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.
For my U.S. chapter, I divide it up between the two cities I visited for the adventure, New York City and Austin, Texas.
The name of one of America’s most famous music venues almost became the best description for my night out at the open mics last night. Thanks to Mark Greenberg, the guy who runs the Sunday night open jam session at the Bitter End, however, the night ended fabulously happy and on a high for me, and was not a bitter end.
In fact, it was a dream come true to play with a band at the Bitter End. This, remember, is a place in Greenwich Village where every musician and comedian that you can think of played since it opened 50 years ago. The list is too long, but ALL the names are on it, and you can see these performers on the site of the Bitter End. But of course I have to mention Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle, Harry Chapin, Patti Smith, Woody Allen, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell… okay I better stop.
Since the jam at the Bitter End doesn’t start until 10 PM, I first found a very nice and cozy open mic at a bar called Common Ground, at 206 Avenue A. There I signed up and played as the first guest. Each musician gets a 20 minute slot.
There I met a woman from Latvia named Dacesita, who would later show up at the Bitter End too, and who sings and plays keyboards. And I also met Ace Elijah, whom I had already seen play at Arctica last Wednesday. It IS a small world in this big city.
But I was NOT going to miss the Bitter End. So I left Common Ground just after 9 PM in a torrential rainfall. And that is when I began to get bitter. By the time I arrived at the Bitter End I was wet, head to foot.
Then I sat under an air-conditioning vent for a decent seat to see and hear the music. I was bitter again. Not to mention freezing. Then the house band came on to open up the jam session. That gave me another reason to be bitter: They were so damn good and tight and flashy and neat that I said, “There’s never going to be any place for me to play anything up there amongst these great musicians.”
But I loved the place. This is the high-ceiling room with the red brick wall backdrop to the famous stage. How could I not be touched? Say nothing of the ancient posters on the walls of people like Simon and Garfunkle and friendly bar service and a pretty good crowd of people.
The more the night went on, the more I felt there was nothing I could play at this jam. It just wouldn’t fit in, I’d be the laughing stock of the night. Moreover, the music leaned toward blues, rock, funk.
So after avoiding signing up to the list for as long as I could, I finally decided I would pack up and leave – near 1 AM. But I had heard two or three performances that made me think that maybe with a bit of a stretch of the imagination I could play something. I had heard a strange, original rendition of “Helpless,” the Neil Young CSNY song sung kind of jazzy. I had heard Sonny, some Hendrix stuff. And was I not in a place where Van Morrison had played? Why not “Crazy Love?”
But I justified myself and say, “Naw, forget it, you have to leave and just say, ‘This ain’t my kind of thing.’ Too bad I would not play in the legendary club, but you had to draw the line somewhere.
So I left with all my things, and Mark was standing out front talking to people on the sidewalk. He looked at me as I left and said, “Do you play?”
I expressed my fears that I wouldn’t fit in. He asked what I could do. I told him mostly ballads. Then I said maybe “Crazy Love,” would work. But I worried about how there was a bridge and a chorus in addition to the regular verses and it could screw people up – the other musicians. He asked if I had any other ideas. I said, “Mad World.” It’s only the same chords more or less throughout, I said, telling him the simple chords. He said, “Do it.”
So I turned around and went back in.
So after another couple of songs, it was my turn. And it worked out phenomenally well. In fact, I loved it. The sound system was great – could have had a bit more monitor on the vocals – I could hear the band, they were tight and easy to play with (I was the weakest point) and the audience, I could see, was listening and appreciating.
In fact, when I finished, Mark and several people in the audience congratulated me. It had gone over well. I COULD play the Bitter End. And when I left, I was NOT bitter.