I had high hopes for the open mic night last night in Paris, and it came to pass – far beyond my wildest expectations. If the headline to this post, and my lede, sound like a massive dose of hyperbole, too bad!
First stop was the Bus Palladium, the famous Paris venue that I have written about on several occasions on this blog. Last night was the second of the Bus’s new open mic evenings, the first being around a month ago. I don’t know how long it will continue, and I didn’t ask. I get the feeling that the Bus is kind of feeling out the territory, and seeing how it works out. They took a very professional and highly organized approach to the thing by sending out a Facebook announcement and asking musicians to send an email and a myspace link to their music as a tryout. And they admit that this made it a “semi” open mic.
I got accepted along with 14 other acts. I missed the first evening a month ago, but they said that they had room for 14 acts, but received 35 responses. So I felt honored to have been accepted, but I’m not so sure they got 35 responses this time. In any case, the whole evening lineup was planned in advance and I was to play 7th. Musicians were greeted at the door and asked questions about our music and what material we needed.
So professional and cool, and that is normal for such a fantastic and historic venue. Having said that, as the evening progressed, I had some mixed feelings about it and how it might pan out in the future. Most of the tables in this cool restaurant that greets the “afterwork” crowd, were booked in advance, so most of the musicians sat like cattle on the sidelines on a step, awaiting their turn. The usual Tuesday night crowd was the same last night as on the afterwork evenings hosted by Yann Destal, and that meant that music for them was really a background thing, and not the main attraction, or, I soon felt, something they care for at all. One table of around 25 people was particularly noisy, with the effect that although I thought there were a number of very good acts, I could not hear their vocals or their guitars.
I made some videos at the quieter moments, but it got pretty loud and rowdy. It is very common to find open mics where people talk, talk and talk. But this one seemed a little heavier than usual to me. Having said that, I was really determined to see if there was a way that I could break through the clamor and grab the attention of the afterwork crowd and pull them out of their conversation and into the show. I had invited someone with me, too, and I felt a little helpless at the thought of her seeing me standing all alone up on the stage singing to myself.
So the first thing I thought I should do was cover songs that everyone knew, and forget about my own songs. The second thing I thought I had to do was to dive into it absolutely totally, but not so much as to be aggressive. Well, to cut the long story short, it worked from the first notes and lyrics of “What’s Up,” through “Father and Son,” and “Mad World.” The audience applauded, sang along, cheered, and briefly left their conversation to take part in songs they all knew and wanted to leap into. I finished with my own “Borderline,” after asking if I should do another cover or one of my own.
So I left the Bus Palladium walking on clouds and delighted at having worked like a bullfighter, or rather, a rodeo rider, trying to tame the bucking horse and succeeding.
From there I decided it was still early enough to go on to Ollie’s open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, and I was right to do so. I got to play a song at the end of the evening. But there I felt hardly up to the task, as Ollie’s was such a HUGE contrast to the Bus Palladium: You could hear the proverbial pin drop so quiet was the audience. And like usual, the place was full of massively talented young people. (I’m not saying the Bus was not, but it was more difficult to hear and appreciate them.) Ollie’s is attracting new musicians every week, and there is thankfully more and more French language stuff too.
Then, like icing on the cake, at the end of the Ollie’s evening I struck up a conversation with the man who I had seen at the Galway the night before. This was the man with the guitar with the carvings on it. Remember the video? It turned out that I had found a fascinating like-spirit – Ollie had prompted me – who wears more than one hat: His name is Danny Fonfeder, and he owns 50 percent of one of the most successful school supplies companies in Canada, makers of the Buffalo pencils with the famous tartan box, that I used as a child in grade school. His dad founded the company, and Danny is apparently running it, but in any case, he is travelling the world in his job for the company, and like me with my Formula One race travel, he brings a guitar with him and plays in open mics wherever he can. He started two and a half years ago. But unlike me, the guitar he brings with him – that fabulous carved thing on the video – is one of his own, that he has made for a company he owns and started up six years ago.
It is called Blueberry Guitars, and Danny put the whole thing together when he met a woodcarver in Bali, and decided he wanted a guitar with woodcarvings on it. He started this Blueberry guitar company and it is quite a good business, with guitars I could never afford – check out the $7500 Blueberry guitar on eBay. The wood comes from Canada, it is carved in Bali, and a luthier from the U.S. is responsible for making these into real musical instruments. I invited Danny out after the open mic, along with my friend Tory Roucaud, in order to interview him – and her – for my open mic film.
Now, does it really sound like hyperbole, that headline and lede? No way! A monumental evening.