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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….

Beginnings of a Musical Adventure in South Korea

October 22, 2010

I arrived exhausted in Seoul on Wednesday evening and immediately made my way over to a dinner date with Suki in the Hongik University area. Suki, whom I met at some musical evenings in Paris this year, and who is a music aficionado, wanted to show me around the neighborhood, which is full of bars and musical joints.

We had a dinner – actually, I did, since she had eaten already – at a Korean barbecue, and then headed over to one of her favorite joints, an underground music bar with a huge screen that shows music videos all night. You select the music you want to hear, and if they have a video, they put it up. I selected Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” and “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. No go on the Van Morrison – too old, no doubt – but the Chili Peppers was great.

The area reminded me very much of Tokyo, although until then I had been surprised at how western the city looked to me compared to the other places I have been in Asia (Singapore, Shanghai, Malaysia and Japan).

There was no open mic, however, but on my walk back to my hotel I did find a musical joint that seemed to be a cross between open mic and karaoke, with recorded music backing and people from the public singing and hitting a tambourine and another percussion instrument. But I was so exhausted after not sleeping on the flight and having an early rise the following morning, that I opted out. In fact, I have an open mic lined up for Monday evening on my return to Seoul – so standby, and I keep my fingers crossed on it.

I am now writing this post from the town of Mokpo, which is the nearest city to the Yeongam Formula One circuit, where the race takes place this weekend. Last night I scoured through the main bar and music area of Mokpo, which turns out to be right next to my hotel. The main street is called Rose Street, and it has all sorts of cafes, bars and musical joints of one kind or another.

(My hotel, by the way, is called the Charmant, and my room overlooks Love Square, and the hotel sits next to a “sexy girls” venue of some kind. This is par for the course accommodation here at the Grand Prix.)

Unfortunately, my explorations of Rose Street revealed no place for me to play last night. I did find one place called “Live Cafe,” which had a stage all decked out with speakers, drum set, mic and other musical apparatus. But there was no band and no public at all. The owner indicated there would be no music last night. But I will try it again this weekend, as it looks promising.

I also found on the Internet a bar called Moe’s Bar and Grill. It is run by a Californian, but it turns out that while it seemed to advertise live music on the internet, there was none. Not surprise, actually, as there was no grill either. Just booze. A nice place, though, and I enjoyed a beer there, along with some of the Australian track marshals for the Formula One race. The nice bartender woman from Mongolia told me I was welcome to play music if I wanted to, but the atmosphere did not seem entirely right – too many people having a nice talk around the bar and probably not wanting to have some guy interrupt them with his songs.

I have not given up on Mokpo, though, and tonight I will explore all of the areas that have been set aside in a festival to celebrate the Formula One race. There are concerts with Korean bands and other festivities. Maybe there will be a corner of a stage or some other place where I can get in a song or two.

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