Paris is known around the world for its habit of closing down in the month of August, as all the French people migrate south or elsewhere for vacation. I had been thinking it was miraculous that any of the open mics remained open during this period, but as Stephen Prescott, the MC of the Galway open mic, pointed out to me, his expat pub gets a lot of foreigners, and they come to Paris in August. Still, several of the preceding open mics I had attended were just as well attended or better than usual. But last night, finally, the trend stopped and changed and it seemed finally that Paris had found its real August at the open mics. Both the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub’s open mics were pretty empty, comparatively speaking.
On the other hand, that provided a chance to those who DID attend, to play more songs than usual. I did four or five at each one of them. I felt good and free and loved it. There were some new, visiting musicians whom I really enjoyed too, especially Barbara Breedijk from the Netherlands. Jesse Kincaid was back from another part of his European tour, and there was a Frenchman with an interesting guitar at the Tennessee. I had returned to the Paris open mics after my New York City sojourn, and the first playing I had done in public for nearly a week. All together, a reasonable evening in Paris, although it really felt like one of those dead sunny Sunday afternoons. Oh, check out Barbara’s “Summertime.”
I have just arrived in New York City for a week of open mics. With the time difference from Paris to NYC it means I have a 30-hour day today. But it also turns out that is not nearly enough for all I need and want to do. For instance, I would love to give a detailed report of the open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance in Paris last night, but a), I have to run out to my first open mic in NYC, and b) I don’t think the wi-fi in my hotel here is going to be nearly fast enough to upload all the videos I want to upload.
Anyway, it started off being kind of like an oldies night at Ollie’s open mic last night as Ollie sang an oldie, Thomas Arlo sang an oldie, a Frenchwoman named Vanessa sang an oldie, Wayne did to. In fact, it was Jesse Kincaid who mentioned that theme to me early on.
So then I decided to try an oldie too, although it is only a 1990s oldie, called, Runaway Train, by Soul Asylum. I had begun to sing this song two days before… or was it the day before…? An and so my memory had no time to memorize it. But I wanted so desperately to sing it that I decided to read the lyrics on my iPhone. I failed at that, Ollie saw my problem and came and held the iPhone in front of me, I still failed, made a bloody mess of the song, and should know better than trying such a thing. It was a most embarrassing and horrible experience. So what! It was an open mic, after all. (Even though that was TWO bad nights in a row for me…what do I have?)
The other acts were of a pretty high level and the night was full and crowded as usual.
Looking forward to many discoveries here in NYC. Keep posted as I post it… 🙂
PS, yes, my wi-fi connection is far too slow for the uploads, so I will have to wait until later to upload the videos. Bear with me.
It was a little world weary that I was last night as I returned to the open mics in Paris in the middle of the summer, not having played in an open mic since, could it be, more than a week, and Budapest? The trip to Brussels set that up, and a return to Paris on a quiet period for open mics. So I felt off center going to the Tennessee Bar and the Galway, my regular Monday haunts. But it was with a great sense of suprise and pleasantness that I entered the Tennessee Bar to find Jesse Kincaid on stage doing his number. Jesse, readers will remember, was in Paris a few weeks ago and delighted audiences with his compositions, and songs from the New Rising Sons. He had so much fun here, it seems, that he returned early from a stay elsewhere in Europe.
There were some unusual things happening on stage at the Tennessee, with the gold medal being taken by a French white guy dressed in conservative bureaucrat clothes and haircut, who brought his own canned music and did a few rap numbers. He had been there before, it seems, and it was with great acclaim that the audience requested he do his rap in Japanese. You can see just why when you look at the video. Didn’t catch his name. But if a video of him doing this – mine or someone else’s – does not go viral, I do not know what will!
I played four songs, starting out with four of my own songs, and making a mess of “Lara, Lara,” which I had not sung in a while and for which I suddenly forgot the chords. But I managed to get through it, and two others and then I decided to lift the joy level a little by doing “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.” But I forgot the words on that one and then suddenly felt really foolish and pointless playing such a cliche Dylan song in an open mic, so I stopped in the middle of the song and left the stage – in good humor. It was, after all, an open mic. I try my hardest, give my all, but the open mic allows for caprices too.
The Galway was ticking along well as well, and I tried a few more songs I don’t usually do, like Marc Bolan’s “Catblack the Wizard’s Hat,” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” by Hank Williams. But then I felt the urge to do my usual “Borderline,” and it seems it went down the best. I also did “Only Our Rivers,” the Irish sort of protest song.
Jesse came along there too and regaled us with a fabulous rendition of Autumn Leaves on my guitar, which made me feel even more massively deficient – but it was great to hear how good my guitar can sound.
After a couple of slow weeks for me at my two favorite Monday night haunts in Paris, the Tennessee Bar and Galway Pub open mics fired up my imagination and fed my own musical needs quite well last night. It was uncharacteristically quiet for a while at the Tennessee because of the summer holidays, but it was as busy as usual at the Galway. The Tennessee open mic became very interesting with the music of Kensuke Shoji, a violin player from Tokyo who plays some mean bluegrass as well as other interesting stuff. In fact, the high point there was certainly when Jesse Kincaid of the New Rising Sons invited Kensuke up on the stage to play with him while he did some of his songs.
Prior to that Jesse made my own night there and later at the Galway as well, when he played harmonica and lead guitar with me on some of my songs. But we were all blown away by Tony, the 88-year-old vaudeville-like performer from England who occasionally shows up at the Paris open mics. He did his usual guitar bits, his pianos stuff and his harmonica number. Tony is a consummate showman, old time. But he never fails to get people laughing and enjoying his abilities and dreaming about if we will ourselves be so bold and active as to do the same at his age – if we even make it that far.
This really is what open mics are all about: The scene was set in the “Be There” bar last night on Paris’s Ile St. Louis as I arrived after 9:30 PM, and the only person in the bar was the bartender manager owner guy. Great, I thought. I better drink a half a pint and go on over to the Caveau des Oubliettes for the blues jam. But while I got to drinking the half pint, in walked a middle-aged man with a guitar in his hand, with no case for the guitar. What then worked out was the whole reason one should never take a look at an open mic and say, “No one here? It’s a lost cause.”
The guy, whose name was Jesse, went up and played. So here we were, this guy Jesse, the bartender and me. And as I listened, I thought, hmm, this guy can play. He has the licks. His classical guitar had no pickup, and it was mic’d in. Turned out in the beginning, his voice had no mic, but I didn’t notice the difference because it carried. Anyway, I’m listening to the stuff, filming the stuff, and thinking, this is cool. I like this feel. An old Elvis song or something, and some stuff I don’t recognize, and some nice finger picking.
So Jesse plays four songs, then I go up. I play four songs, two of my own and two cover songs. I noticed that by now this guy Jesse had been joined by two women, and another man had entered the bar. Anyway, I finish my songs and Jesse comes up and asks if we can play together. Absolutely, I said, and thought this is even more cool. So I suggest “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison, and he knows it note for note, plays lead and sings along in the chorus. Then I do “Father and Son” and he plays along. Then I do one of my own, “Since You Left Me,” and he plays along beautifully with the lead. And I’m thinking, the man knows his chops! Who is this guy?
So then he plays more and I go and talk to one of the women he was with, who turns out to be his beautiful daughter. I learn that they are just visiting Paris, they are staying in an apartment on the Ile St. Louis – near the open mic – and that he had seen the sign outside the bar announcing the open mic, and that he had also noticed the guitar in his apartment. No case, no nothing, no great shakes of a guitar. So he took the guitar and did the open mic.
Well, after he plays, I decide to probe a little, because I had said to myself, “This guy has something of the professional musician about him. Something in the ease of what and how he is doing it.” So it turns out when I ask him that, guess what? He IS a professional musician, his band is called the New Rising Sons, and that he was a founding member of the band the Rising Sons, his name being Jesse Kincaid. They were founded in 1964, did an album for Columbia Records that was not immediately released, but was released many years later. That two of the original members of the band were Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. Holy shit! Now is that not the coolest open mic experience you can imagine? Ok, ONE of the coolest? And I am very seriously pleased that I did not know who he was BEFORE we played together or before I sang my songs….
So anyway, as I said, don’t cut out on those empty open mics – you might find a pearl somewhere during the evening if you hang around and play anyway.
On the way there, by the way, I recorded this cool Kubrick sort of moment as I walked out of the metro: