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Jammin’ at the Classy Blues-sphere Venue in Liège, Belgium

August 24, 2013



Liège, Belgium – On this, my fifth year of my worldwide open mic adventure, I think no other city that I visit has the distinction of providing me with a different place to play almost every year the way Liège has. And that is not necessarily a good distinction: Unfortunately, each year that I come here a place I jammed at the previous year no longer exists.

But so far, the good thing is that each time I come here I DO find another place to play. Last night, I actually had two choices, on the same street, less than 10 minutes’ walk from my hotel. Last night, I visited both the Surlet bar and the Blues-sphere bar, both located on the rue Surlet, in downtown Liège, in Outremeuse.

I was with a work colleague after a long day at the track, and so I felt I had to decide between to the two venues and not do both of them the same night as I would otherwise have done. So we visited both of them, and I was welcomed warmly by each.

Each of these bars holds an open jam session on the Friday night in Liège. The Surlet is a little more open, from what I could tell, allowing any music anyone wishes to play. But last night I had the sense also that it was pretty much loud rock and pop oriented.

The True Open Jam Approach at the Blues-sphere

When I arrived around 10 PM, it was not particularly well attended, either, but the musicians were just warming up. I went to the Blues-sphere and found it deep in the action. The downside was it was geared specifically to jazz and blues, and I’m not adept at either. But the delightfully friendly and encouraging Jean-Paul (I think his name is!) who runs the bar and the jam, said I was welcome to play something as long as it approached the jazz blues area, rather than something purely in the pop vein.

The room has a fabulous feel to it, the stage in the corner was irresistible and the sound was excellent. The walls were decorated with photos of musicians, there were tables spotted about the place and a very well attended open jam with many spectators and musicians made it so I had an easy choice to make: I settled for the Blues-sphere.

As I said, I would have performed at both places under different circumstances. But as it was, I was really pleased with my choice, as I got to do two songs – Wicked Game and Mad World – and I had a drummer, bassist, lead guitar player and pianist (on the first song) play along with me. And a receptive, warm, audience.

Th Blues-sphere, according to Jean-Paul, has been in operation in this spot for about a year, and before that they had organized jams in two or three other spots over the last two years. The place hosts concerts at other times, mostly blues and jazz, like the jam. It has very much the look and feel of a New York jazz bar, and I was delighted to play there.

A Better Musical Scene Than Meets the Eye in Liège

The level of many of the musicians – there was a very good 15-year-old guitarist, by the way – was such that it reinforced my feeling about the musicality of Liège, and made me realize that if I could spend more time in the city and seek out more places, I’d probably find a much richer musical scene than the one I have found so far with each successive bar closing down or jam stopping. I was very sad to see on Thursday night, for instance, that the famous Bouldou bar and venue in the center of town where I had played two years ago was now boarded up and looking like a ghost house. All done. Just like the Café L’Art from 2009-2010. I am now hoping that the jam I attended at the Cuba Libré bar last year is still around and holding a jam and that I will finally be able to play in the same place twice!

Art Cafe in Liege Renews the faith, and also love of Brel

August 28, 2010

Yet again the lesson gets learned: Never give up hope. As my post from yesterday indicated, I thought I had no chance in Liege to find a place to sing during this end of summer break. Wrong!

I had found the Art Café last year, and I remembered that the place had a Wednesday jam session every week. But when I turned up last year on the Friday, I was told that exceptionally they would have a jam on the Sunday after the F1 race. So I went and had a wonderful evening of music in this dynamic little bar. They called it a café, but it is a bar (that’s Belgian).

So I drove directly from the race track yesterday to the Art Café, and I walked in to find a live, bubbly crowd. In fact, not quite true. I looked at the posters on the window facing the street and learned that there would be live music with a band or two last night.

So I went in, saw the drum set on the stage, and asked if there would be live music.

“No,” said the man behind the bar, whose name is Raph, and who has a band of his own.

I asked if there was a jam over the weekend, and he said, “No, only on Wednesdays.”

I looked disappointed, of course. And he said, “But if you want to go up and play now, you can. But we have no amp or mic set up so you’ll just have to play up there on the stage just like that.”

I happily accepted. The Art Café has a great atmosphere with a lot of young people, lots of musicians passing through – in fact there was a guy with a guitar sitting in the back when I arrived, although he did not play. It is fairly narrow, dark, and has a wonderful little stage and generally has a hip and cool feel to it.

I went up on stage and played somewhere close to 10 songs, and with several of them I found the crowd clapping and singing along – like with “Mad World,” “Baby Blue,” and “Father and Son,” and maybe one or two others. I played only one of my own songs, “Since You Left Me.”

But I was encouraged to continue by Raph, and by members of the audience. That does not mean they were quiet the whole time, they were enjoying themselves – and so was I! Can’t play in my crappy hotel facing the train station, the walls are too thin between rooms, so this was a fabulous release and relief just to be able to go up and sing my heart out.

I stopped in order not to overstay my welcome. But little by little as I spoke to people and the night dragged on and I was invited to play some more, I decided to run across the street to buy a pizza to eat a meal playing more.

As it turned out, the evening would develop into a full-fledged jam. A man named Luc showed up with his acoustic guitar and we did a few songs together – he was a much better guitar player than me, and knew all the rock standards, Beatles, Clapton, you name it. When I began singing “Cat’s in the Cradle,” we were joined by a young musician named Sofiane, who has his own band to be found on myspace as Niagarasound, and he played my guitar and sang a few good songs, like the Nirvana one and others.

Then Raph came along and he joined in with some rock songs, and finally near midnight, with his first love: Jacques Brel. So here I was in Belgium with two Belgians – and then an Algerian/Moroccan woman singer – singing Brel. And that was one of the high moments of the evening for me. So high, in fact, that I decided it was time to pack up the guitar and leave.

I had lost all hope, and found a jackpot. The Art Café renewed my faith in Liege, and Belgium in general….

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