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.
There have been a couple of new races added to the calendar this year, and others dropped, and so on a couple of occasions I have to put up a consolidated media page for a race that no longer exists, but in place of the new one, which is not ready. So it is that the last race I attended was in Austria, and it was new this year – after last appearing on the calendar in 2003. I have therefore chosen a race that is no longer on the calendar but IS in my open mic adventure:
NEW DELHI, India – Puttering along in the auto-rickshaw on my first night in Delhi, I was confronted once again with the flow of chaos of the roads of Delhi. My western sensibilities tell me that it is impossible for traffic to move in that way without a death every three seconds in my immediate vicinity. But somehow, we move on through the every-which-way traffic – consisting of rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, cars, Tata cars, bicycles, pedestrians, wild dogs and the occasional Englishman – and get to the destination.
It turned out that my destination on the first night was the open mic at the Turquoise Cottage venue at the Saket Mall, and that while the traffic chaos nevertheless got me to my destination, the 50 euros that my telephone spent in downloading a google map to show me exactly where the bar was located, did not work. In other words, I arrived at this massive, massive mall, leaving the murderous chaos of the road to find myself in the calm of a super, futuristic shopping complex surrounded by bright lights, music and merchandize. Only to realize that I did not have a clue of where the Turquoise Cottage bar was.
Neither did anyone else. So I turned on my data roaming and spent three minutes trying to download the google map and before any image whatsoever appeared, my service provider – Orange.fr – informed me that I had just spent 50 euros. IE, a yearly salary of the auto-rickshaw driver who had just dropped me off at my destination without error.
So it was that I gave up on the modern method of using a GPS location service and I saw a European-looking woman whom I thought might be hip to where this popular music bar might be located. I stopped her, asked her, and to my surprise she responded in English that was laced with a strong Indian accent. She had no idea where it was, but like all friendly Indians, she called up a friend and he indicated the general direction over the phone: “It’s over in that direction somewhere, outside the mall.”
I told her I was surprised that she was Indian, since I thought she was European. She said she was European: Ukrainian, in fact. She was, I realized, the second European of the day who I had spoken to who spoke English with a strong Indian accent. There would be another before the night was through.
Anyway… in complete desperation and nearly ready to give up, I nevertheless decided to go “in that direction,” and leaving the mall I asked at an information desk – the third such information desk I had asked – where is the Turqoise Cottage. “Just across the street, through those doors,” he said. Sure enough. There it was, right in front of me, and only a couple of minutes away from the spot where I stood when I spent 50 euros trying to find it on the GPS. There is a lesson there somewhere.
But the real lesson came when I entered this new addition to the Turquoise Cottage rock music venue chain. (There are one or two others….) There I found a world that contrasted even more with the two I had just experienced: This world was a warm, hip open mic with a great stage, fabulous sound system, nice, open people, in a large bar with excellent food. And above all, it was a world of the kind I know so well all over the globe: A world where the shared language is music, no matter what the other peculiarities of the local culture might be.
The Turquoise Cottage Discovery Through Gautam and His Band
I learned of the Turquoise Cottage open mic through my friend Gautam Lahiri, who sings and plays guitar and harmonica in a band called The Grand Old Dog (I think I saw its cousin on the road in). I met Gautam at the famous TLR venue two years ago on my first visit to India, and he invited me then to his own open mic the next day, at Bennigan’s, and then we met up again last year at the Turquoise Cottage in a different location.
Turquoise Cottage was created almost as a kind of Hard Rock Café in India, but one that actually has music, rather than as in the case of the world’s Hard Rock Cafés, just photos of musicians and old half-dead guitars pinned to the wall to give the feeling of music. Turquoise Cottage IS about the music. As soon as I entered the place I was approached by the soundman who ran the open mic, and I was told I could play almost immediately. In fact, I ended up eating my rice and spicy lamb and then I went up shortly before 10 PM, and I did four songs.
The Spiritual Philosophy of the Turquoise Cottage in New Delhi
The open mic went on until close to midnight and then a few of us went back up on stage afterwards and jammed. I left the place not long after midnight believing that Turquoise Cottage itself has best described its approach: “What started out in 1997 as an idea for rock, has turned into a culture today,” it says on the web site. “We believe there is a place that lives within us all. It is a place of vision and clarity where the rhythm of life moves in harmony with a higher consciousness. The purpose of our music is to take you there. As in music so in life.”
Yes, I’ll buy that…. And when you think about it, there must be some of that in the flow of the traffic of the streets of New Delhi, too, or it would just never work!
Has the news of the cancelled Metallica concert in New Delhi spread around the world yet? The fact that the stadium was going to be filled over-capacity and the group refused to play? (That’s the rumour I heard.) That the angry fans started tearing the stage apart and burning Formula One posters and destroying equipment as a result of the cancellation? Well, Metallica may not have been able to play New Delhi – as part of the F1 race sideshow known as F1 Rocks – but yours truly did two concerts in New Delhi, one on Thursday that I already reported on here, and another last night.
I met a bunch of disgruntled Metallica fans on the New Delhi metro and I invited them along to hear me last night at Bennigan’s.
I repeated my name.
“Can you give us your card?”
That meant, “Thanks for the offer, we’ll think about it….”
Well, it may not have been a Metallica concert, but we all sure had fun at the open mic at Bennigan’s, in Greater Kailash. Despite the sound of the name, this is NOT a real Irish pub inhabited by nothing but foreigners. The open mic was run by Gautam Lahiri, a musician who plays at Bennigan’s every Friday and runs his evening as an open mic, jam session, inviting friends, acquaintances, his guitar students and anyone else who wants to come to play. We did some on-camera talk for my open mic film, and I found a real kindred spirit.
I played for about 45 minutes or so, maybe more. And I was eventually joined by some of the other musicians present on guitar, vocals and harmonica. We did my song “Memories,” with two people playing harmonicas, including Gautam. It was really touching….
Oh, and it turned out that one of my own acquaintances met at the Formula One race who was supposed to go to Metallica ended up showing up at Bennigan’s to see me instead of going to Metallica. But he left before I arrived, which was just after 10 PM, since I was delayed by writing about the Metallica cancellation – among other things – on my NYT F1 blog.
PS: My internet connection is so slow in my cut-rate hotel that I have not been able to upload the videos I did. I will do that tomorrow….