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.
Yes, yes, for those who are very alert, you might realize that I am writing these words from Monza, Italy, that Belgium was the race I attended two weeks ago. I admit, I am behind schedule on this one by one race – but the Italy section will be done pronto!!!
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.
The blog has been slow in recent days as I try to mix my personal vacation with work winding down and other new experiences. I have just about finished the first week of a three-week break between Formula One races, and it feels as if I have done nothing. In fact, I went on a three-day trip to Brussels just for the fun of it. Naturally I sought out open mics and jam sessions, but because I will later do Belgian jams and open mics in Liege at the F1 race late this month, there was no sense of urgency. That said, I also missed out by a small margin doing a couple of jams in Brussels – but I found some seriously interesting and funny jibing things there nevertheless.
On the first day, for example, walking around near the Grand Place my eye was caught by a unicycle and juggling equipment in a store window. I then noticed that the store was a sheet music shop. As I juggle and unicycle and practice a few other circus arts, and as I read sheet music and play music and sing, I entered the store vastly intrigued. What could possibly be the connection outside of myself of the circus arts and unicycles and juggling and sheet music. For that matter, how could a store devoted 90 percent to sheet music – and 10 percent to circus equipment – possibly survive?
We met the owner, spoke, looked at the sheet music, learned that the Internet had indeed all but killed the industry – oh, not enough to rule out the existence of another sheet music store nearby – and that there really was no connection between circus and sheet music. It turned out the circus paraphernalia came from a relative of the sheet music store owner whose own store had gone out of business, so the sheet music guy took the stuff to try to sell it.
I asked him for information on jams and open mics, and he was extremely helpful, although all the help did not lead me to any jams or open mics.
Around the corner from there we went to the Editions Jacques Brel, which is a publishing company and institute or association, owned by the Brel family. And there is a fabulous exhibit inside in which you go from room to room with headphones and listen to the Brel story and his relationship with Belgium. Very much worth it for any Brel lovers.
So I WOULD find open jam sessions. I was led all over town, and I believe I missed one on the Wednesday night in the St. Gilles area; but more importantly, I missed the Thursday night jam at the Delerium bar by just an hour, as it allegedly starts at 8 PM – that’s what they told me, but the Delerium web site says differently, and my train for Paris left just after 9, but I had to get to the station in advance. Delerium, a massive and lively bar, also has a jam on Sunday nights. And across the street from this huge pub is another big pub that also has a jam on Sunday nights. Check ’em out if you’re there.
By the way, we also toured the musical instrument museum, which presents a fabulous history of instruments from around the world and through the ages, and to which you can listen with headphones as well. And there was a live act of a woman on a harp and singing Celtic music, of which I grabbed a little morsel.