Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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B.D. Riley’s Open Mic on 6th Street in Austin – and an Obnoxious Bartender at Friends

November 21, 2012

Austin continued to give me reason to believe it is both the weird capital and possibly the live music capital of the world. The good news, or rather, the GREAT news, was the fun, laid-back and simple open mic at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub on 6th Street. The bad news was the “Friends” bar next door – or rather, the bartender woman who proved to be very obnoxious.

I decided to go to B.D. Riley’s for no other reason than it was close to my hotel and located in the crazy center of the weird town, the vibrant 6th Street. I checked things out around the corner to find that the well-known and recommended “Hideout” open mic at 617 Congress was closed for the month for what appears to be renovations. But as soon as I walked into B.D. Riley’s, I felt welcome and ready.

It is just a classic Irish Pub of the kind you find all around the world. But the open mic takes place on a big stage at the front of the pub, overlooking the street. And with the large windows wide open, you know that you are playing not just for the pub patrons, but for the people walking by in the street.

Brad Spurgeon interviews Chris Olson, aka Johnny Fargo, the MC of the BD Riley’s open mic in Austin, Texas:

It is hosted by Chris Olson, aka Johnny Fargo, who used to host an open mic for around five years in L.A., and has now hosted this one for 5 years too. Check out my podcast with Chris, another in my ongoing series of podcasts. Unfortunately, because my computer broke down over the weekend, I lost my Audacity sound editor, and I just do not have the time to download another and do a proper edit of the interview. But aside from a few hesitations on my part, I think it holds together well as it is – it’s just a little heavy in bytes since it is high quality .wav and not the usual mp3….

I enjoyed several of the performers at B.D. Riley’s and I even managed to continue on my challenge of playing with a local musician in every country I visit. This was thanks to Chris being kind enough to ask Joe Gee if he would play with me, and Joe being kind enough to accept. We did Mad World, and it went over pretty well. Joe plays guitar and sings, as you can see in the video I did of him. But he is also a good jazz pianist.

It seemed that the night was just too good and without problems for this to be Austin – and judging by my experiences of the previous days. But that would soon change. As I left the pub with Joe I heard suddenly the sound of a guitarist in the bar next door, called Friends. The guitar caught my ear as it was Hendrix. But what caught my ear more, was that it was not JUST Hendrix. It was a great rendition of Hendrix, note and detail perfect…before it suddenly moved into a kind of Stevie Ray Vaughan sort of Hendrix. And of course, this is the home town of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and there is even a statue to him here.

Well Joe told me that this guitarist was named Eric Tessmer, that he was 30 years old, and that he could be playing anywhere all over the world if he wanted to, but tended to stay in Austin. Joe and I departed company, and as I started toward my hotel, the Tessmer guitar playing was just mesmerizing me. So I thought that with that Stevie Ray connection, I just HAD to get a bit of this on video for the blog. AND I just wanted to hear more.

So I quickly turned on the Zoom recorder and walked across the street, heading back toward Friends. I stopped in the door and recorded a lot of Tessmer from behind, before I decided I might as well enter – nothing held me back. So I went to the bar, holding my recorder all the time recording the blissful music, and when I found myself at the bar I thought I should do the decent thing and order a beer. (Remember that “fuck you!” violinist in Barcelona who was not happy I didn’t tip him? I had no change.) So I turned to the bartender woman and said I’d like a beer. All the while, I held the camera pointing at Tessmer, and recording.

“You know, that bag of yours is a little obnoxious,” said the bar tender woman.

You can hear this on the recording if you go right to the end. I was slightly in shock, because my guitar bag – she was referring to it being on my back – was not blocking the view of anyone standing at the bar. Of course, I had no plans to keep it on my back the whole time I was there, but it was clear that I was recording the guitar solo and would take it off when I finished that – or rather, when he finished.

“Ah, yes,” I said. “Well, I’d like an obnoxious beer, please.”

“When you take that bag off your back I will serve you the beer,” she responded.

I said, “Okay,” and I closed off my video recorder and walked out of the bar. I will not return. And once again I have found Austin WEIRD! I mean, HOW on earth can this be the live music capital of the world if a musician is treated like shit and insulted because he enters a bar with his guitar case on his back, and is clearly making a video of a performer – a fellow guitarist – so has not yet had a moment to remove the bag?

I have never in my life been spoken to with such arrogance and disdain because I had my guitar bag on my back in a live music joint!!! Or anywhere else, for that matter! (Except on flights when nervous stewardesses are convinced it’s a machine gun.)

It was rude, arrogant and above all obnoxious. And such a huge contrast to the style of the bar and above all the great music played by Tessmer, and the reputation of Austin as the live music capital of the world. Oh, it fit in perfectly with its status as being “weird.”

Don’t get the wrong impression by this post. I am not angry and frustrated by the woman’s reaction and nastiness. That’s more her problem and that of giving a bad image of the city. But I thought it was very much par for the course so far in terms of my strange mixture of experiences in Austin!

Tonight I head off for my final open mics in the city. I hope I find some, since the two or three best of them all that I had been recommended no longer run as of recent weeks or months. So I’m stepping out into the dark again….

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