ABU DHABI – I was greatly relieved to find that one of the rare open mic, open jam events in Abu Dhabi, one that I had found last year, still exists this year, and was as fun and open as ever. This is the Friday night jazz night at the Mood Indigo Lounge in the Mercure City Center hotel, in downtown Abu Dhabi. It is hosted and led by the genial and talented Rob Millner, who plays piano and sings, and he had a drummer and bass player backing him up throughout the evening. It is organized by Bruce Olsen. It is mostly geared towards jazz, as I say, but like any great open stage, just about anything is acceptable. But what I did find out to my great disappointment is that if I had gone directly there on Wednesday night upon arriving in Abu Dhabi, I’d have found a similar evening devoted more to folk, acoustic music, with this time Rob Millner on the Irish fiddle!
And I can confirm by what I heard through a short snippet of a recording, Rob is as adept on the fiddle as he is on the piano! In any case, the stage was certainly open on Friday, and although this might be one of the best kept secrets in Abu Dhabi, as the place was no overflowing with jammers, there was a very agreeable saxophone player who joined in, and I had my moment behind the mic, with the band, too. First at Mood Indigo Lounge jam in Abu Dhabi
I kind of get tired of always playing the same standard songs in my repertoire whenever it is a jam situation – i.e., playing with musicians I’ve never played with before on songs they don’t know – so I decided to try something a little new. I felt confident with Rob’s piano as well as the drumming and bass playing, so I decided to risk doing Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat,” which has two, three, maybe even four different chord structured parts to it and can take other musicians by surprise if you don’t know it. I also did a couple of Bob Dylan songs, and of course, “Mad World.” Second at Mood Indigo in Abu Dhabi
To my amazement, it went over just fine – at least I’m judging by the way I felt we only went off the rails a couple of times, and by how a number of people in the audience were dancing away to it. It was a great pleasure, especially in this oasis of a night club in Abu Dhabi, which is not dry of musical joints, but has only about three other open mics from what I can make out – and none of the others took place this weekend….
If I can get back again to the Mood Indigo Lounge, I will!
ABU DHABI – How many times have I said, “Don’t give up!” “Don’t despair!”? And without even probably believing in my own words? Well, I had pretty much given up on the idea of finding a place to play my guitar and sing in a bar in Abu Dhabi this year. But I had brought the guitar to play in my hotel room. So what happens? I find a very cool bar and a very cool band, in my hotel, the Mercure City Centre, and I get a chance to go up on stage in this bar with this band in my hotel … and wow, was that fun last night in Abu Dhabi.
And I encourage anyone in town to check out the Friday night jazz jam in that bar, the Mood Indigo bar. Not only are the musicians very good, but they are more welcoming than anything I’ve found so far in this place. Very much a place to be. Here’s one at Mood Indigo bar Abu Dhabi
Oh, yes, I forgot to point out that it was indeed a night mostly devoted to jazz, and that I haven’t got a single jazz standard in my repertoire. But that did not matter at all. What I said about them being open? I got to do my Van Morrison, “Crazy Love,” my “Wicked Game,” my “Mad World,” AND my own song, “Borderline.” And the bassist, pianist and drummer backed me on all of them! First one at Mood Indigo bar Abu Dhabi
So in this town full of hotel bars and live music, do check out this island of laid back jazz and cool sanity, a musical spirit like none other I’ve found in Abu Dhabi so far…. And a third at Mood Indigo bar in Abu Dhabi
PS. Does anyone know a jazz standard on the theme of a car? Because it was the F1 race weekend here, the MC asked the audience if anyone knew any such songs. I was the only one who came anywhere close, citing “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.” In fact, that is a song about a horse-drawn carriage, not a car. But they kindly gave me a free drink for my effort!
PARIS – So I am now back two weeks ago to the weekend in Abu Dhabi, the last weekend of my worldwide musical travel for 2014. This totally absurd approach that I’ve been taking in the last week of back-tracking through time in my web log of my life (remember where the word blog comes from, and what it is?), brings me therefore to the musical weekend that essentially was not.
In closing off my sixth year of travelling the world with my guitar – wherever my job as a Formula One journalist takes me – I therefore arrive at an uncharacteristically disappointing weekend. I’ve only failed to play in a bar or other venue in a country about three times in the full six years of the adventure.
But Abu Dhabi has never been one of the easiest places to find somewhere to play, and I now have a much greater understanding than ever as to why. But first the good news: I now know of two regular open mics in Abu Dhabi, but one of them – on Sunday night – was disappointingly cancelled on the weekend I was there, for the Formula One race!!! The other was not scheduled for that weekend anyway, as it is just once a month.
But the truth is that Abu Dhabi, which is a fabulous city in many ways, has amongst the world’s most Draconian laws for musicians wishing to play in public. I found this out firsthand two weeks ago when a contact in Formula One who was working with a client at a very big hotel in Abu Dhabi offered to me to do a gig at the hotel. He had learned that I play my guitar and sing wherever I go, and he very kindly offered me to play at this hotel.
I agreed. But then the hotel management got in touch with me to arrange the whole thing, and according to the laws in Abu Dhabi, we had to undergo a few formalities: Could I please send my passport, my mother’s full maiden name and a list of the songs I intended to sing. I felt a little peeved that it all came to so much work for the hotel people, but since they were nice enough to go this far to offer me a stage and a mic, and considering I figured it would all be a great adventure for this blog – and my life in general – I sent a scan of the passport, my mother’s maiden name and a list of the songs I intended to sing (as well as a link to my personal music site Brad Spurgeon Music, so they could hear my songs I would sing).
Back to a French Moment and “open mic” at the Mercure in Abu Dhabi
As I awaited their response and the day and time for the gig, I visited a Mercure hotel for a meal, and what should I find but a duet from France singing French classic songs. At one point, a man from the audiences asked if he could sing a song, and the couple accepted. So we had a kind of open mic. On the other hand, I did not bring my guitar to the meal and so had nothing to play with, and anyway, I figured I had my gig coming up, so I was not desperate.
The next morning as I went to the circuit for a day of work, I passed through the spectator area and there I found an Englishman doing a solo guitar-voice gig for the empty canteen area in the extreme heat of Abu Dhabi. He had a fabulous voice, I videoed him, and then went to speak to him. He lives in Dubai, was just doing the gig at the race, and told me how doing musical gigs in Abu Dhabi required a lot of paperwork – i.e., if I had any idea of playing on his stage, forget it!
So it was that the weekend slipped by, I played my guitar in my hotel room several times, but with no response coming from the hotel after I sent my passport, mother’s maiden name and song list, I never DID get a gig. And at the same time, I did not further press the poor management person at the hotel. It was, after all, my last musical adventure of the year, I had a massive number of articles to write about the exciting Formula One season, and when I thought about it, I actually DID have a kind of musical adventure to write about on this blog….
Someone had the bright idea to delay the only true open mic that I can find exists in Abu Dhabi for the second Saturday of November, when it always appears on the first Saturday of November. This is the open mic at the B-Lounge at the Sheraton Hotel, and the excuse for delaying it was that it is the Formula One Grand Prix weekend in Abu Dhabi. That, of course, was precisely the event that drew me to Abu Dhabi in the first place, and that permitted me to be present in a hotel across the street from the Sheraton and ready, willing and excited to take part in the open mic. Alas, they decided that racegoers do not, after all, want open mics. So I was unable to attend, and as a result, I have put it on my list, but under the section of places I have heard of and can recommend, but been unable to attend. Still, I have seen the venue, and read about it, and it looks interesting and fun. Anyway, aside from that failed opportunity, the Bait al Oud, or House of Oud, still exists, and that is open pretty much all the time, and it has pick-up jam sessions now and then. And there are plenty of expatriate bars and pubs throughout the city that have live music. The problem for musicians wishing to take part in open mics is that either Abu Dhabi or the United Arab Emirates, I have heard, have music taxation laws that do not promote the idea of an open stage. I have been unable to confirm this information beyond my original source, but what I have been told is that bars are obliged to pay a kind of entertainment tax for each band or other artist who takes to the stage – to the tune of something like 1000 dirhams. That instantly makes putting on an open mic a major expense, and somewhat impossible as a concept. Still, I know there are open mics here and there in the U.A.E., and so either bars are able to pay, to get around the tax or my information was incorrect. I felt it good to mention, though, as a way of spurring on dialogue, should anyone be able to find information on that fact that I cannot find. Ultimately, though, it would explain the lack of many open mics in the region – a region that is otherwise full of live music of every kind.
Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy
The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.
I arrived in Abu Dhabi last night for the first of four nights in this sandy Emirate on the Gulf, and despite it being almost midnight before I got all settled, I decided to ask at my hotel if they knew of a place I could go to play music – an open mic or a jam session, or just a warm and cosy live music joint. They responded so quickly and easily and enthusiastically, that I just had to take a cab and find this place, despite the late hour.
In any case, they said the Rock Bottom Cafe at the Capital Hotel was the place I needed to go, and I went, ate a chicken burger at a joint across the street and went right to the second floor of the hotel to the bar. Actually, no, I found two other music bars in the hotel first, one a Filipino music place and the other something else, but neither looked promising.
I arrived at the door to the Rock Bottom Cafe to find a couple of security guards and a man between them behind the desk.
“What kind of music is there here?” I asked, since all I received from them all was stares.
“American black music, pop, rock,” the man behind the desk said, after exchanging looks with his friends the guards.
“Ah, cool,” I said, advancing.
“But guitars and cameras are not allowed and there is a cover charge of 100 Dirhams,” he said, looking at my guitar bag on my back and my camera bag at my side.
“Sounds like this is definitely not my kind of place,” I said, and turned to leave. I heard a “yeah,” as I walked away.
Okay, I have a list of potential bars that I will go through the next three nights, and despite being told by several local expats that this is the worst place in the world for what I’m looking for, I will continue boldly forward…. I actually like being here for the rest of the vibe, by the way – nice, warm, sunny temperature, clean streets, big hotel room…a large contrast to India, but India has that music thing!