place for some of the people in Castellammare who want a night out that is slightly different from the usual one of wandering around the streets of the main town.
Brad playing Chiringuito with budding Joe (Josephine) Cocker girl onstage
The setting for the Chiringuito is absolutely fabulous! It is an outdoor pub and restaurant, and the stage is quite big, with a decent sound system, good lighting, and a fabulous location that means that you can be seen and heard when you perform by people in the bar area, the lounge area, the restaurant area, and the tables in front of the stage itself. But standing up there and playing and seeing also the surrounding mountains and the sea in the distance – although it is not really clearly visible in that darkness – is a heavenly sensation.
The open jam is run according to the usual method, with a sign up list, and it starts around 10pm. But the list order is not strictly followed, especially because much of the jam involves several musicians onstage at once. IE, it is not just an open mic with a single performer or band. It’s a bit of a free-for-all, and once everyone has had a chance to perform once, then the stage is opened to even more mixing, if there is enough time.
It is wonderfully hosted by Michelangelo Bologna, who plays harmonica on the videos where I am playing (and elsewhere), and he speaks good English. And as with just about everything here, it turned out that Michelangelo was Ornella’s cousin! (It seems everyone we meet here is Ornella’s cousin, so for me that was not really a surprise.) And Ornella and I both thought he was an exceptional harmonica player. Turns out he studied harmonica at a jazz conservatory!
Michelangelo told me that last week there were 30 musicians! Given that it lasts only until around 12:30 or 1am, it’s best to get there on time – although I was too early, arriving at 9pm.
There was a large cross-section of performers last night, with lots of blues, a bit of rock, and some acoustic stuff too. In general it was an everything goes kind of jam.
Brad and band at Chiringuito 3
What a pleasure this was to play again in front of such a big crowd, to have some wonderful musicians play along with me, mistakes and all, and an incredibly enthusiastic audience, many of them right in front of the stage. For me, it represented the real moment of passing from my Covid hibernation to a break out back to pre-Covid days – ie, I’ve barely played in public at all since the beginning of the pandemic. And for all I know, this place was bursting with the latest, extremely contagious variant…but I couldn’t not do this! And underpinning it all was that generosity of handing over the stage two days before. Incredible how good things come from good things, and bad things from bad. In case you missed it, check out the link – which I add again here – to that story I did in the IHT Meanwhile column for that story I did way back when. And now think about how those repercussions of badness can be the opposite when the initial act is a good one…!
PS, I thank Ornella Bonventre’s daughter, Morgana, for all the videos and photos she took of my performances. I also thank Ornella’s aunt, Daniele, for the video she took of my What’s Up!, while standing in a different position to that of Morgana – I combined both of them toward the end of the What’s Up video to have a different perspective.
CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – I had reached such a bursting point of frustration and desire in wanting to play some music on stage somewhere, anywhere, last night, that before we went out to dinner I said to Ornella: “I want to bring my Gibson J200 with me just in case I find a place to play!” It being very hot, and the likelihood of finding a place to play being very small in this dream of a fantastic seaside town on the coast of Sicily near Palermo, in the end I chose not to take my guitar. Then the miracle happened.
We ate in a wonderful, cheap, heart-warming restaurant – the town is full of them! – and then headed off to one of our two favourite pubs in Castellammare. I am speaking of the Picolit pub, which I have written about in the past, and which features live music at least four nights per week in its outdoor terrace, with the natural amphitheatre of a public staircase. (Our other favorite joint is Cantina Aurelia, which does not feature live music.) As soon as I heard and saw that it was guy on an acoustic guitar – occasionally joined by a bass player – I thought we had to go an listen.
There was something very attractive in his sound, and demeanour: I immediately felt something a little Brazilian in it, but it was manifestly more African, Jamaican, and reggae-related. His performance is very intimate, warm, and he has a great way of communicating with the spectators both through the music and its stories, as well as directly involving them – for instance in using them to create harmony for a chorus to one of his songs. The musician’s name was Francesco Riotta, and while he comes from Palermo, where he was raised in the tangle of culturally mixed streets in the central part of the city, he has also travelled all around playing his music, and learning more sounds, and mixing his culture and language with that of the countries he visits: English, French, African, Spanish, German, etc.
I was intrigued by his guitar, which was steel-stringed but sounded more like a nylon-string guitare, and I could not read the brand name. So when he took a break, I decided to go to ask him if I could look at the guitar, which he had placed in its case. We got into a conversation immediately, and we switched from English to French, as he said he had lived in Paris for a while, and had even written and performed a song in French, and done a video with an African musician, who he met in the Goutte d’Or part of Paris. (He had gone there to seek out African musicians.)
He asked about me, and when he learned that I played guitar and sang, he asked if I wanted to do a song at the end of his set. Hey presto! That need to get up and do a song on stage that I had felt overpowering me before dinner was about to be calmed! Unbelievable! I did two songs, and I was joined by his bass player, Daniele Ferrantelli. This thanks to a generous, human musician who knows what it means to create a great vibe during a gig and give something to a fellow musician. In fact, Francesco knew it very well, because I turned out not to be the only one he lent the stage to. There were a couple of guys who go up from the Picolit clients and did a kind of rap competition – in Italian – and then another singer, a woman named Kristen Palmera, took the mic and she did a couple of songs, for which Francesco played the guitar – one was Hit the Road Jack….
But in the magic way in which these things almost always happen in the life of the musical troubadour, after the “open mic” ended and the instruments were put away, several of us joined together for a drink, and one of the rappers approached me and he too spoke in French. He informed me that in a neighbouring town, called Scopello (which is actually part of Castellammare, but a 15-minute drive from here), every Wednesday night there is an open jam session in a bar, and I should attend. Wow! It was only the day before that Ornella and I were saying that Castellammare is a perfect place for us, with the exception that I cannot satiate my need to play music by dropping into an open mic in the way I can at home. Hey presto, now I can! I will report on that here once I do it….
PS, lest I give a wrong impression about this place, it is absolutely full of music, and there are several bars with live music several times per week. But they book acts long in advance, so I’ve never had a chance to play in one.
PPS, and for those who noticed the hole in my storytelling…the guitar was a Crafter!!! (The hole was there on purpose, but against my wishes, because I had gone blank while writing this on what the name of the guitar was!!!)