Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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A Canadian Open Mic In Korea? Rocky Mountain Tavern, Itaewon

October 3, 2013

Rocky Mountain Tavern (Seoul)

Rocky Mountain Tavern (Seoul)

SEOUL – Back on the road after a short week away, I spent 24 hours getting from Paris to Seoul via Dubai and I was pretty exhausted. But as I knew I was spending only one night in Seoul before moving down to the real action in Mokpo, on the south coast, I decided that I must never assume that it is too late to find out if there are any open mics happening in which I might be able to play.

I certainly had an excuse to despair: It was already around 9:30 at night and I had arrived in my hotel room barely an hour before. What chance would there be of finding an open mic in Seoul, South Korea, when nothing showed up on the Internet for a Wednesday night? Still, I decided to shoot a message off on Facebook to an American musician friend I met at an open mic in Seoul a couple of years ago. And he happened to be online, and he happened to know that there was an open mic happening in Itaewon – my cool, laid back neighbourhood – in a bar called Rocky Mountain Tavern.

“Just ask someone where it is,” he said. “A few minutes from the station.”

As it was a few minutes from the station and so was my hotel, I decided to be clever and seek the address on the Internet and then go and find the place without asking anyone. Having walked around 10 minutes and not finding anything, I suddenly saw a couple of caucasians, one with a guitar on his back.

“Do you know where the Rocky Mountain Tavern is?” I asked.

“Ah, that’s where we’re going. You going to the open mic?”

And so we headed off in the opposite direction, the direction of my hotel. So had I not been so clever, I’d have found that the Rocky Mountain Tavern was just across the street from my hotel.

But what was even more miraculous in this series of events was that it turned out that the Rocky Mountain Tavern is a Canadian pub, owned by Canadians, and looking like a cabin in the rocky mountains and serving Canadian things like Canadian beer and even poutine.

Even better, the open mic had not yet begun. It turned out to be the first of a new open mic for the place, although they have had music and open mics or some similar thing in the past. It also turned out, very fortunately, not only to be populated by Canadians, but also by many, many Koreans, and even Brits and Americans. SO I had not travelled all that distance to find myself in a Westerners-only situation.

The open mic took place on the second floor of the bar – which feels like around the fourth floor of the building – and it was a full-band layout with drum set and several amps. In fact, one of the guys I met on the street was playing in the band that did most of the action last night, a band of Seoul expats, called “Fast Walkers.” And yes, they specialized in pretty fast music – even had a touch of the wildness of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, I thought.

There were not that many performers last night – although people were willing, and I accompanied on my guitar a couple of women singing “Stand By Me” – but the stage was very definitely open. It was not just for bands, but for anyone who wanted to play, solo or in group. I did two sets, in fact. And had a great deal of fun winning at Baby Foot – as the French call the soccer table – afterwards. But the Rocky Mountain Tavern is clearly serious about its new open mic, as I see it is on the bar’s web site calendar of events.

So check it out if you’re in Seoul – whether you plan to play or not. The bar is a riot of activity on two floors, and it even shows hockey games on the TV screens spotted about the place….

The Lesson Learned in Playing at the 7080 Music Bar in Mokpo….

October 17, 2011

It is one of the main reasons I do my worldwide open mic and jam session musical adventure, and it happened again last night: Despite being in my second year in Mokpo and failing after last year and the first three nights of four this year to find anywhere to play, I did not give up, I pushed myself beyond my safety and comfort zone and I found a place to play.

Having said that, it was not an open mic or a jam session. But I did play with my guitar and sang my songs. But I’m jumping ahead of this little story, which is really about pushing ourselves forward beyond our preconceptions, our comfort zones and into territory we may fear. Last year in Mokpo the only place I managed to find to play was with buskers in the Street of the Roses in downtown Mokpo. I had ventured into one or two bars that had musical instruments and advertised live music. But they were empty of both musicians and clients. This year things went the same way and I did not even meet up with my young busker friends.

But a couple of nights ago I thought I had discovered a local equivalent of live music joint where there might at least be a jam session, if not an open mic. (Oh, Moe’s Bar and Grill, an expat joint, is holding an open mic, but not until this coming Friday, when I will be in Paris.) The places are called a “Live Cafe,” and some are “Music Bar.” There are a number of them around town. I dropped into one where I saw a guy playing keyboards and singing Korean music. But there was not only no clients in the bar, I couldn’t even see a bartender or other worker. So I just left the guy to sing for himself and continued checking out other places.

Two nights ago I found one near my hotel called 7080, and it had a neon guitar outside, and it had photos of The Beatles, c. 1964, in the stairway leading up to the bar. When I opened the door to the bar and looked inside I saw a nifty but strange neon stage, screens on the walls, and neon and silver lights and walls and chintzy music and people at tables all over in a half inebriated state. Someone came quickly to see me at the door and my immediate reaction was to say, “No thank! Sorry, not for me….”

Why? Because it was sooooooooo foreign. A lot of the Formula One journalists are forced to stay in so-called Love Motels in Mokpo because there is not enough housing. These are motels rented by the hour where young lovers and prostitues alike alight. The district in which we find ourselves, and where I found the 7080 bar is pretty much the sex and games part of what is probably the crime capital of South Korea.

So my immediate reaction was fear and also a sense that if I went into that place I would surely be robbed, propositioned, or otherwise volunteering myself for some illicit act that I wanted nothing to do with. But over the day or two since I did that, I began as I said, finding these music bars and live cafes (which are also bars that serve alcohol), and the more I thought about it, the more I thought perhaps the 7080 was just another of these. Perhaps the 7080 was a bona fide local entertainment bar with live music and karaoke and whatever. Nothing to fear but the real, true Korean experience I had been looking for all along. At Moe’s none of the expats I spoke to had any idea where I might find live music or a jam or open mic. They had not even heard of the live cafe….

So I returned the following night to the 7080 and found it had been rented out to host an F1-related party. Some kind of Korean company involved in oil and gas had bought up the room and they were doing live-band karaoke when I arrived. I was promptly asked to leave, this time, which was the inverse of what happened the previous day.

So it was that last night, desperate to prove to myself that I could indeed find a place to play in Mokpo and that if I had failed to do so it was my own failure as opposed to a failure of the city to provide. And above all, I decided I had to be courageous and not shy away from what is unfamiliar, since that is the very essence of what I am seeking out in this adventure.

I went to the bar, walked in, asked if I could buy just a beer, and I was told yes. (That was another fear, that I’d be fleeced for thousands of won in a so-called cover charge.) I went to my table and the woman very kindly brought me my Hite beer from Korea, and a piece of paper for me to make a request for a song. Although I had come in to listen the musician on the stage – who played keyboards, electric guitar and sang – it turned out it was a karaoke too, with the musician playing part of the music track.

The room had some 20 or so people in it, not bad for a Sunday night. I watched and listened, and then decided that although the Karaoke was written in Korean, I would try to request doing a song. I asked for anything by the Stones, Beatles, Dylan or Cat Stevens, since all the other stuff had been in Korean…. In the end, I got to do “What’s Up!” by the 4 Non-Blondes, which I have done a lot lately. And I did a great job! I’m usually terrible at Karaoke, but this worked. (It’s easier.) I received massive applause, people sang along, and a man immediately asked for an encore and then invited me to his table to talk.

His name was Kim Sek-Soo, and he is a Korean painter and Pine Art Master. He offered me beer, he went up and sang himself, we talked as much as we could with fractured English. And he and his wife and the woman running the bar and I all communicated for some time and had a great time. He requested I play more songs, but the musician in charge took a break. So that is when I took out my guitar and played some songs for Kim and his wife. They clapped along, the other people in the bar did too, I received applause, and then the karaoke started again and I did another song – “Unchained Melody.”

After I did that, Kim came up to me in front of the stage and importuned me to do a song for everyone with my guitar. The musician, with some sense of wounded pride – I think – eventually agreed to this, and so I played “Since You Left Me,” my song, with my guitar and vocals. It received warm applause, and we drank and spoke more and the evening eventually ended.

This, I thought and realized, was a REAL musical night in Korea at a place where the people go to have fund – the Koreans, not the expats. And I had my chance to sing my heart out in Korea for Koreans. Above all, I had broken down a communication barrier and a preconception in my own mind, and I had screwed my courage up, with the reward being absolutely massive.

That’s a lesson that I want to apply to life in general. That’s why I love this adventure.

P.S. Oh, by the way, I managed to get a video of me doing “Unchained Melody,” and “Since You Left Me.” But it was too long for YouTube, so I tried to put it up but it would not go. I will have to edit it and perhaps put some up another time. Or use it in my film.

Feels Like Home at “The Local” Open Mic in Seoul

October 13, 2011

I travelled from Tokyo to South Korea yesterday, but frankly, when I went to play at the open mic at a bar called “The Local,” in Haebangchon – a 20 minute walk from my hotel in Itaewon – I felt almost like I was back in Canada.

The Haebangchon neighborhood has recently grown up as another popular place for foreigners, thanks partly to its cheap rents, apparently. It’s defintely more downmarket than Itaewon. But when I heard about The Local and its open mic on Wednesdays, I was delighted. And not let down.

The open mic is run by a Canadian, Patrick, and owned by his girlfriend. It is a tiny, cosy, cool place that has become a magnet to the local foreign bands and musicians, and a lot of them turned up last night. In the room, either playing, or as spectators, there were at least four Canadians, including one from New Brunswick and two from Newfoundland. There were Americans, English, and others. Oh, and yes, Koreans too.

Like a lot of small bar situations, the open mic was a success because everyone is one on top of the other – as it were – and you cannot escape the music. I liked the decorations in the bar too, old photos of Dylan, the Doors, a few LPs pinned up on the wall.

Just generally a nice vibe and great open mic. You actually get to play for half an hour! Thanks to Yvon Malenfant for telling me about this place. Yvon, from Canada, was there to play too, and he lent me his cool guitar since my pick up doesn’t work, as I mentioned yesterday.

Gotta run to catch a shuttle and so will add more videos tomorrow, but must make due with the few I put up now….

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