PARIS – I’ve written one or two times about this young, new music bar in Paris called Le Petit Balcon. But being invited back to celebrate the birthday of Stephen Saxo – an American expat sax player in Paris – gave me the chance to see just how much this little joint has grown in such a short time.
From two fairly quiet musical nights a couple of months ago or so, this place has turned into a really big bopping concert and hang-out venue bar. Located off the beaten track in a part of Menilmontant not usually visited by wandering pedestrians, the reason this place is becoming such a success is clearly because the owners are music lovers, and musicians.
I felt that particular vibe even the first times I visited this place. But a few days ago, at Stephen’s birthday, when after the evening’s concert the cellar room was opened up to Stephen and his musical – and other – friends, I could see that the place was more than just buzzing.
It was full of musicians, audience, diners, drinkers, and other kinds of people, and the general feeling was of complete festival activity and music. Music. Music. Stephen turned his birthday party into something of an open mic, and I managed to play several songs, both with my acoustic and a few other musicians – including Stephen – and with Andy Bone’s electric, his Epiphone, while he played my acoustic.
An amazing night, but I did not manage to get more than two or three videos.
PARIS – For once I don’t feel any sense of guilt about writing about several days’ worth of open mics in Paris on a single day, having saved them up or been too lazy about writing after each one. In fact, as everyone in the world – or a lot of the peopleulation – knows, there have been unprecedented horrendous events happening in Paris since last Wednesday.
I put up a blog post on Thursday talking about how life goes on. But actually, I had no idea about how the terrorism would also go on, and how then the whole world – seemingly – would meet in the streets of Paris to march for peace. During that period, Thursday night, Friday night, Sunday night, I nevertheless went to gigs, open mics and other musical meetings, in what amounted to a roller coaster of a ride through the emotions, both musical and otherwise.
We were still shell-shocked when on Thursday night we went to eat in the Barbes area of Paris, the highly Muslim-populated part of town, in a great cheap local restaurant serving mostly maghreb-type food. And then I ended up being even more shell-shocked when at the open mic of the Barbara Center, Fleury Goutte d-Or cultural center right next to the restaurant I learned that a whole lot of musicians and other people had elected to not go out, for fear of the terrorism.
So it was that we passed a quiet, but wonderful time at this bi-monthly open mic called, FGOpen Stage, which exists not only to show off the talent of the musicians who are being aided and helped to grow through the Barbara center FGO itself, but also open to any musicians who wish to show up and play. The sound system is fabulous, the warm of the room in the lobby of this Paris-city financed cultural center, is a great professional-feeling place to get up on stage, which I did at the last minute after actually showing up to watch a friend’s featured act.
Behind the stage was a backdrop of “Je Suis Charlie” signs written in various languages. This was the night when the idiots who ran amok with machine guns were still running amok. The feeling was that it was probably all finished, and that either the idiots would escape the country, or they would be ambushed or they would get captured and put in prison for two or three years before being released for reasons no one could imagine.
The evening ended with a burlesque class putting on a quick burlesque show – which was fun and took the mind off the moment for the first time that day!
And Then off to the Concert at Jam at the Petit Balcon
Then on Friday, all hell broke loose. The idiots were spotted at a factory near the Roissy airport and then a third idiot, who had killed a cop the previous day, suddenly took a bunch of hostages at a Jewish food market and threatened to kill everyone if his friends at the factory were killed. This led to general chaos in Paris, and in truth, around the world the repercussions were being felt.
But the idiots decided on a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid kind of end to their charge, by running out firing into the bullets of the law, at the factory. And simultaneously, the idiot at the food store ran into the oncoming bullets of the special forces at the door of the food store. But not before he had taken four more victims. It is worth noting just how idiotic these people were and how uncoordinated, as the idiots at the factory had told the factory owner to leave that morning as “we do not kill civilians.” But then the idiot at the food store actually killed four civilians – because they he obviously considered that as Jews, they were NOT civilians. Whatever.
So that set the scene for Friday night: Do you stay inside and absorb the shock of this horrendous nightmare, or do you go to a friend’s gig? My feeling was that it was precisely the moment when it was time for everyone to go out into the streets of Paris and live as usual, and NOT let the so-called “terrorists” win their battle to terrorize the city.
So it was that I went to the Petit Balcon to watch Raphaëlle Pessoa’s show, during which she exchanged musical moments also with Insu, and she sang along to the humming sax of Stephen Saxo. The number of potential spectators had been greatly decimated by last-minute decisions not to attend thanks to the terrorism, but all in all it was a great antidote to the terror. And it all turned into a fabulous jam at the end of the evening, within which I decided to play some songs both solo and with Stephen Saxo and Insu. A memorable evening in a fabulous musical bar.
The March Through Paris, and the Café Oz at Denfert
So after a day on Saturday pulling thoughts, spirits and perspective together about the massacre that had just taken place over the previous days, and about how quickly civilization can break down into barbary, Sunday was the day of the great march through the streets of Paris by people who all came together from around the world – including 40 leaders from 40 countries – to demonstrate their solidarity with France in this time of tragedy.
I took that opportunity to stay at home and watch it all on television and achieve a few creative things in my life that I never seem to have time for – like doing my laundry – and basically had a great birds’ eye view of the whole thing throughout the day thanks to BFM television. At the end of the day, it was off to the Café Oz open mic at the Denfert RER station.
Here there were fewer musicians than usual as well, and fewer people in the audience, but there were just enough for everyone to do long sets and feel really relaxed, and feel like taking a step towards normal life – and I realized while singing one of my cover songs, just how appropriate it was for the events since Wednesday: “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty. It could have been an anthem for Paris as strong as “I am Charlie.”
Hoping that’s the end of that chapter of human history, I sign off….
PARIS – I just had to get a word down about Friday’s fun in Paris. I saw that an open mic acquaintance was putting on a little show at a bar called the Petit Balcon in the Menilmontant area, and I saw that the stage would then be open to other musicians – an open mic.
So I went to this place at 48 rue des Maronites, the Petit Balcon, and there I met Koutla, who put on his set before opening the stage to anyone – i.e., me and several other musicians.
I had a chance to talk with the bar’s owner, and so learned that he has been running it for a couple of months and is a huge fan of music, and wants to have regular musical evenings, including a regular open jam session on Wednesdays. The basement is a dream come true for an open mic or jam session, as it is a classic Paris cellar, well isolated from the neighbors, and so hopefully there will not be any volume complaints.
They are already doing Wednesday sessions, as well as nights on Friday and Saturdays featuring groups. Koutla, with his dramatic lyrics and delivery, was a great warm host for what amounted to an open mic, and I had a fabulous time, listening to some great music, and playing a couple of my own songs.
A Short Visit to the Cabaret Culture Rapide in Paris
Then it was off to the Cabaret Culture Rapide, which was only around a 10 minute walk away, and taking in the last half hour or so of the show, as it usually starts around 22:00 or later, and ends around midnight. There I caught two or three acts – (one of which has since requested I remove the wonderful video I did of her fun song (note published 1 Dec. 2014)) – as you’ll see. I did not play, or even ask to play, as I had been quite satiated already by the evening at the Petit Balcon.
Let’s hope the Petit Balcon develops into a regular venue – the divide between the ground floor and the intimate basement room, is really promising – as is the owner’s clear love of music and plan to turn it into a great little concert venue.