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An Anything But Grumpy Bluegrass Jam in Montreal

June 7, 2013

grumpys montreal

grumpys montreal

MONTREAL – I’ve been there before, I’ve written about it before, I’ve played there before. But I never had so much fun at Grumpy’s bluegrass jam in downtown Montreal as last night when I saw the light. The light – not the little halo around my head in the videos – had to do with attending the jam and going with the flow.

The problem is that I do not know how to play a single bluegrass tune on my guitar, nor do I know how to sing a single bluegrass song. IE, I don’t know any lyrics. Oh, there’s also the “old time” aspect of this weekly jam session around a mic in this mainstay bar on Bishop Street in Montreal, but even there, I know no old times songs.

Oh, sure, I know some traditional Irish, Scottish and English songs – but they don’t count as old time or bluegrass, despite the great similarity and the same roots of the music. Last time I attended this jam, then, I insisted on playing and singing something from my repertoire as close as possible to the old time, country, bluegrass sound. I did Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

Well this time, the light I saw came partly from the friendly prodding of one of the guitar player singers of the jame – which is organized by Mike Emmet, by the way – when he asked me more than once to just join in the jam and watch him play the chords and follow.

This man, it turns out, is also the organizer of the Montreal Folk Festival, which begins next Tuesday and has as a featured act Roger McGuinn of the Byrds! So this guy obviously knows how to get people to take part. So I decided to forget my usual need to play a song and sing it and take up center stage. I would just join in the jam and play along.

And so that is exactly what I did, and I found, beyond my belief, that I could actually to a respectable job of it. In fact, it was really mostly only three chords: D, A and G. Now what could be simpler than that?!? But there were so many musicians playing and singing together that the effect went way beyond the simplicity and into this almost trance-like situation. In short, it was a fabulous jam, an authentic jam, with authentic North American music, and some fine, friendly musicians.

And boy were there a lot of them – I think sometimes there were 10 musicians playing at the same time (a little like the Quiet Man jam for Celtic music in Paris) with banjos, fiddles, guitars, mandolins and vocals).

It is an added bonus that Grumpy’s, as I mentioned in the past, was one of the favorite hangouts of one of my favorite Canadian authors: Mordecai Richler. As Mike pointed out to me a couple of years ago, they actually shot a scene or two from the “Barney’s Version” film – based on the Richler novel – in Grumpy’s. So check it out! Oh, and check out the videos where you actually see me taking part in this jam.

A Different Side of Grumpy’s in Montreal

June 8, 2012

I wrote about my disappointing visit to the Grumpy open mic in Montreal the other day. Last night I decided to attend the Grumpy’s bar weekly open jam session called Moonshine on Thursday, run by Mike Emmet. This is a completely different atmosphere to the open mic on Tuesdays.

Having said that, the crowd is no more respectful of the musicians, and there seems to be two different things going on in the pub during this fabulous evening. While the pub patrons stand around and chat at high volume, the musicians all gather around on the stage – which resembles a corner of someone’s living room, and play together in a circle, with a high powered omni-directional mic in the middle of the circle.

The musicians can barely be heard over the noise of the bar, but every once in a awhile the patrons applaud the musicians. There is a complicity and sense of community and communion amongst the musicians, however, that makes it so that this evening is really something special: while the clients drink and talk, the musicians have fun playing together. If they attract appreciation of the “listeners,” fine. If not, that’s fine too.

The only drawback to the evening for me is that this is almost exclusively bluegrass and “old time” music, or old country and hill billy kind of stuff. So although last year I sang Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” this year I felt unequal to the task of playing with these musicians, so I did not take part. Having already played in one open mic, and with another waiting for me on Sunday, I knew that my stay in Montreal would not be without music.

It was great, however, to see the variety that Grumpy’s is capable of delivering, from a weird and cliquey open mic on Tuesdays to a warm and family-like bluegrass jam on Saturdays.

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