MELBOURNE, Australia – My 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.
Today I am walking on air, and that is not just because it was the first day since I arrived in Melbourne since last Wednesday that we have had a sunny sky and no rain. I may not have found an open mic last night, but this morning I started a dream project. It is ambitious and I should probably not be writing about it here and now. But I have a very good feeling about it, and it took off this morning thanks to my favorite Emily.
Let me backtrack a little on that last statement. My favorite Emily is my daughter. But Emily Brown is a young Australian musician – among other things – and she is also the organizer of an excellent open mic in Melbourne, at the All-Nations U-Bar. I wrote about it a few days ago, and which I visited last year as well. This morning, Emily made time to have a breakfast at Brunetti and an on-camera interview with me in a nearby park this Italian quarter of Melbourne.
Behind that was the following ambitious plan: A film to follow my musical journey, especially in order to show the musicians, the venues and the people who run the open mics and jams all over the world, in the 19 countries I will visit, including all the continents except Antarctica and Africa.
It is the natural next step to my adventure that started in 2009. I will have three years’ worth of material to use: writings, photos, sound recordings and video recordings. The film will look at this worldwide phenomenon of the open mic and jam session, where musicians both amateur and professional go to play in public for free and for fun. Why do they do it? Where do they do it? How do they do it? Who are they? Why do the organizers organize such things, usually for no pay, or very little pay? What needs does it fill for everyone involved, including the audience?
Emily is as enthusiastic as anyone I’ve ever met who runs an open mic, and she has been doing it for a year and a half now. She also has her band, My Favorite Emily, and several other personal projects in the works, including a television show about the stories of immigrants in Australia, and how they have adapted and succeeded in Australian life. It was thanks to her enthusiasm and the time she gave today that I was able to take the step from “wacky and ambitious idea” to doing the first interview. It was also thanks to the fact that the Australian Grand Prix didn’t start until 5 PM and I didn’t need to show up at the track until a little later!
Friday is not the best night for open mics anywhere in the world. But in Melbourne last night, it turned into a nearly comical search for a grail that would never be found as I followed three leads only to be disappointed three times, each in an odd way.
I settled on walking from the F1 circuit to ET’s Hotel, as I judged it would be no more than a 30 minute walk and my phone calls and emails to the organizer had not been answered. In fact, with the telephone calls to the hotel, there was simply no answer. But I thought I could walk there, and then backtrack to St. Kilda’s, which is also near the F1 track.
et's gloom hotel in Melbourne - closed down, no more open mic
So I walked the 30 minutes or so to ET’s Hotel hoping that I would not be let down, but when I arrived I found the worst possible thing: The hotel had turned into an extraterrestrial carcass of a place. It had closed down and been gutted and turned into a construction site. There remained posters outside for shows that had long since past. It was a little eerie. No more open mic at Et’s Hotel!
et's hotel is now a construction site
Out front of the hotel I finally managed to connect with my phone call to the Greyhound Hotel in St. Kilda.
“Hello,” I said to the man who answered, a man with a slight affectation to his voice. “Do you have an open mic tonight?”
“No,” he said. “But we have a drag show.”
I knew that the drag show had nothing to do with drag racing cars, and thanked him very much and decided to move on to trying to contact the third venue. After all, I was not prepared for a drag show, even if I do open myself up to all different kinds of open mics and jam sessions….
So I called up the Junction Hotel with the number I found on an Open Mic venue list on the Internet.
“Hello,” I said to the man who answered. “Do you have an open mic tonight?”
“What? Oh, no. You have the wrong number, I’m afraid.”
“This is not the Junction Hotel?”
“No. You have the wrong number.”
I checked the number and saw I had dialed the number from the Internet correctly.
So end of open mic story for Friday. It made me feel once again just how wonderful it is when I actually DO connect and find a place to play on this adventure. When that happens it feels like the world is easy, the trip is easy, cool, all fits, and life is a ribbon of dream. Meeting with adversity, suddenly I realize how difficult the task can sometimes be to parachute into a country and hope to find a place to play music instantly and every night.
Having said that, the hazards of travel are multiple, and I neglected to mention the one of Thursday night before I went off to perform at the U-Bar and meet Lara. I had spent a very productive day at the track doing interviews with drivers, team directors and other important people. I had used my Zoom Q3 HD video and sound recorder, the same one I use for the video images of this blog.
At the end of this long and productive day and as I prepared to leave the circuit and go and do my open mic and record with the Q3 some of the stuff for this blog, I went to the toilet. Suddenly, without the slightest warning or provocation of any kind at all, my two-month old 250 euro Q3 recorder fell into the toilet bowl. I removed it in 3 seconds flat, no more. I shook out the water and tried to dry it. I ran back to my desk in the media center at the race track – desk C13, which I had hesitated to take that very morning as it had the No. 13 and was therefore bad luck – and I promptly plugged in the recorder to my computer. The computer message read: “USB device malfunction.”
All was lost, a full day’s work, and even my ability to record the coming nights of open mic shows. Unless… I realized that although the Q3 had died through 3 seconds of toilet water exposure, perhaps the 32 gigabyte SD card that held the data had survived. It was 18:10. I did a quick internet search to see if anyone sold the Zoom Q3 HD in Melbourne.
I found a place called Mannys music store. I called them up. They closed at 7 PM. But they had six of the Q3s in stock. I asked how long it would take to get there from Albert Park, where the race takes place. The guy said about an hour with the traffic there was – or 25 minutes if there was no traffic.
I took a cab and kept the man at Manny’s informed of my progress through the interminable traffic and everlasting traffic lights.
“Tell you what,” he said finally when I told him I would be five to ten minutes late. “I will stay here for you. I will wait.”
So I arrived at Manny’s, it was closed, but the staff let me in. I bought the Q3 and I bought a Zoom H2 hand held sound recorder as well in order not to use the Q3 in the paddock. As I paid for the recorder I removed the 32 gig SD card from my pocket that I had taken from the toilet water damaged recorder, and I put it in. Eureka!!!!! My 9 interviews were all intact! I had been saved by Manny’s and by the SD card. Now all I had to do was take the cab back to my hotel, grab my guitar and get to the All Nations U-Bar as soon as possible to not miss my two dates: The open mic, and Lara.
It worked. Isn’t the life of the traveling minstrel full of unexpected barriers, which can all be overcome with a little persistence.