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Bailout at Successful Brutopia Open Mic Night in Montreal

June 11, 2014



Having finished my weekend of work in Montreal on Sunday night in complete tranquility, and knowing that the Brutopia open mic starts late, and the list is often not made until around 10 p.m., I decided to eat a pizza at a restaurant up Crescent Street and not worry if I only got there at 10:30. I’d been a few times in years past to find it pretty empty, maybe five people on the list. Sunday, it proved fatal for my desire to play – and then put in a full day’s work on Monday morning before returning to Paris: Arriving at Brutopia at 10:30 or earlier, I found that I was No. 17 on the list!!!!

It was jam packed full of musicians and spectators, and there were several groups among the musicians on the list – i.e., major productions to get up and set up. So by about 00:45 I decided it was time to throw in the towel and admit defeat. I left Brutopia without playing, and with probably seven musicians – at three songs each – ahead of me before my turn.

Still, I really enjoyed the evening, the level of musicianship was very high, and the crowd and vibe was wonderful. The venue is one of the more lively and congenial in Montreal, in fact, on a stretch of road that has several pubs with music side-by-side; in fact, it is next door to the Crobar, where I played on the Wednesday evening. It was also great to see Danny Fonfeder again, and to look at, hold, hear and film one of his amazing Blueberry Guitars.

It was only this time that I noticed that the fabulous little stage is also visible from the floor above, but no one ever seems to sit up there, making it an even cooler setup than I ever thought. The evening was again MC’d by the cool Scott, who plays a means new-wave-like music beforehand, but I missed his set this time.

Anyway, that’s enough of run-on sentences and filling space with words between the videos – have a look at the vibe and a listen to the music yourself….

Being an Acoustic Interlude at the Crobar, and a Momentary Interlude and Remarkable Meeting at the Escalier, in Montreal

June 5, 2014

blueberry guitar

blueberry guitar

MONTREAL – I had long heard about the Crobar open mic on Crescent Street in Montreal, but I had never had a chance to play there. Until last night. It turned out that despite it saying “open mic” out front, as well as jam, it is much more geared toward a jam session than an open mic. But it became clear instantly, with the warm greeting by the host, Louis, that the Crobar has the open mic spirit, and that means all are welcome, and anything goes.

So I got to play my acoustic set in a night that was – and always is – dominated by bands and jams with various high-energy rock musicians. There’s a drum set, electric guitar and bass, and the volume is super high. The stage is low and cool, and the television is overhead in case you get bored and want to watch the Stanley Cup finals….

The standout moment of the evening was a really interesting trio band that performed in public for the first time. It is so new that they have no name for the band yet! It sounded really promising, and by the time they played my iPhone had recharged, so I filmed it. I had come all this way, and left my Zoom Q3HD in my hotel room, so the sound is not great.

Leaving the Crobar I headed back to the hotel and on the way there, just around the corner, I heard sounds from the first floor of a corner building that made me think there might be an open mic there too – it was audience laughter, a person talking, something that sounded open mic for some reason. So I went up and found that the bar was called l’Escalier, and that it is an open mic, mostly spoken word stuff, but also music.

I was told by the organizer that it was about to end – at midnight – and so I was too late to make the list, but I should come back next week. I told him I could only come back next year if I was lucky, but that did not change anything!

As I began to leave, I heard a call from across the room and turned to find Danny Fonfeder. I had met Danny at an open mic in Paris in 2011!!! He is a businessman who lives in Montreal and does a lot of travelling for his business, and he takes his guitar and plays in open mics around the world. Sound familiar??? My own adventure may have led to all sorts of – unprofitable – side projects, but Danny the businessman came up with an interesting idea for himself, which is the creation of his company “Blueberry Guitars.” These are beautifully crafted guitars with carvings on them – take a look at the Blueberry Guitars page.

So we spoke a little, and Danny told me he had played in the open mic just 15 minutes earlier. I was not happy I missed this one!!!

Bravo Brutopia Brews and Open Mic

June 13, 2012

brutopia bar montreal

brutopia bar montreal

A late night at Brutopia pub in Montreal on Crescent Street on my last night in Canada, and a good night there, meant a late posting on this blog – as I flew back to Paris on Monday, worked all day Tuesday and slept for nearly 12 hours to make up for all that! Brutopia was once again one of my best experiences at an open mic in Montreal. It started quietly and slowly, and I wondered what had happened to that great atmosphere I found at Brutopia last year…and then little by little it picked up and became just that same cool evening once again.

I showed up at 9:45 and signed up to a list with only three other names on it. The open mic started just after 10, and this time it was hosted by a man named Scott Mitchell, who has a voice reminiscent of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. Last year it had been hosted by Bud Rice, and I would later learn from Scott that there are several different hosts who split up the monthly hosting job. He said it is the city’s longest running open mic, and that he thinks it will last for years to come – as long as the pub does. Check out the interview I did with him in my ongoing series of podcasts this year from my worldwide musical journey to the open mics and jams of every continent – or almost:

Brad Spurgeon interviews Scott Mitchell, one of the MCs of Montreal’s Brutopia bar open mic:

It became an exceptional evening, in fact, as I met up with friends both musical and others, whom I met or knew in Paris. One of these is my semblable, my frere, (to steal a line from a poem of a poet who liked to steal), Danny Fonfeder, the founder of Blueberry Guitars, and globetrotting businessman and open mic man himself….

I managed to drink three pints of some of the homemade beer, one of which was not planned but was offered since all performers receive a free beer. I like such places.

And despite what Scott said about the bar being an Anglo joint, I also had several interesting conversations with French-speaking Quebecers, especially about the current protest movement. Check out the videos of the bands closely and you might be able to see musicians wearing the red square that shows their alignment with the movement.

I will stop my chatter now, in order to ensure that I finally get this post up after such a long time away from this daily diary of musical adventures…. Oh, almost forgot to mention that the day before this, Saturday, I made a very early night of it, but managed to play my guitar and sing all by myself in the park outside the Berri-UQAM metro station, the place where all those protesters usually gather to start their night of protest…. Oh, correction, some people gathered around to listen, and when I finally had this woman tramp tell me she liked my voice, I decided to really belt out “What’s Up!” I had my fix.

Too cool, too cool, too cool Open Mic Night in Paris – HUGE!

June 29, 2011

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.

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