My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.
This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.
Thanks to an initiative by Tonio, the classical violin student I met on Thursday in Mannheim, I ended up having a great time in Mannheim on my last night there, and doing a mountain of recording of my songs and covers with him playing and beat boxing along. I had decided that I had done enough in Mannheim, musically, and I’d just have a quiet last night. But Tonio sent me an SMS suggesting we play. So we met in the central Paradeplatz at 8 PM – also his suggestion – and there we played for probably an hour or more, in public, sitting on a bench by the fountain, entertaining the public – and receiving a little money in appreciation.
As regular readers of the blog will know, my personal challenge this year is to record myself playing with local musicians in every country I go to for the Formula One season and my holidays. So far I have succeeded in the 10 or more countries I have visited, and I had recorded one song with Tonio on Thursday. I was foolishly satisfied with that. In fact, we went over so many of my songs – Lara, Lara; Borderline; Crazy Lady; Memories; Except Her Heart and maybe one or two others, plus cover songs like What’s Up and Mad World, plus some jamming based on chords Tonio suggested I play – that it was an enormously fun and learning experience.
Here is one of the recordings of the many we did, this one being a cover song:
And I recorded it all on my portable studio, my Roland R-26, complete with the sound of the water fountain and occasional applause. A huge, high moment, followed by a meal at the cool student pub we went to on Thursday. Really, I never expected such an amazing musical adventure in Mannheim when I set out, but it all happened because I saw Tonio with his violin – they are apparently inseparable, and that since the age of 4 or so – and asked him if he knew of a place to play.
One thing leads to another and that is how we weave our lives together; I’d never have ended up at this interesting little festival in Mannheim had it not been for meeting and playing music with Tonio the day before. Tonio and his friends invited me to see their improv show at a theater on Friday night, and I got stuck in so much traffic leaving the race track that I missed the improv show … but found Tonio and his friends attending this very cool little festival in the same locale: It was a student-run festival that has been going for around a decade and is meant to fight against racism and neo-Nazis.
I found it very inspiring, and in fitting with most of the stuff on this blog, there was lots of music – in fact, most of the festival revolves around the music, an evening of four concerts by local up-and-coming rock bands. There were also tables full of merchandize and printed material, books and tracts against racism, T-shirts and other objects as well.
Brad Spurgeon interviews Antonia Hauth about the anti-racism, anti-neo-Nazi festival in Mannheim:
It was refreshing to find all these young people getting together to fight the scourge of hate and hate crimes. I decided to interview one of the organizers of the festival, Antonia Hauth, a young woman who has just passed the equivalent of her high school diploma, or A-Levels. I made it part of my series of podcasts that I have been doing with open mic and jam session organizers.
This may not have been an open stage, but I felt I might have been able to ask to play a song. Ultimately, however, I saw no real point in intruding. I was happy to attend and to make this felicitous discovery that I would never have known about had it not been for stopping Tonio in the street the day before because of his violin case!!!! But this was a real, true, interesting cultural experience. Listen to the interview and look at the videos to get the feel for it, and the intelligent response to hatred by a portion of today’s German youth. Or if you understand German, check out the organizing group’s web site about their activities against racism and neo-nazis in Germany.
Man oh man oh Mannheim, I never thought I’d find myself playing music in a McDonald’s in Mannheim, recording “Crazy Love,” with a German violin player with the Italian name of Tonio. But that is exactly what happened last night just before midnight, and just before we got kicked out….
Thing is, Mannheim is a crap place for open mics and jam sessions. I stayed here a couple of years ago while attending the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim, and I did managed to find one odd bar to play in and then a down moment in a karaoke to do my guitar and singing number. But arriving here yesterday, I felt quite demoralized, and after a nice dinner of schnitzel or some other pork-based delight, I walked out of the restaurant to find a young man looking at the menu and with a violin on his back.
My “opportunity” lights flashed brightly and I asked – with my guitar on my back – if he knew of anywhere to play in an open mic or jam. Tonio – as I would find was his name – spoke perfect English, and he said, “Heidelberg.” Yes, Heidelberg is next door to Mannheim, but there were no hotels available when I looked. So then he said he would ask some friends in a pub across the street, and each one he asked answered: Heidelberg.
Mannheim ain’t manly in the way of live music. So anyway, Tonio also told me that did like me, when he traveled, he looked for people to play music with. He had just returned from Amsterdam, where he had joined some buskers playing in the street.
Feeling somewhat defeated, I thanked him and left. But as I made my way toward the bar where I had played last year, I suddenly realized I had let slip the most important chance of my whole four-day trip to Mannheim. My project this year on the never-ending worldwide open mic and jam musical adventure is not simply to find and play in an open mic or open jam. It is to play with a local musician in every country I visit, and to record the playing. So far I have succeeded in every one of the 10 or so countries I have visited since March.
I suddenly realized that there was an interested and willing, classically trained violin player who liked pop and jazz as well as classical music, and that I had actually walked away let down. Without even asking him to play. So I ran back to my hotel, picked up my recording device – which I had forgotten there – and returned to the pub across the street from the restaurant where I had eaten. There I found Tonio again, about to eat his meal, with his sister and friends.
I arrived and told him my goal for the trip, and he said he would love to play some songs with me. So he ate, I socialized with him and his friends, had a beer, soaked up the atmosphere in this fabulous, popular, student pub, and then said: “So where should we play?”
We decided to head for the main public square, but by now it was so late it was likely to be considered a public disruption if we played there. Tonio suggested we try the McDonald’s restaurant just off the square. We arrived a bout 20 minutes before closing time, we were the only people in the McDonald’s – Tonio and two of his friends – and we ordered coffees and sat at a table. I turned on my recording device and we played “Crazy Love,” me on guitar and vocals, Tonio on violin and doing great mouth drumming sounds and then ad lib lyrics. Got through all but the final verse, and were then kicked out by the manager.
But I GOT my recording of me playing with a local!!!!! Couldn’t believe it! And in a McDonald’s of all places…. Thanks Tonio.