Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Not So Grumpy About Grumpy’s Open Mic Anymore….

June 3, 2015
bradspurgeon

grumpys montreal

grumpys montreal

MONTREAL – I have always felt quite reserved, even grumpy, about taking part in open mics that are a mix of comedy and music. I’ve always felt there is nothing worse than getting up on stage to play a sad, sensitive, woeful song just after some humourist who has had people falling off their seats with laughter and mirth. How do you turn around that feeling of lightness and well-being, even a sense of the absurdity of life, with a quiet intervention of a song immediately afterwards? How, even worse, does the singer switch from that very same feeling of being elated by comedy to reaching into the depths of sadness or melodious sensitivity in a split second?

Well, last night at Grumpy’s open mic, which mixes comedy and music, I decided to set myself up for the ordeal again. Grumpy’s bar is one of the rare places I’ve taken part in a comedy and music open mic, by the way, and last night it got far, far worse than usual, as 95 percent of the acts were comedy, with just a small handful of musicians, most of whom were tagged on at the end. But something I did not expect happened last night.

I’m really sorry to be so nasty in saying this, but my feeling – and maybe it was warped, since I was sitting in a back room, freezing from the winter breeze wafting in all night – last night was that there is a situation in which the comedy night can turn in the favour of the sensitive, suffering musician. That situation is when the comedians have failed to send the audience off the deep end of laughter and delight.

Was it just my imagination, or was there a lot of off-colour, not-so-funny comedy at Grumpy’s last night? Am I just being Grumpy? I’m really sad to say no one sent me to the floor dying of laughter. OK, that’s what an open mic is for; I recall many an act at the original Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto in the mid-70s being not so funny – and others, killing us, of course – and look how many great acts came out of that movement? (Howie Mandel, Mike MacDonald, Jim Carrey, Rick Moranis, to name just a few.) But last night, was I really just too Grumpy about the cold and being a minority as a musician, that I was not rolling on the floor with laughter a single time?

So that, much to my delight AND surprise, by the time it was my turn behind the mic, I found myself facing not an aggressive, angry audience, but not either an audience that had washed out its emotions of all pent up whatever, but an audience that was ready to break out and release some emotions. Still, I felt that it was not the moment for calm sensitive stuff, and I tried to crack a few jokes myself, like repeating that one from Monty Pythons (or wherever) about the folk musician who goes up on stage and says: “I suffered for my music, now it’s your turn.” (No one got it.) And then I laid into my song Borderline, as a warm up. The joke on that was that if all humour is at someone’s expense, and that song was at my expense, then it must be humorous….

OK, so after that, I said to myself, this audience wants to break out: So I sang “What’s Up!” and then “Mad World” and to my great, great delight, the whole place sang along and several couples danced along in front of the stage. They were ready for ANYTHING that moved by that point!

And as it turned out, there were some very cool musical acts to follow, primarily an acapella group of women from Sweden – who did not want me to put up my videos of them, but said I could put up their promo videos, which I flatly refused (does the New York Times print press releases instead of doing real reporting????) and then a very funny and entertaining song and dance man from Japan.

In the end, I found that what had started as a catastrophic night, primarily because I wasn’t ready to laugh, ended up a fabulous, warm experience, and great for the ego too…. In fact, I left feeling not grumpy at all. And I can thank the comics for that….

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Montreal

June 12, 2014
bradspurgeon

Montreal

Montreal

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.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Montreal since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Bailout at Successful Brutopia Open Mic Night in Montreal

June 11, 2014
bradspurgeon

brutopia

brutopia

Having finished my weekend of work in Montreal on Sunday night in complete tranquility, and knowing that the Brutopia open mic starts late, and the list is often not made until around 10 p.m., I decided to eat a pizza at a restaurant up Crescent Street and not worry if I only got there at 10:30. I’d been a few times in years past to find it pretty empty, maybe five people on the list. Sunday, it proved fatal for my desire to play – and then put in a full day’s work on Monday morning before returning to Paris: Arriving at Brutopia at 10:30 or earlier, I found that I was No. 17 on the list!!!!

It was jam packed full of musicians and spectators, and there were several groups among the musicians on the list – i.e., major productions to get up and set up. So by about 00:45 I decided it was time to throw in the towel and admit defeat. I left Brutopia without playing, and with probably seven musicians – at three songs each – ahead of me before my turn.

Still, I really enjoyed the evening, the level of musicianship was very high, and the crowd and vibe was wonderful. The venue is one of the more lively and congenial in Montreal, in fact, on a stretch of road that has several pubs with music side-by-side; in fact, it is next door to the Crobar, where I played on the Wednesday evening. It was also great to see Danny Fonfeder again, and to look at, hold, hear and film one of his amazing Blueberry Guitars.

It was only this time that I noticed that the fabulous little stage is also visible from the floor above, but no one ever seems to sit up there, making it an even cooler setup than I ever thought. The evening was again MC’d by the cool Scott, who plays a means new-wave-like music beforehand, but I missed his set this time.

Anyway, that’s enough of run-on sentences and filling space with words between the videos – have a look at the vibe and a listen to the music yourself….


Second Night in Montreal, Second Open Mic: at the Bull Pub

June 6, 2014
bradspurgeon

Bull Pub Montreal

Bull Pub Montreal

MONTREAL – It was supposed to be a dead night at the Bull. I was really happy that turned out to be a bunch of bull. The Bull Pub open mic on Ste. Catherine Street is about as raw as they come: A bar with a clientele ranging from just about everyone to just about everyone else. But that stage is nicely placed, the sound works, and Eric the MC is enthusiastic and fair.

The open mic has not been the most successful in its recent history, it seems, but Eric and his team – of one or two others? – has taken over in recent weeks, and it looks like it is building up a following. It is another part-jam, part-open mic type of evening, and the stage has a drum set and amps and so can greet a whole band without problem.

In fact, last night, I was the only solo singer songwriter to perform, while I was there. But the bands ranged from romping rocking to punk-like country, to a very cool singer woman doing classic rock stuff from the 60s….

A real fun night, and I got to go up twice and did a total of seven songs. I will be back…if I get back to Montreal again next year.


Being an Acoustic Interlude at the Crobar, and a Momentary Interlude and Remarkable Meeting at the Escalier, in Montreal

June 5, 2014
bradspurgeon

blueberry guitar

blueberry guitar

MONTREAL – I had long heard about the Crobar open mic on Crescent Street in Montreal, but I had never had a chance to play there. Until last night. It turned out that despite it saying “open mic” out front, as well as jam, it is much more geared toward a jam session than an open mic. But it became clear instantly, with the warm greeting by the host, Louis, that the Crobar has the open mic spirit, and that means all are welcome, and anything goes.

So I got to play my acoustic set in a night that was – and always is – dominated by bands and jams with various high-energy rock musicians. There’s a drum set, electric guitar and bass, and the volume is super high. The stage is low and cool, and the television is overhead in case you get bored and want to watch the Stanley Cup finals….

The standout moment of the evening was a really interesting trio band that performed in public for the first time. It is so new that they have no name for the band yet! It sounded really promising, and by the time they played my iPhone had recharged, so I filmed it. I had come all this way, and left my Zoom Q3HD in my hotel room, so the sound is not great.

Leaving the Crobar I headed back to the hotel and on the way there, just around the corner, I heard sounds from the first floor of a corner building that made me think there might be an open mic there too – it was audience laughter, a person talking, something that sounded open mic for some reason. So I went up and found that the bar was called l’Escalier, and that it is an open mic, mostly spoken word stuff, but also music.

I was told by the organizer that it was about to end – at midnight – and so I was too late to make the list, but I should come back next week. I told him I could only come back next year if I was lucky, but that did not change anything!

As I began to leave, I heard a call from across the room and turned to find Danny Fonfeder. I had met Danny at an open mic in Paris in 2011!!! He is a businessman who lives in Montreal and does a lot of travelling for his business, and he takes his guitar and plays in open mics around the world. Sound familiar??? My own adventure may have led to all sorts of – unprofitable – side projects, but Danny the businessman came up with an interesting idea for himself, which is the creation of his company “Blueberry Guitars.” These are beautifully crafted guitars with carvings on them – take a look at the Blueberry Guitars page.

So we spoke a little, and Danny told me he had played in the open mic just 15 minutes earlier. I was not happy I missed this one!!!

Insanely Fun Open Mic at Brutopia in Montreal

June 11, 2013
bradspurgeon

brutopia

brutopia

It was another insanely fun night at Brutopia, a mainstay open mic of Montreal. I say “insanely” fun because two or three of the acts were quite insane, in fact. A reflection of Montreal?

It was my fourth or fifth time at Brutopia, and again I found it the kind of evening that by the time I left I was thoroughly satiated by the investment of time – and beer money in their microbrewery products. The one thing that it also had in common with previous nights was a bit of a slow beginning with louder sounds coming from the spectators than from the stage.

But that did not last long before the stage activity began to take precedence over the crowd. And in the end, there were enough cool and insane acts to make the whole evening worth it.

Plus I got to hear my friend from Paris, Raphaëlle, doing her amazing songs that I am used to hearing in Paris, and blowing away the crowd completely. I was also joined by a few Formula One journalist colleagues, and while they came during a bit of a down moment in the evening and made me worry I had got them to come to an off-night at Brutopia, things suddenly picked up.

The insane ones? Well, there was MC Puzzle, to start with. This is a white Montreal rap artist of exceptional something – but I’m not sure what! Just check him out…. It was his birthday – apparently – and at the end of his act the MC of the evening – Scott – told the public they ought to by MC Puzzle some beers. A member of the public shouted out: “He oughta be buying us beers!” It was all in fun….

The maddest hatter of them all was the bass player from the band Street Meat, which I had seen last year or the year before. He wore a top hat and played solo bass and sang along. He specializes in a Jerry Lee Lewis lunacy. It was very, very cool.





Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Montreal Edition

June 9, 2013
bradspurgeon

canada open micMONTREAL

catweazle

catweazle

For my eighth city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Montreal page. As a reminder, it all started with my now very popular Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and due to that guide’s success, I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour.

Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy

The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.

More Experience Than Existing Open Mics

Unfortunately, given the ephemeral nature of open mics – and bars themselves – in virtually all of the cities in the guide my own personal experience of playing open mics in the city in question usually goes way beyond the number of venues listed, since they things arise and close very frequently.

Two Mainstay Open Mics and Jam Sessions in Montreal

I do not claim that this worldwide open mic directory is anything other than a quirky Brad Spurgeon centric guide, based mostly on my travel as a journalist following the Formula One series around the world. Montreal, like all cities is a moving target. But for me personally the mainstay joints are Grumpy’s pub and Brutopia pub, both of which offer classic open mics, and Grumpy’s has the added attraction of its open jam sessions of jazz and bluegrass.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Montreal Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on the venues – i.e., especially if they close down!

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