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.
I had no idea what I was getting into last night after three days away from performing in open mics in Paris. I thought I’d take in a bit of the Tennessee Bar and the Galway, as usual, with the focus being entirely on the latter, in its first evening with the new MC, Romain of All the Roads. But I ended up having someone slip me a calling card and telling me there was a new open mic in Paris on Mondays as well, and I could not resist the visit. Thank goodness I did not resist!
First, the Tennessee Bar was as crowded as ever, and thanks to my usual effort to get there on time with a metro system that always works against me – just one change, but a 7-minute wait for both trains – I arrived far to late to have an early playing time. So I took a beer and watched a few acts and then went to the Galway. There were some cool acts at the Tennessee, by the way, with the Swiss named Mathieu, who had been at the Mazet on Thursday, and some other new guy who had a very interesting, high pitched, melodious voice and some nice lyrics and good guitar playing.
There was absolutely no way that I was going to miss the first open mic at the Galway without Stephen Danger Prescott running it, as he moved off to some other country and Romain took over the show. Romain did a fine job last night, and there were some musicians new and old – I don’t mean old like me, I mean ones who had been there before.
I played my set, but I was getting a little tired and decided to go home. But I had this calling card I was given for a place called Coolin Irish Pub, just off the Boulevard St. Germain, not far at all from either of these venues. And so I thought I’d just take a glance inside before catching a cab back home.
Coolin is this large, wide open pub in the building where there used to be the St. Germain market. It has apparently been there for 15 years, and I have never set foot in it. That will now change. The atmosphere was immense: Free, free-wheeling, young, vibrant, fun, loud – no nasty neighbors to complain – and the sound system was even not bad at all, although they plan to improve it.
Run by Henry, one of the bar tenders, the open mic was on about its fifth night. And it, like Henry, was full of insouciance and good nature. In fact, the moment I entered the bar and someone spotted my guitar, I was invited up to the mic to play. Didn’t even get a chance to order a Kilkenny. Nor did i care. This was too cool to be able to enter and get up behind the mic instantly.
And I loved the fact that I found myself in front of this new audience after I’d already warmed up at the Galway, and none of these people had heard any of my songs before. So I just belted into a few of them with abandon, doing some covers and my own “Borderline.” Had ’em singing along, and it was just generally a visit to the high reaches of the joy that an open mic, and singing in public can provide.
I then got out from behind the mic and took my beer and sat and listened to the others. There wer a number of cool musicians, including Henry, and the Irishwoman, Eithne O Connor – and don’t bother asking me how to pronounce her first name, but think something close to Anne – as well as another Irishman and some of the people in the audience.
In fact, I learned that this open mic begins around a table at 10 PM – sounds like the Bar Varal jam in Sao Paulo, right? – and then it goes on to become the traditional thing behind the mic. And then sometime after midnight, it transfers back to a jam session at the table. You can see in my videos just how amazing and free the atmosphere is.
This place has big, big, big potential. In fact, it’s already 100 percent there. It has a little bit of everything, including lyrics and song books with chords, just in case! It just needs more people, and a little history – and then it will be a Paris classic.
It is nearly 4 AM on Thursday and I finally have the time to write down a little bit about the most amazing last evening that I had in Sao Paulo, where I finished my 2011 adventure around the world going to the open mics and jam sessions. The last night was so great that I am still recovering from it.
I had a fabulous session at Bar Varal in Pinheiros with the same group of people who I met and played with in 2009 and who I managed to miss in the freakiest way last year. This group of musicians both amateur and profession gets together every Sunday in Sao Paulo to play from around 10:30 PM to 5:30 PM, has moved around the city some five to seven or so times in the last couple of years, so you have to make sure not to lose touch with them!
The first year I stumbled on the place in the Lua Nova bar and jammed all night, then last year I stumbled on the place in another bar in the same area, but had no idea that I had found it and I walked out without jamming, and this year I planned it all in advance after befriending one of the participants on Facebook.
I had an even better time this year with the musicians who played at the Varal. The bar is much better than the Lua Nova, which was a tiny hole in the wall bar. The Varal is on the second floor of a discreet building, and if you did not know it was there and you passed by at opening when there is no music in the air, you’d never know it was anything but a private residence outside.
Once inside, though, this is a very warm and cosy bar with high ceilings with wooden beams, and with photos of Brazilian musicians on the walls and other pictures, and with a long bar in the back and a drum set in the corner at the front by the windows. Tables are set up side by side to permit people to join the open jam.
This year there were three microphones, the regular guitar player, and a few more who came in to play guitar, percussion and sing. It was free, open and more amazing as the evening progressed. I was a little worried at first as there was practically no one there at 10:30 PM. By 1 AM it was kicking, both with the people playing music and the audience that sang along.
I met a lot of interesting Brazilian musicians, and made some friendships I’m sure will continue. I also had a great time playing my own song, Borderline, and some cover songs – it was such a huge contrast to the rest of the evening’s hip and cool Brazilian music, but people enjoyed what I did it seemed, and they sang along.
Speaking outside with some of the musicians I asked why there were not more such open jams in Sao Paulo, and one of them told me that it was difficult to promote such things and they kept on getting closed down because of the loudness of the music going all night long. But he said that they all keep on getting back together because it answers a need. Mostly, he said, the jams are started in discreet bars by friends, and they grow into jams of friends of friends and friends of those… no advertising as such is done, and if you don’t know people involved in them, you don’t find them very easily…. That’s for sure!