After creating a total of 26 Thumbnail Guides to open mics in 26 different cities around the world – and almost as many countries – the year 2017 marks the end (at least for the moment) of the world travels that enabled me to create these guides. This year, after more than 20 years covering Formula One auto racing around the world, I have opted to live a more sedentary life as I finish all sorts of personal projects – my film, books, music, etc. But the result is that these open mic guides risk going out of date. In fact, I have now come up with a potential solution: I will update all the guides via confirming the open mics I have visited still exist (using various methods, including the Internet), and for the first time, I want to open up the guides to the users to make contributions.
MELBOURNE – Last night was my last night in Melbourne and I’m sitting in the lounge at the airport ready to fly back to Paris in a very short while – for a very long trip – and I just wanted to note that my last night in Melbourne, bizarrely, was one of my best. Why bizarrely? Well, it had to do with what turned into a Plan B for music at the Plan B bar, after I found the open mic no longer existed.
I had chosen to go to the open mic of the Plan B bar, which I had found in a list of open mics in Melbourne, because it was within about 7 minutes walking distance of my hotel. But when I got there, I found the place pretty quiet, and I was told the open mic no longer existed, and had ceased about six weeks ago.
So I asked where I could find a restaurant in the area, and was directed to a Greek souvlaki place up the Bridge Rd. There was wine there, so between the lamb and the chips and the wine, I was fine. I then decided to go back to the Plan B to have a glass of cognac to finish off the night and digest the souvlaki.
When I got back to the Plan B and found that it is actually owned by a fellow Canadian, who has been in Melbourne for many years, I suddenly decided that since the place was fairly empty and it had a very, very comfortable back room with couches, brick walls and a fireplace, well, I asked if I could take out my guitar and just play quietly for myself. The man agreed.
I went into the back room – which was empty of clients – and I played my guitar and sang quietly, and drank my brandy – some kind of Australian brandy – and quite basically and simply found my personal batteries recharging with well needed energy. I sang a few songs, fingerpicked and pick-picked, and then after I finished the brandy, I packed up the guitar and returned to my hotel. I had just had one of the nicest moments alone that I spent in Melbourne. (Which excludes entirely the incredibly fabulous moments I had had with friends in the previous days!)
All in all, I realized it could only be called a Plan B for music at the Plan B bar….
MELBOURNE – Is “quiet” the kind of word you want in a headline about a visit to an open mic? Perhaps. Last night, I was really tempted to go to the fabulous Balaclava Hotel open mic that I attended for the first time last year and where I found an amazing, dynamic, lively and hip atmosphere. But I said to myself, this worldwide open mic adventure – like life itself? – should not be about always going to the same places and doing the same things, but about discovering new things. So I looked up on the various sources what other open mics exist in Melbourne on a Thursday night. I found yet another within a short walking distance of my hotel on Church St. in Richmond, the Station 59 open mic. And I went.
And that’s when I found what initially let me down, since the bar was virtually empty when I arrived. I cut out to find a place to eat, and ended up just down the street on Victoria and in the midst of a vast selection of Vietnamese and other Asian restaurants, a street in which, in fact, it seemed “Australian” food had been outlawed. So I settle for a nice big Pho. But I’d spent so much time looking for a non-Asian food restaurant – only because I thought I really ought to try Kangaroo – that I had to gulp down the Pho really phast… and get back to the open mic.
Upon returning, I found a colleague/friend from the F1 paddock who had come to meet me at the open mic, his second open mic of one extreme or another (as the previous one had been in a riotous, raucous open mic in Montreal), and a crowd of five spectators.
Again I did not despair because, in fact, the audience was fabulous, the reception in the Station 59 was mighty good, and after I spoke to the bartender/manager, I learned that the open mic was far from always being so quiet, that they sometimes had too many people to give a slot to everyone before the open mic finishes at 11 PM.
And on top of everything, Cam (for Campbell), the MC, was a fabulous host who made sure the sound system was perfect. So all in all, it was a nice laid back fun night with no stage pressure at Station 59. And ultimately, I was pleased to discover yet another Melbourne open mic, and to see that open mics are so much a part of the culture here that even if the open mic has a few down nights, no one pays any mind – it’s part of the deal….
MELBOURNE – The Great Britain Hotel open mic in Melbourne is one of my favorites, and always has been. I’m not quite sure why, except to say that I have always felt comfortable there. Otherwise, it is hardly the best attended open mic, either in the numbers of musicians or in the numbers of spectators. I had not been there for a year or two, but it was the first place I decided to go on this trip to Australia, after arriving yesterday, jet-lagged out of my brain. And it turned out to be a fabulous evening, despite one of the best features of the venue having been done away with….
I’m talking about the absolutely fabulous stage in the back room that this place used to have, and which was one of the main features of performing at this open mic. They got rid of it. Imagine getting rid of a large stage with a kind of proscenium arch effect and everything, and putting in its place … a kitchen! The slightly open kitchen. How could they? And they replaced the stage with a kitty-cornered stage in the front part of the pub. A very small, kitty-cornered stage.
Having said that, this also fixed one of the main problems with the Great Britain Hotel open mic as I had noticed it in previous years: It was the kind of place where the audience would assemble in the back room when friends of the spectators were there, and then they would clear out of the room entirely when an unknown musician went up. You could not play to the whole hotels space and might often find yourself playing to no one!
The new setup means that you can reach not only people in that back room – and kitchen – but also in the middle room, on which the stage also plays out to, and the front room (where the bar is, in front of the stage), AND to the people outside on the street. This is highly, highly preferable. In fact, it gives unknowns a chance they never had to attract listeners.
On top of that, they also changed the format of the open mic, and now it is broken down into half-hour sets for each performer. That’s fabulous! And if you happen to be a spectator and don’t like the performer, you can still seek refuge in the pool room off the other side of the bar, or in the back terrace outside, far from the stage.
So all in all, I kind of like the Great Britain Hotel open mic even more than I did before, despite the death of its fabulous stage. Oh, and I think I know why I like it; I’ve always just felt comfortable in this place. And that’s important – especially when you’re performing.
I’ll be back! (If I still keep coming to Melbourne.)
MELBOURNE – I was hoping to do more open mics in Melbourne, but the travel, heat, cold, air conditioning and who knows what all else mean that I caught a bad cold and will be spending the next days while not working, sleeping. So I doubt I will try any new open mics before I leave on Monday.
MELBOURNE – A balaclava may have negative undertones these days, what with the predilection of terrorists to wear these ski masks while taking part in cleansing operations, but Balaclava is also an area in Melbourne, Australia, and the Balaclava Hotel has been host for the last two and a half years to one of the best open mics I’ve ever visited in this Australian city.
Last night was the first time I attended this Balaclava Hotel open mic, and it was admittedly a busy night, with around 16 performers, but as the genial MC, Erik Parker, told me, next time I want to go I better contact him as early as possible to avoid being nearly last on the list. Still, it only runs until midnight, so being nearly last on the list is no big deal.
Last night it gave me the opportunity to see a number of the other amazing performers, including last but not at all least, Erik himself. What was really amusing, though, was that I struck up conversations with a Flemish Belgian who spoke little French, and a couple of French women on a work visit to Australia, and then after that I discovered a Quebecoise and her French-France boyfriend. So the accent on this very Australian open mic was very French last night, as the latter two persuaded me to sing a song in French, and I sang: “Et dans 150 ans,” by Raphaël. At the end of the evening, Erik then dove into his own rendition of a French song, “Je ne regrette rien,” of Edith Piaf – and it was sensational!
But most sensational of all is the atmosphere in this vast hotel pub with its bright lighting and sizeable stage for the open mic, at the front entrance to the pub. It is a vast, multi-roomed bar, but it still manages to maintain or create some kind of feeling of coziness and communication between spectators and musicians. And there was a broad cross-section of talents and styles, one of the biggest standouts of the night aside from Erik, being Corey Heuvel, a Canadian on a long visit to Australia.
Erik does a great job of organising it, very laid-back and smiling throughout the evening. And he even takes risks to do things he thinks are not possible, like the slot last night in which a full band of five musicians elected to take to the stage….
Really a fabulous evening, great vibe and a place I will definitely return to again next year, if I get back to Melbourne again….
MELBOURNE – Oh, the jet-setting life! So I got to Melbourne yesterday by way of Dubai, and during my brief stop-over in the UAE airport, I get this email message from an Australian fellow traveller who happened to be passing through Melbourne and who remembered meeting me at an open mic last year at the Great Britain hotel. He so kindly told me that the open mic at the aforesaid joint no longer exists, but that he knew of a great new one that also took place on Wednesday nights, would I like to go? If so, I should write the guy who runs the open mic, and who also runs the bar, and ask for a slot. So I did, and I went, and it was great. But that’s not all….
So I get to this new venue that has been open for a year now, called Mr. Boogie Man Bar, and I find Fender Stratocasters papering the walls, and I find stuff like a poster for a Bob Dylan concert in Greenwich Village in 1960, and Rolling Stones photos, and Hendrix photos, and signed guitars, signed albums, all sorts of memorabilia, and a big stage at the end of the bar and a mic and a woman singing. And David, the guy who runs the place.
Mr Boogie Man Dylan gig poster
So I find I’m signed up for 22:40, and I have plenty of time to listen to the music – including by my considerate acquaintance from last year, another man named David – and I ask David – the one behind the bar – where I can go to eat. He had pizza, but as I ate pizza on the flight that day, and then a panzerotti in Melbourne (in the only shop that sells them in Melbourne), I was not so keen on pizza. So David directs me to a fish and chips joint down the street. And as I make my way down to the fish and chips joint, and I’m remembering how last year I had attended an open mic on the Thursday night – the Acoustic Café – and went to a fish and chips joint, and so wasn’t life similar so often?, I find myself approaching this fish and chips joint and saying, “My God, it’s the SAME fish and chips joint as last year!” but I’m approaching from another direction.
So then it is that I realize that I am indeed in the same neighbourhood as last year’s Thursday night open mic – which no longer exists, and is not to be confused with the Wednesday night open mic that no longer exists – and here I am going to the fish and chip joint where I had such terrible fish and chips last year. So I go around the corner and get a plate of duck meat rigatoni to go from Rita’s, a hip restaurant.
Mr Boogie Man Dylan scrapbook
I return to Mr. Boogie Man’s bar, order another Shiraz – under the Mr. Boogie Man label – and I sit and listen to David – my friend who invited me. And boy am I glad he invited me. This is a very cool open mic, more than enough to replace the Great Britain hotel, and much of its greatness comes from David – the owner behind the bar. A well organized open mic, great sound system, funky bar, great feelings.
My only criticism? Most of the musicians booked their slot, came, played their three or four or five songs, and then left, without listening to the other musicians. That’s a bit impersonal. But for those who did stay, it was a fun, warm and celebratory night. I’ll definitely return – as long as Mr. Boogie Man does not go the way of the Great Britain hotel and the Acoustic Café come next year!
MELBOURNE, Australia – 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.