Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Breath-Holding Moment: From Japan to Paris to Milan to Austin, and from TAC Theater to Ligera to Stay Gold to the White Horse to Dozen Street

October 21, 2016

Tac Teatro

TAC Teatro

AUSTIN, Texas – In the last week and a half I have travelled from Japan to Paris (leaving out Dubai) to Milan and then back to Paris and then to Austin (leaving out Atlanta) and here I am in the sun in Texas after two musical nights with my friend from Paris who used to run the amazing Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic…. Wait, let me backtrack. That’s the problem with these blog posts that cover a week and a half!!!!

So it all started off with the return from Japan, and a couple of nights Paris before I took a train to Milan to visit a friend. And there, two fabulous cultural experiences, one in the really cool TAC Teatro, founded and run by the amazing Ornella Bonventre, whom I met on my last trip to Milan in early September, and while I visited the Spazio Ligera! I wrote a big story about that fabulous night at Ligera, but had no idea it would lead to another visit, and the experience at the TAC Teatro, which is now located right next-door to Ligera.
Improv group at TAC Teatro

Last week, at the new location of TAC I arrived just in time to see the presentation of the teachers of the TAC of their upcoming year of instruction in the theater arts at TAC. There was a fabulous and fun improvisation group, that teaches improvisation, and which put on a small show that I caught bits of in video. Anyway, I’ll probably write more about TAC in the future, suffice it to say that probably this all-purpose theater is best summed up in the name, which is short for Teatro a Chiamata, which basically has to do with the “calling” of the theater. For Ornella, theater is not just about a stage and actors facing an audience; for her the stage, the actors and the audience are all one. And the brief look I had at TAC confirms that concept.
A Dario Fo moment at Ligera

After the evening of presentation of the upcoming courses, some of us went across the street and visited Ligera again. I had not been back since early September, and despite feeling quite wiped out, fatigued from a cold, I had my guitar with me, and although I didn’t really feel like playing, and the evening was more about drinking, carousing, and talking, suddenly, someone pulled out a guitar, and suddenly, there was again an ambience of music in the Spazio Ligera. A “pop-up jam session” dare I call it? It became absolutely impossible to refuse the idea of playing.
More of jam at Ligera in Milan

And this, by the way was the day after the death of Dario Fo, the Nobel Prize winning Italian dramatist, and the same day after the winning of the Nobel Prize by Bob Dylan. So after some of the people in the bar – including one of the owners – played a tribute to Dario Fo, it seemed normal, or inevitable, that I would play a Dylan song…. And that was the beginning of many more songs, and much more fun. I absolutely love the Spazio Ligera.
Another moment of the improv group at TAC Teatro

And then back to Paris before flying off to Austin and the meeting with Sundown

I took a train from Milan back to Paris, packed, then caught a very early morning flight to Atlanta and from there on to Austin, and no sooner had I got my rental car on Wednesday night than I drove off to meet up with my friend Ollie Joe Yaco of Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of “Some Girls” open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of Sundown fame all over the world. I’m referring to the guy who I have mentioned for years on this blog, who ran those open mics, and who now has his band called Sundown. It turned out that Ollie was in Austin travelling around on what seems like his once or twice a year visit to the U.S. for playing music in some great cities like Austin and L.A.
First at Stay Gold

I think I had just missed him in Austin last year, so I was determined not miss him this year. He was doing a gig at a place in the east end of town, called Stay Gold. So I showed up for that, and from there he led me off to a very cool bar called the White Horse, which could not sound more British, or be more Austin-like. More on that place later, I think, but hearing and seeing Ollie playing his music in Austin was a fabulous moment – although in fact I arrived too late on Wednesday to catch his set.
Second at Stay Gold

But that was fixed by him inviting me to his next gig, at a place on East 12th Street, called Dozen Street, last night. In fact, Ollie got the stage for himself last night, and decided in his typical way to share it with friends. So it was that he did a nice set with both solo stuff, and guy on the spoons, and then the French barman at the Dozen Street bar, who played lead guitar for him. I played a short set, and two fabulous women singer songwriters played sets as well. Those the completely opposite style performers Alison Gail Self and Cari Q.
Four handed piano moment at the White Horse in Austin

The Dozen Street bar has existed for about two years, and it is one of the many long, long bars with a back stage and a back courtyard of a type I’ve seen spotted all about Austin. The evening finished off with another band that had nothing to do with the rest of us, and which went on until quite late, I think. Very cool, all together, very very cool. A kind of evening that really makes you realize just how unique and cool Austin is musically. This kind of thing is just going on all over the city. It can take a while to find the hot spots, in fact, but once you do, you realize they are all over the place.
Sundown and spoons

Sundown and spoons and lead

Sundown solo

duet with ollie sundown at Dozen Street

fourth at dozen street

Third at dozen street

Group at Dozen street

Cool Time at Austin Songwriter Group Open Mic and Song Circle

October 24, 2015

piano and sign at Austin Songwriters Group open mic

piano and sign at Austin Songwriters Group open mic

AUSTIN, Texas – I’ve tried on at least two previous occasions to make my way to the Austin Songwriters Group Friday night open mic and song circle, but never made it. Got lost one year and just didn’t find it. It’s located near a McDonald’s off the highway outside Austin near the airport. It is located in its own permanent headquarters, in the Mockingbird Café, next to a catfish restaurant. It has existed for decades. And it is absolutely super cool, and last night I had an experience like none before in open mics – which seems pretty rare today for me….

The group has seminars, songwriting workshops and other events. And Friday night is the open night where you can show up with your guitar and take part in the open mic and the song circle afterwards. The open mic has a format that I have never seen before, but which is apparently used in several other venues in Austin. What happens is that the musicians that take part sing two songs, but they go up on stage in groups of three or four, sitting down in front of three or four mics, and each musician sings a song before it passes on to the next musician, going through the line twice.

This is a very interesting method, as it means that for the spectators, you have a lively rotation of one singer after another doing just one song, so you don’t just sit through a set of one person at a time. In the two nights in a row here so far at open mics, I have been impressed with the level of the songwriting skills in Austin. I myself somehow managed to forget the lyrics of a song each night so far, and last night was the most embarrassing, since it was one of my own songs that I sing regularly, but have not sung for a long time – “Memories.”

After the open mic the group pulled together the chairs into a circle and I was told it was time for the song circle. What is that? Well, a little bit like a bluegrass circle, but in this case it is not bluegrass. Everyone gathered in a circle and one after the other people sang their songs, and the rest of the circle joined in playing lead or whatever, joining in a kind of jam. A fabulous, organized idea.

Unfortunately, I had not eaten a meal after going directly from the racetrack to the open mic, and so I decided to leave after they played a few songs. It was horribly difficult, as the circle might go on most of the night, I was told. But after all, I am in Austin to do another job.

In any case, it was a refreshing, cool, different slant on the open mic and jam. But what else would you expect from the Austin Songwriters Group?

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – United States

November 9, 2014

austin pubMy worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.

This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.

For my U.S. chapter, I divide it up between the two cities I visited for the adventure, New York City and Austin, Texas.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in the United States since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Un Autre Monde in the Last Night in Austin at the Firehouse and C-Boy’s

November 8, 2014

Firehouse, Austin

Firehouse, Austin

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Yes, here I am sitting in my hotel room in Sao Paulo, overlooking the bright lights of the big city. But thinking still about my last night bar-hopping in Austin, and seeing two French-like bands, both of which have members that have been in Austin for 25 to 30 years. So there was a very cool, and unselfconscious mix of English pop and French pop.

Un autre monde at the Firehouse:

The first was taking us full-circle from the first night in Austin, where I saw one of Olivier Giraud’s groups playing with him on guitar and synth, to now, Olivier with his original big huge successful 8 1/2 Souvenirs band playing all sorts of traditional lounge kind of stuff, including some very French stuff, as you’ll see in the videos. This was at the relatively new, and relatively cool C-Boy’s Heart & Soul bar, with its neat stage with red ribbon kind of backing to it. 8 1/2 recently reformed at popular demand; it was a well-known Austin swing jazz band from the 1990s that released two albums with RCA, and something else with an independent label in Austin.

From there, I went on to the very nifty Firehouse lounge, with its more basic and brutal stage and sound of the band of the crew from Justine’s restaurant, a fabulous French restaurant where I ate a few days earlier. The owner and some of the staff put this band together with other friends, several of whom have known each other since they were teenagers, and guess what? have lived in Austin for, like 30 years!

Check out especially, “Un Autre Monde,” of the French band Téléphone.

Oh, and by the way, the Firehouse is accessible from the front hostel entrance by pulling to one side the bookshelf, which disguises a door. And please note that on Wednesday nights, the Firehouse becomes an open mic….

Bar Hopping, Open Mic Playing, Austin Living – a Few More Days in the Live Music Capital of…

November 5, 2014

End of an Ear store

End of an Ear store

AUSTIN, Texas – On this trip to Austin, I’ve been discovering musical joints both with live bands in concert, and open mics for me to play. In the past I would always try to find ONLY places for me to play. But this time, I decided to relax a little and find out what else exists. That has led me from a dive bar to a record store to a cool open mic I did not know in the center of the city….

The dive bar is the Longbranch Inn on 11th street, and the music was about as raunchy as the bar. I was pleased that I brought my earplugs from the racetrack, since the music was so loud I could not really hear it. So I managed to record some of the set and take the recording back to the place I’m staying in, and there I heard the band for the first time. Liked the guitar, and the harmonica – and great rhythm too. But you’ll hear the singer’s voice was too low through the amp and we can’t make out much.

That was Saturday night, by the way. Sunday night I spent the whole evening writing my race report of the U.S. Grand Prix. So last night, I attended two different events, in fact. The first was at a record store that is reputedly one of the best two in Austin. And I can confirm that “End of an Ear” is a great shop. Not only full of CDs, but mountains of vinyl. I went to the record store because there was a photo vernissage by a friend of the friend I’m staying with, as well as a band.

We got there too late for the band, but I enjoyed looking at the photos by Renate Winter, the photographer. It was photos of bands, young people, musicians, from around the U.S., some from Austin, some in Atlanta and elsewhere. In some ways it reminded me of a world I know in Paris…. Check out my short video of the photos….

And Then Off to the Ten Oak Open Mic in Downtown Austin

It was my host who told me about the open mic at the Ten Oak bar on Colorado near Fifth Street, and boy was I happy to discover this relatively new open mic, which began nearly two years ago. Run by Ronnie Hall, who has a fabulous duet called Thomas and Hall, it’s worth going to just to hear them play!

But ultimately, the real pleasure is playing through the nice sound system on the terrace of this bar in downtown Austin where other musicians and music lovers can hear what you’re doing, as does the appreciative audience within the bar. Singing in the live music capital of the world, you feel a different vibe to many other places, like being part of a secret club run by musicians and music lovers.

The level of the musicians was so high at one point that I was begging in my head for someone crap to go up just before me, but that never happened!!!

Gotta run now to another couple of musical events….

Deadly Combination of F1 Fan Fest, and Halloween, Brings Austin Streets Away From Life

November 1, 2014

Austin Halloween Night

Austin Halloween Night

AUSTIN, Texas – It was a deadly combination of life and death in the streets of Austin last night, that brought the city – particularly 6th Street – back to death with a bursting forth of action in the deadzone that is this Texan city on Halloween night. The Halloween festival is always a big one, but with the added 100,000 or so Formula One fans taking to the street for the F1 Fan Festival for its first night, it was a celebration like none before.

I was half asleep by the time I arrived on 6th Street with a friend, and then I was immediately swept up into the riotous affair of the local population going crazy with Halloween costumes and filling the street from side to side – with only the central part cordoned off from the revellers, where the cops watched over the action.

Austin is particularly respectful of Halloween since there is a large Mexican population as well, with its deadly equivalent of the dastardly festival. The F1 Fan Fest runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday in conjunction with the U.S. Grand Prix that is taking place in Austin this weekend. The festival has four stages for music running throughout the weekend, and there are also little entertainment fairground-type activities for those who attend. The concerts include Joan Jett, and a few other bands better known locally than around the world. But all in all it’s a fabulous line up and an amazing atmosphere.

I had been thinking about trying to find a place to play music, but I had been advised against it. Then I discovered that in fact, on the Austin360 stage there was a daylong live band karaoke yesterday, and it is happening today too. But I am too busy working my job to think about doing that.

In any case, I have never seen such a Halloween occasion, and some of the effort put into the costume defies belief. You’ve got to see them in the little video I assembled of footage I took last night. My favorite wa the man who played the role of a gorilla and of a captive human in a cage carried by the gorilla. Check that one out on the video, I put in a few freeze frames on it, as I had a very small window of opportunity to grab the image….

Continental Graffiti, the 1948 Epiphone, 1938 amp, and the Aviary in Austin

October 31, 2014

The Aviary (Austin)

The Aviary (Austin)

AUSTIN, Texas – The last thing I expected to find within two hours of arriving in Austin, Texas last night was a band with some French musicians playing some pretty cool, and unusual music with old time feel, old time synthesizer, a 1948 Epiphone electric guitar, some vintage speakers – 1938 – and a unique venue called the Aviary, on South Lamar in Austin. And then, wow, actually getting to sit down and play the Epiphone myself….

Where do I start??? It was my friend from France with whom I’m staying in a an Austin suburb who led me to the Aviary for a quick late dinner after the 21-hour total trip from Paris. And there was his friend, Olivier Giraud, who runs a hotrod car business in addition to being a fabulous guitarist and synthesizer player, and leader of the band Continental Graffiti.

Giraud has lived in Austin for nearly three decades, and he has established himself in both of those areas, and last night I was honored to discover his music, and play his guitar. And in what a place! The Aviary is a unique, unusual, venue that calls itself, Austin’s only home decor store and wine bar. In fact, it is also a gallery. It has old films showing on a giant screen… it reminded me of a miniature version of one of those kerts in Budapest, like the Szimpla….

I recorded some of the music, and afterwards spoke to Giraud, and he let me play the Epiphone. I could not believe how good the action was, and how cool it sounded through the 1938 amp, which had a coil and tubes rather than a magnet like what you find in amps today….

I doubt I’ll have the time, but if I do, I’ll drop by his business, the “House of Hotrods,” and see if that guitar is hanging around amongst the grease, oil and chrome for a bit more of a play.

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Austin Edition

December 6, 2013

austin pubFor my 21st city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Austin page. As a reminder, it all started with my now very popular Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and due to that guide’s success, I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour.

Austin’s Open Mic Scene in the Midst of the Musical Capital of the….

Austin likes to call itself the Live Music Capital of the World. My own feeling is that it is certainly the live music capital by square mile of the U.S., and but I think there are other amazingly equally vibrant live music places, like Istanbul. Whatever, the truth is, there is music everywhere in Austin. Of that there is no doubt. On the other hand, there are so many musicians and so many concerts of every level and in every kind of location, that the open mic scene itself does not necessarily profit by the musicality of Austin, in my experience so far after only two years’ brief visits. The city has so many locations for musicians to play, in other words, that it has less need of open mics as entertainment spots, and there are more places for musicians themselves to play. That said, Austin is a cornucopia of open mics! One open mic organizer told me that she thought there were five to 10 open mics on any given night in Austin. I think it might be a bit of an exaggeration, but there are certainly lots. My problem is that in the limited time I have been there, and with my job responsibilities, I have not played in that many.

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 more than 20 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.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on venues.

Weird Stuff in Austin, Followed by Stompin Open Mic at the Stompin Grounds

November 20, 2013

stompin grounds austin

stompin grounds austin

AUSTIN, Texas – I wrote quite extensively during my visit to Austin last year about how this amazing city really does live up to its “weird” name sometimes. So last night’s open mic adventure added another little chapter to that impression….

I set out for an open mic at a place called the Waterloo Ice House, which is a bar in a mall in south Austin, an open mic that has existed for around five years and is hosted by a woman named Julie. So first of all, par for the course, the car’s GPS decided that it did not want us to get to the correct address and did all it could to prevent us from getting there, as it seemed to have done last Friday when I wrote on this blog about getting lost in Austin and never finding the open mic we set out to find.

So the lesson having been learned, my friend who was driving decided to turn off the car’s GPS and use his own knowledge and his telephone’s google map. Bingo! We found the Waterloo Ice House. My immediate impression when I entered, though, was that there was no one there in the way of either musicians or spectators. But my friend told me the open mic was taking place in the garden in the back. So we went to the garden in the back and there found that the open mic was indeed going to take place there, as all the equipment was set up: A couple of speakers, mic stand, the usual stuff. Looked really professional.

Still, there was a table of about three people, and that was it. And there was music from speakers from the bar and music coming from the inner park of this mall structure, too. Julie approached immediately, and I was relieved to see her hospitable attitude and she said immediately that her feature band had not shown up, so if I wanted to play, I could.

I agreed, sat down, took out the guitar and waited for Julie to return, since she said she’d gone off to turn off the above mentioned music. She was gone for around 10 minutes, and when she returned she bore bad news: “Sorry, but we can’t turn off the music, so I’m afraid the open mic has been cancelled.”

I told her I’d come all the way from Paris, France for this open mic, and so she offered me a beer and an apology. It turned out, she said, that the owner or manager or something of the mall had changed and they suddenly realized they did not have access to the room wherein they could turn off the music in the park outside, and so they could not very well hold the open mic with background music on top of the performer’s music. As I was the only performer, and my friend by then the only audience, it didn’t ultimately matter that much.

I accepted the beer, and spoke a while with Julie. It turned out that not only has she been hosting this open mic for around five years, but she also hosts another on Tuesdays in Austin at another location. And as with many other open mic hosts, she knew about the other open mics in town. In fact, she told me that there were something like 5 to 10 open mics every night of the week, although they were not always easy to find….

She then asked if I wanted to go to another that very night, and when we found out there was another one about 10 minutes drive away, we jumped on it. Julie then actually sent an SMS to the host of this other open mic to ask if it was going strong and if I could still take part. The answer – from Raul – was positive, so we set off to the other open mic, at a bar called Stompin Grounds.

So I left the Waterloo Ice House feeling ever more like Austin really is weird… but I was enjoying it!

So when I arrived at this very cool and warm bar called the Stompin Grounds and I introduced myself to Raoul, he was ready for me. I got to go on within a half an hour and listen to several other acts. The only downer there was that the Stompin Grounds, last night, anyway, was one of those places where the audience listens to its friends, and then when the friend is not on stage, the audience goes outside on the terrace so not to hear the other musicians, and so to smoke cigarettes and consult laptops etc.

So it was that even at the Waterloo Ice House I ended up playing for an audience of two: My friend and a woman who stayed for one song, and when she left there was this other musician who had played before me…. Now I will refrain from saying that is weird, because it happens all over the world from time to time. I was simply happy to get behind a nice mic and sing my heart out in weird Austin again, finally!

In a conversation in the car as we returned home, my friend and I discussed about how Austin is chock full of open mics, but because it is also chock full of professional musicians doing gigs all over town in a city with more music per square mile than probably anywhere else on the North American continent, the open mics are not necessarily the biggest winners in all that. There is just no real huge need to seek out the open mic to play or hear live music….

That said, I hope I get another chance here next year….

Lost In Austin

November 17, 2013

Lost'in Austin

Lost’in Austin

AUSTIN, Texas – There has been a gap on this blog not because I’ve been up to nothing lately, but because I’ve been up to too much! Travelling from Paris to Austin, Texas, attending the U.S. Grand Prix for the last three days in preparation for watching tomorrow’s race, catching up with a friend who moved to Austin, catching up on a massive number of stories to be written for my job, eating a goat’s meat burger and other Austin food… the list goes on and on. But for the moment, the only open mic news to report is my failure to make it to the open mic I set out to attend last night, because we got lost.

This is not the first time I have got lost trying to find an open mic in some obscure place like Austin, Texas 😉 but it is always still disappointing. I’d found out about this open mic on Friday night presented by the Austin Songwriters Group at a place called the Mockingbird Café. I’d discovered the announcement through a Facebook page that announces open mics in Austin, called the “Austin Open Mic Music Network.

Unfortunately, however, in driving to this place using the GPS in the car of my friend, we came to an area of what looked like closed businesses and warehouses way out in the middle of nowhere. So we decided that the address was a mistake of the google maps. We looked up the Mockingbird Café on google and found a completely different address. So went to that one, only to find ourselves in the middle of nowhere again – or almost – but at some kind of half-dead mall. We decided to go into what was the only business that appeared still open, a Mexican restaurant, to ask if they had any idea where the Mockingbird Café was located.

At the bar I asked someone who looked like a manager and I also asked a customer. The manager kind of guy had never heard of the Mockingbird, and the customer told me that she had lived in the area for 10 years and had never heard of it either. Then a waitress spoke up: “This here restaurant used to be called the Mockingbird Café,” she said.

So we had our answer: The Internet had likely failed us for the second time that night, as we had found an old reference on the web to what used to exist, and we went there and found it gone.

It was clearly time to give up, and forget what looked like it could be a great open mic. Maybe I’ll be able to update at a future date once I find out where the joint is!

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