Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Three Dead Leads and Another Tale of Woe from a Friday in Melbourne

March 26, 2011

Friday is not the best night for open mics anywhere in the world. But in Melbourne last night, it turned into a nearly comical search for a grail that would never be found as I followed three leads only to be disappointed three times, each in an odd way.

I had never so far played in an open mic in Melbourne but yesterday I found traces of three possibilities. One in a place called ET’s Hotel in Prahran, another in St. Kilda at a place called Greyhound Hotel, and a third at the Junction Hotel in Newport.

I settled on walking from the F1 circuit to ET’s Hotel, as I judged it would be no more than a 30 minute walk and my phone calls and emails to the organizer had not been answered. In fact, with the telephone calls to the hotel, there was simply no answer. But I thought I could walk there, and then backtrack to St. Kilda’s, which is also near the F1 track.

et's gloom hotel in Melbourne - closed down, no more open mic

et's gloom hotel in Melbourne - closed down, no more open mic

So I walked the 30 minutes or so to ET’s Hotel hoping that I would not be let down, but when I arrived I found the worst possible thing: The hotel had turned into an extraterrestrial carcass of a place. It had closed down and been gutted and turned into a construction site. There remained posters outside for shows that had long since past. It was a little eerie. No more open mic at Et’s Hotel!

et's hotel is now a construction site

et's hotel is now a construction site

Out front of the hotel I finally managed to connect with my phone call to the Greyhound Hotel in St. Kilda.

“Hello,” I said to the man who answered, a man with a slight affectation to his voice. “Do you have an open mic tonight?”

“No,” he said. “But we have a drag show.”

I knew that the drag show had nothing to do with drag racing cars, and thanked him very much and decided to move on to trying to contact the third venue. After all, I was not prepared for a drag show, even if I do open myself up to all different kinds of open mics and jam sessions….

So I called up the Junction Hotel with the number I found on an Open Mic venue list on the Internet.

“Hello,” I said to the man who answered. “Do you have an open mic tonight?”

“What? Oh, no. You have the wrong number, I’m afraid.”

“This is not the Junction Hotel?”

“No. You have the wrong number.”

I checked the number and saw I had dialed the number from the Internet correctly.

So end of open mic story for Friday. It made me feel once again just how wonderful it is when I actually DO connect and find a place to play on this adventure. When that happens it feels like the world is easy, the trip is easy, cool, all fits, and life is a ribbon of dream. Meeting with adversity, suddenly I realize how difficult the task can sometimes be to parachute into a country and hope to find a place to play music instantly and every night.

Having said that, the hazards of travel are multiple, and I neglected to mention the one of Thursday night before I went off to perform at the U-Bar and meet Lara. I had spent a very productive day at the track doing interviews with drivers, team directors and other important people. I had used my Zoom Q3 HD video and sound recorder, the same one I use for the video images of this blog.

At the end of this long and productive day and as I prepared to leave the circuit and go and do my open mic and record with the Q3 some of the stuff for this blog, I went to the toilet. Suddenly, without the slightest warning or provocation of any kind at all, my two-month old 250 euro Q3 recorder fell into the toilet bowl. I removed it in 3 seconds flat, no more. I shook out the water and tried to dry it. I ran back to my desk in the media center at the race track – desk C13, which I had hesitated to take that very morning as it had the No. 13 and was therefore bad luck – and I promptly plugged in the recorder to my computer. The computer message read: “USB device malfunction.”

All was lost, a full day’s work, and even my ability to record the coming nights of open mic shows. Unless… I realized that although the Q3 had died through 3 seconds of toilet water exposure, perhaps the 32 gigabyte SD card that held the data had survived. It was 18:10. I did a quick internet search to see if anyone sold the Zoom Q3 HD in Melbourne.

I found a place called Mannys music store. I called them up. They closed at 7 PM. But they had six of the Q3s in stock. I asked how long it would take to get there from Albert Park, where the race takes place. The guy said about an hour with the traffic there was – or 25 minutes if there was no traffic.

I took a cab and kept the man at Manny’s informed of my progress through the interminable traffic and everlasting traffic lights.

“Tell you what,” he said finally when I told him I would be five to ten minutes late. “I will stay here for you. I will wait.”

So I arrived at Manny’s, it was closed, but the staff let me in. I bought the Q3 and I bought a Zoom H2 hand held sound recorder as well in order not to use the Q3 in the paddock. As I paid for the recorder I removed the 32 gig SD card from my pocket that I had taken from the toilet water damaged recorder, and I put it in. Eureka!!!!! My 9 interviews were all intact! I had been saved by Manny’s and by the SD card. Now all I had to do was take the cab back to my hotel, grab my guitar and get to the All Nations U-Bar as soon as possible to not miss my two dates: The open mic, and Lara.

It worked. Isn’t the life of the traveling minstrel full of unexpected barriers, which can all be overcome with a little persistence.

Hope I find a place to play tonight. Already have two dates lined up for the next race, by the way, including an open mic with a 30 minutes slot at Laila’s Cafe & Lounge for the Wednesday, and another 30-minute slot opening for a local band at a TexMex restaurant, which I will post later.

Worldwide Musical Open Mic Adventure Begins Again – Year III

March 25, 2011

Last night in Melbourne was the true beginning to my third worldwide musical adventure to the open mics and jam sessions of the planet over the next nine months. My first was in 2009, when I played my guitar and sang in 17 countries, nearly 30 cities and on every continent except Africa (where I did once live and play) and Antarctica (where I do not want to live or play). I did roughly the same adventure last year, and I will probably do even more this year – I think I have 18 countries planned….

The first year I worked on a book about the adventure – which I am still editing down from its initial 1,000 single-spaced pages!!!-; last year I put posts up on this blog about the adventure; and this year I will do the blog again, and I also have another project in mind that may involve linking it all together in a sound and/or image narrative.

But last night showed me that although this is the third year of the adventure – which, by the way, follows the trajectory of the Formula One world championship, that I report on for the International Herald Tribune and New York Times – and for an F1 blog at the NYT and as the F1 guide – it is not just a repetition of the past.

Life changes, things change and move in ways we cannot predict, and last night I realized that this parallel life of playing in musical venues around the world for the third year has new possibilities I had not imagined: Call it a snowball effect, or a building up of experience. Last night I ended up playing again at the All Nations U-Bar open mic at 2 Spencer Street in Melbourne, which I had discovered last year. But I did that in the company of my friend Lara, whom I had met at the Softbelly Bar open mic in the first year of the adventure – and whom I had not seen since (although we maintained a correspondence).

I was a little disappointed with the U-Bar open mic this year because the sound system was horrible, and I performed very early and so probably the atmosphere had not developed into the fabulous, rollicking evening I had discovered the year before. But our impressions change from one year to the next, and I had also noticed that Emily Brown, the very cool woman who had organized and MC’d the show last year was not there. I thought maybe that was the problem.

I suggested to Lara that we leave and go somewhere quiet and have a drink and talk. And as we left and crossed a nearby street, I heard a shout in the distance from a woman.


I turned back and crossed the street to find that it was Emily, and she had recognized me out in the dark road as she returned to the U-Bar where she still IS the MC, although someone else was briefly filling in for her last night. She asked me if I had played yet, and I said I had. She said that she was bringing along a Latin music band to do the second part of the evening, and I thought, there we go – the open mic evening probably would turn out to be as good as it was last year. I had simply not given it enough time.

But most of all, I was delighted at how Emily had recognized me, a year later in the dark and slightly rainy street in Melbourne. (Yes, the weather is crap.) It gave me the sense of having musical friends around the world thanks to this adventure. And there I was, of course, with Lara from two years before. Melbourne was feeling like one of my many homes!

I decided to continue on to another bar with Lara, so we went to the Softbelly bar on Little Bourke Street, where we had met at the open mic on the Wednesday before the F1 race in 2009. I did some advance work this year and wrote to the organizer of the Softbelly open mic and found that it no longer exists…. Until we got there and Lara noticed a little poster that said there IS an open mic at the Softbelly on Wednesdays, starting at 7 PM – but it obviously has a different organizer.

I think part of the reason I did not feel quite so good at the U-Bar was also, in fact, because of Lara’s presence. Having her there made me very nervous when I sang my songs, as she had arrived only around 10 minutes before I had to sing, and I was terribly self-conscious all of a sudden about singing in front of the beautiful Lara and letting her down. (As it turned out, I need not have been too worried, as I received some compliments from a couple of people – as well as from Lara – on my four-song set afterward, as Lara and I left the bar.)

But I also had the terrible task of deciding if I should sing the song, called “Lara, Lara” – that I had written for her two years ago. Could I really do it in public here in front of all these people – for there was a fairly decent number of clients at the All Nations U-Bar. I decided I would not sing her song for fear of embarrassing her. But later on I realized I had made a mistake.

Here is the recording I did of “Lara, Lara” in 2009:

So it was that when we sat in the U-Bar and talked, I mentioned that I had considered singing the song and I could see she would have liked that. So I decided that we had to find a secluded alley somewhere and I would sing her the song, as she had pointed out she had never heard me sing it for her live.

We crossed the street from the Softbelly and found a perfect secluded alley where there were no private residences. Together we sang there for probably close to an hour. We went through a large part of my cover song repertoire and a few of my own songs, including Lara, Lara – which was the first I sang. Together we also sang “Cat’s In the Cradle,” which of course was the subject of yesterday’s post…. Lara’s voice was magic; her musical talents and skills are well developed as she has many years’ worth of training on the violin.

So this was an amazing first musical evening in Melbourne, the first true day of my new adventure, and it was made new and unusual by the fact that it was Year III of the adventure and there is a building up of connections and friends and situations.

The only problem was that I managed to do only two videos of the U-Bar open mic, and only one of these is in any way worth putting on the site. I do a panoramic turn around the bar with the camera, and I particularly like the painted mural on the wall that you see near the end of the short video.

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