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The New Austin Songwriters Group Locale and Another Boppin’ Night at the Speakeasy in Austin

October 26, 2016
bradspurgeon

Threadgill's Austin

Threadgill’s Austin

My last night in Austin before flying off to Mexico City – where I’m writing these words – was another great night at the open mics: I went to two of them, and they were diametrically opposed in terms of vibe. And I loved both.

The Austin Songwriters Group has moved from its warehouse/clubhouse kind of place on the outskirts of town where I visited last year to a legendary saloon-like location called Threadgill’s. This is a room with a long musical history, in fact, and when you see the style of the room, the neat stage, and the general setup for listening to music, you can understand why.
Panorama of Threadgill’s

And when I say legendary, and music… the story behind this place is that the original spot opened up in 1933 as a Gulf gas station, but the owner loved music. He got a beer licence, and it became a favorite winding down spot for performing musicians. Eventually he held a Wednesday open night, and there was a real cross of generations mixing the country musicians and the new 60s flower children. People like Janis Joplin, honed their style there, not to mention appearances by Jerry Lee Lewis and Captain Beefheart!
sixth at Threadgill’s

Next, it was bought by the owner of the legendary Armadillo World Headquarters and celebrates in photos on the walls a spot under the name of Armadillo World Headquarters – for musicians to perform. I won’t lose anymore steam telling the story – no doubt inaccurately – so I refer you to the Threadgill’s site under the history section for the full story.
first at Threadgill’s

The Austin Songwriters Group had to move here from their previous place, and I can’t imagine it a loss – although at the other place they could stay later. This open mic starts early, with sign up at 6:30 PM and the open mic starting at 7 PM and finishing precisely at 9:45 PM. That’s what I call early.
Paris terrorist song at Threadgill’s

But it DOES allow for musicians who are still hungry for music to go to any of several other open mics in Austin, and my choice on Monday was the Speakeasy, a not-to-far-walk over the bridge to Congress Street, where I have played in previous years, but never in the real Speakeasy joint on the rooftop café. It’s windy up there! And apparently cold in the winter.
Shredder at Speakeasy

In any event, after the laid back singer songwriter night at Threadgill’s it suddenly went into overdrive weird at the Speakeasy, with just about every kind of performer imaginable playing on the neat little stage amongst the potted plants.
First at Speakeasy

Unfortunately I had my flight to catch fairly early the next morning, so I ended up being able to play only one song. Otherwise, I’d have loved to have stayed until the end, which is apparently around 2 AM.
harmony at speakeasy

Check out the videos and go if you’re ever in Austin.
Keeping south Austin weird at Threadgill’s

fourth at Threadgill’s

Fifth at Threadgill’s

Update of Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music

October 25, 2016
bradspurgeon

Guitar baggage claim in Austin Bergstrom International Airport

Guitar baggage claim in Austin Bergstrom International Airport

I have updated my Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. I have not actually added any new venues, but I have updated ones that have either moved to a new day and location, or I have finally attended at the usual location, after they had temporarily moved to a new place on my last visits.

The big discovery was the new location (and day) for the Austin Songwriters Group’s open mic, on Monday’s at the legendary Threadgill’s off South Congress by the river in the center of town. I still have yet to do my blog write up about that one, as well as my visit to Speakeasy last night after the ASG event. (Two in one night.) But as I had a few minutes free in the airport before I fly to Atlanta and then Mexico City, I decided to update the guide.

So take a visit to my Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

So check it out!

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
bradspurgeon

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

Guest Article Post from Austin Open Mic Host Christy Moore: The Difference Between Paris and Austin Open Mics

October 30, 2015
bradspurgeon

Christy Moore and Brad Spurgeon at Tom's Tabooley

Christy Moore and Brad Spurgeon at Tom’s Tabooley

MEXICO CITY – A comparison of the open mic scene in Paris and in Austin, Texas? Why not? Great idea! Last week while I was in Austin I attended the open mic run by Christy Moore at Tom’s Tabooley. I wrote about it on this blog. I had met Christy a few years ago, during my first visit to Austin, and since then she has used my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and Live music, and she has helped me out in finding open mics in Austin. Yesterday, she wrote an article on her blog, called “Just Another Night in Austin with My Friends,” comparing her experience of the open mic scene in Paris to that of her experience of the scene in Austin. I thought it was such a cool article – not just because she cites me and compliments my original song, I think it was “Borderline” – but especially because she raises some fundamental questions about the nature of the open mic scene anywhere. I have a few responses to her impressions to life in Paris open mics, which I will put in the comment area underneath her article, and I invite all other interested readers to do the same. This is actually my first experiment in having a guest blogger – as far as I can remember – but it just seemed like such a natural fit, that I couldn’t pass up the idea. And Christy gave me the go-ahead. So here is the link to Christy Moore’s story, “The Difference Between Paris and Another Night in Austin With My Friends,” which I have placed in my section of this blog called, “Articles as opposed to posts.”

Three Open Mics in Austin on Monday Night – Mixed Reviews – And An Update of My Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics

October 28, 2015
bradspurgeon

stompin grounds austin

stompin grounds austin

MEXICO CITY – I’m now writing this from Mexico City, my next step along this particular foray into the open mic world … or the world of the open mic… or the world of F1…. In any case, before I move on to talking about doing open mics in Mexico City, I want to just put the final touches to the visit to Austin, Texas. Monday night, my last night there, I managed to let loose and make up for all the lost time on the first night there: I performed at B.D. Riley’s on 6th Street, then dropped over to the Speakeasy, just around the corner, but found the usual open mic there had been moved to Ten Oaks, around the corner from that; then finished off at the famous, “Stompin Grounds” on South Congress.

But I’m running way ahead of myself here. The visit to B.D. Riley’s confirmed my feeling about this mainstay open mic in Austin: It is a lot of fun to play in front of the open window looking out onto the sidewalk on 6th Street and seeing if you can attract passersby into the bar. As far as trying to attract the attention of the pub crowd itself, well, it’s hit or miss. B.D. Riley’s is a massive pub that has a large section in the back behind the bar where people tend to go to eat a meal. But it also has tables, bar and chairs in the front of the pub, where people go usually to drink, carouse, maybe listen to music, maybe eat, maybe contemplate life.

There was a lot of all of that going on while I played, No. 5 on the list, and not really sure how well my sound was reaching the rest of the establishment. But the temporary fill-in host, Jake, did a great job, and I was really pleased and flattered to be asked to do a fourth song, since it had been three songs up to then. I was surprised a lot because at one point, in my frustration at feeling that I wasn’t reaching people – for one reason or another – I decided just to enjoy the situation, the location, the unique moment, and I turned my back to the audience on my second song and looked up into the sky and out into the street, almost playing IN the street, out that huge front window that borders the stage.

Anyway, from there I moved on quickly – after my fish and chips and Kilkenny meal – to the Speakeasy, which is located just around the corner, on Congress, down the street, and where I had noticed earlier in the day that there is an open mic every Monday at 8 pm. But when I got there, I found a private group of tourists or something heading into the place and I asked the concierge if there was an open mic.

“Not tonight,” he said. “We have a private event. It is moved around the corner to Ten Oaks for tonight.”

So off I went to Ten Oaks, to discover that I had already played in an open mic at this bar either last year or the year before – and had not put it on my open mic guide list, because I was just too lazy to update and then forgot! – and that it was the same MC. The guy recognized me too, in fact, and said he is a subscriber to this blog. He said that he used to run the open mic there, but had dropped the work and was now just filling in since it was not running at the Ten Oaks.

It was already 9:30 at night, and he had a list of at least eight people, and he was only just setting up. So I was worried about my timing, and the possibility of getting on to do the Stompin Grounds open mic. So I told him that, and he suggested that I must NOT miss the Stompin Grounds, and he decided to send a text message to his friend, Raoul, who runs the Stompin Grounds open mic, to get my name on the list!

This was such amazing service, such a great way to feel welcome in the Austin music scene. I took a video of one of the musicians setting up at the Ten Oaks, and then I moved on to the Stompin Grounds by taxi.

When I got there, the place was just full of musicians, someone was playing, and the feel was one of the best I’d had all week in terms of a turnout at an open mic, and in terms of the quality, the vibe, the youthful enthusiasm… the hipness of the place, the presentation by Raoul… everything was just so RIGHT at the Stompin Grounds.

Until I got up on stage. In fact, until a guy before me got up on stage and half the people cleared out to take a cigarette because their friends had already performed. And by the time I got up, well, that huge audience of hip ‘n cool people had cleared out almost entirely to all the various places that are provided in order to escape the performer. (I’m talking about the terrace, the bar in the other room, another part near the door….)

So, yes, there were actually two people who remained for my second song: The guy due up after me, and the girl who had performed just before me. She may have seen that I was watching and listening to her closely, and taking videos, and maybe she felt the need to support me. Or maybe it was because she found it a better place to stay to send messages on her phone. Not sure why. I stopped singing my song for a moment and told her she was welcome to leave the room like everyone else, but I’m not sure she understood….

But what I realized when I looked back at my report about this place last time I played, is that now I can confirm that Stompin Grounds may be one of the coolest, hippest places to play in Austin, but if you don’t bring your fans, get ready for feeling pretty alone….

Of course, maybe I just sang and played total crap. But that’s not the way it felt.

Anyway, so ends my week in Austin, and I’m now also going to update and add a link here to my Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics, Jam Sessions and Other Live Music.

PS: My internet connection at my hotel in Mexico City is too slow to upload the videos I took on my last night in Austin. So those will have to wait until I get a faster connection. Keep posted.

Cool Time at Austin Songwriter Group Open Mic and Song Circle

October 24, 2015
bradspurgeon

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?

True Austin Open Mic at Tom’s Tabooley in Texas

October 23, 2015
bradspurgeon

Tom's Tabooley Logo

Tom’s Tabooley Logo

AUSTIN, Texas – My faith in Austin’s open mic scene has been reignited. Not that I really lost faith, I just got frustrated on my first night to find no open mics running at the three venues I visited. There were likely many others elsewhere. But last night, it was a bona fide Austin feel that I found at the open mic at Tom’s Tabooley café on Guadeloupe at 29th Street.

Run by Christy Moore – not to be confused with Christy Moore, the Irish singer – this open mic is the logical extension of the now defunct Flipnotics open mic where I met Christie a few years ago. It is singer-songwriter based, with the emphasis on original songs rather than covers. But everything is welcome.

Spectator with Tea at Tom's Tabooley

Spectator with Tea at Tom’s Tabooley

The room is a dream setup for an open mic: Very big, living room kind of furniture, a large stage with a red curtain, a good sound system, and a soundman taking careful control throughout. And never fear, if there are no spectators by the time you get up – it runs early, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. – there is a permanently stationed old butler spectator ready to listen throughout and even to serve you a tea if you need one after playing. (See photo.)

I was a little late getting there so I got up ninth on the list. And although I had a chance to move up higher as someone else wanted a later start, I chose to keep ninth in order to watch the other acts in comfort and also to eat my dinner. That’s another cool thing: The café food part is in a separate room, and you can order food to eat, and pop over to the liquor store next door to pick up a few beers or something else.
First at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

I had a great falafel, hummus and a salad. And I had some beer named after a famous local singer. Can’t remember the name. But speaking of local singers, there were a number of cover songs sound by local musicians, including the El Paso-based Tom Russell, whose stuff I quite enjoy. And that was the tone of the evening. They may not have known it – because they live here – but the feel of this place was pure Austin, Texas.
Second at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

I’ll go back – if I get the chance again, and if it continues on….
Third at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.



Fourth at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.


Fifth at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

Sixth at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

Seventh at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

Eight at Tom’s Tabooley open mic in Austin.

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