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Jammin’ at the Classy Blues-sphere Venue in Liège, Belgium

August 24, 2013



Liège, Belgium – On this, my fifth year of my worldwide open mic adventure, I think no other city that I visit has the distinction of providing me with a different place to play almost every year the way Liège has. And that is not necessarily a good distinction: Unfortunately, each year that I come here a place I jammed at the previous year no longer exists.

But so far, the good thing is that each time I come here I DO find another place to play. Last night, I actually had two choices, on the same street, less than 10 minutes’ walk from my hotel. Last night, I visited both the Surlet bar and the Blues-sphere bar, both located on the rue Surlet, in downtown Liège, in Outremeuse.

I was with a work colleague after a long day at the track, and so I felt I had to decide between to the two venues and not do both of them the same night as I would otherwise have done. So we visited both of them, and I was welcomed warmly by each.

Each of these bars holds an open jam session on the Friday night in Liège. The Surlet is a little more open, from what I could tell, allowing any music anyone wishes to play. But last night I had the sense also that it was pretty much loud rock and pop oriented.

The True Open Jam Approach at the Blues-sphere

When I arrived around 10 PM, it was not particularly well attended, either, but the musicians were just warming up. I went to the Blues-sphere and found it deep in the action. The downside was it was geared specifically to jazz and blues, and I’m not adept at either. But the delightfully friendly and encouraging Jean-Paul (I think his name is!) who runs the bar and the jam, said I was welcome to play something as long as it approached the jazz blues area, rather than something purely in the pop vein.

The room has a fabulous feel to it, the stage in the corner was irresistible and the sound was excellent. The walls were decorated with photos of musicians, there were tables spotted about the place and a very well attended open jam with many spectators and musicians made it so I had an easy choice to make: I settled for the Blues-sphere.

As I said, I would have performed at both places under different circumstances. But as it was, I was really pleased with my choice, as I got to do two songs – Wicked Game and Mad World – and I had a drummer, bassist, lead guitar player and pianist (on the first song) play along with me. And a receptive, warm, audience.

Th Blues-sphere, according to Jean-Paul, has been in operation in this spot for about a year, and before that they had organized jams in two or three other spots over the last two years. The place hosts concerts at other times, mostly blues and jazz, like the jam. It has very much the look and feel of a New York jazz bar, and I was delighted to play there.

A Better Musical Scene Than Meets the Eye in Liège

The level of many of the musicians – there was a very good 15-year-old guitarist, by the way – was such that it reinforced my feeling about the musicality of Liège, and made me realize that if I could spend more time in the city and seek out more places, I’d probably find a much richer musical scene than the one I have found so far with each successive bar closing down or jam stopping. I was very sad to see on Thursday night, for instance, that the famous Bouldou bar and venue in the center of town where I had played two years ago was now boarded up and looking like a ghost house. All done. Just like the Café L’Art from 2009-2010. I am now hoping that the jam I attended at the Cuba Libré bar last year is still around and holding a jam and that I will finally be able to play in the same place twice!

From Delerium in Brussels to the Two Monday Night Joints in Paris

August 30, 2011

delerium cafe brussels

delerium cafe brussels

I’ve been having to double up a lot of blog posts lately with all the travel I have been doing giving me little time to update. But the level of the jams and open mics in Brussels and Paris on Sunday night and Monday were so high that there is no problem matching them together. I finally made it to Delerium, the massive, multi-room, multi-venue, multi-style bar in Brussels, off the Grand Place. I had discovered the place in early August on my personal holiday there, but I was not present at the right time to play. After finding Liege deserted musically with no available jams or open mics, I drove off to Brussels after the race on Sunday, and I did not regret a minute of it.

Delerium has two jam sessions each week, the acoustic one on Sunday nights and a full-fledged electric one with a big stage on the Thursday night. At least, that is what Delerium says. But since the plays is completely delerious, the truth is, it has two electric jam sessions: The one on Sunday night is in no way acoustic at all. I was able, however, to use my acoustic guitar, and I played along with a bass player, drummer and bongo player. Also present through the evening were several lead and rhythm guitar players, a keyboard player, a saxophone player – you have to hear him on the videos – and other bass players, bongo players and singers.

The evening is hosted by Dexter, who warms up the joint beforehand with a few songs. I loved that it did not start until after 11 PM, the jam. That meant I could have a meal first, and then warm myself up with a beer or two. In fact, Dexter asked me if I wanted to play alone with my guitar or with backup, and I opted for backup. So this jam that calls itself acoustic, can in fact be acoustic. There were some cool singers and musicians, and the vibe was very lively with an audience of mixed ages. The Delerium really is a wild place, the bar across the street from the one I was in is massive, and there are hundreds of Belgian beers. The only problem is that it is located in the tourist area of the city, and you don’t want to waste your time getting trapped in the restaurants there – it’s just like all those Greek restaurants in the Latin Quarter at St. Michel.

From there I drove back to Paris on Monday, and after an aborted evening thinking of doing something else I ended up back at the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub. I had a great time at both places, even if the summertime blues have still affected the number of musicians attending at least the Tennessee. I was delighted to find that my friend Joe Cady decided to show up a few days before his concert at the Baroc on Sunday, bringing his violin in order to jam. So I had Joe as backup at both the Tennessee and the Galway. And that permitted me to not worry about doing all the same songs I frequently do, like “Mad World,” since with Joe on the violin it became new and different.

There were some other interesting musicians and mixes of Joe and other performers, but the latter happened only at the Galway.

Check it all out in the huge backlog of videos from these last two musical days.

Not Amused, Brad Was A-Meused

August 27, 2011

Another night of negatives in Liege, as one of the city’s main jam session bars was closed for the summer – and opens in a few days from now. It was my second night in the Belgian city and the second night that I found jams closed for the summer, closed for good. I couldn’t take it. So I took my guitar down to the river Meuse at midnight and played “Mad World,” on a walkway as late-night pedestrians passed by clapping and stomping to the rhythm. It is indeed a mad world.

Check out at the halfway point of this video where a couple of guys show up in front of me clapping and stomping time with the rhythm before they head off:

Actually, I played four songs. It’s too difficult to go more than a day or two without music, and it was too late to play at the hotel. The Friday night jam takes place at a bar called the Surlet, and is apparently one of the best in the city.

Since I began this worldwide open mic adventure, I have always worried about the fact that a number of races happen during a period that many bars use to close down for the summer holidays. Fortunately I have never until now been affect by it. But since there is nothing left in Liege, I decided that I will go to Brussels for my final night in Belgium, tomorrow night. I know there are at least two jams there.

P.S. At 1 AM I decided to take my unicycle in go for a spin down the same walkway where I played – along with a few other late-night cyclists. It rained, of course, but it was easy to ride with the umbrella.

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