Who dat? N’awlins dat!

Howdy Heartstringers! So I thought I’d contribute a piece to our musician community of my recent experience in one of the live music capitals – New Orleans. In this chilled southern city by the Mississippi you don’t ask yourself “if I should go out”… But rather “where will I end up?!”

The eclectic scene here has something for everyone. You’ve got Bourbon Street, where ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is chanted throughout the bars whilst scantily-clad women offer you an  unforgettable 5 minutes for $5. This is more of a commercialised Vegas strip and whilst definitely worth the walk-through for the amusement factor, isn’t the place to go to see what this city has to offer.

“Ya’ll gotta head down to Frenchmen St…” exclaims the man behind the bar. And we follow his instructions – do as the locals do in New Orleans as I’ve found they know what they’re on about. Perhaps one of more well known joints is ‘The Spotted Cat’. The bar itself is the size of a lounge room and you definitely have the feeling you are surrounded by old friends in this place. It’s a bar of jazz and swing. This particular night had the ‘Smoking Time Jazz Club’ pumping out fast paced swing  tunes. Perhaps the highlight of this bar however is the audience participation. It’s not unusual to have some fully-fledged pro swing dancing kicking around in front of the stage whilst the onlookers gasp at the flexibility and endurance of these Louisiana folk.

Cafe Negril, New Orleans

Cafe Negril

After your swing fix, you can walk down to ‘Cafe Negril’. There’s generally always a party on in here and with no surprise, some college girl who just turned 21 is being sung ‘happy birthday’ by a reggae-hip hop group. The giant Bob Marley wall painting behind the stage sets the mood for this place. People are just having a good ‘ole time.

Perhaps one of my favourite venues – ‘Balcony Music  Club’ (BMC) – is one that prides itself on some killer acts. ‘Blues4Sale’ are definitely the band that make the crowd go wild as they effortlessly venture into a musical journey that resembles a Hendrix lovechild. The frontman Ed Wills is an absolute inspiration with his unstoppable guitar solos whilst creating a real connection with the audience through the bluesy tales of life in New Orleans. By the end of the night, half the venue are up and bouncing around at the front – definitely a night to remember.

Chickie Wah Wah, New Orleans

Chickie Wah Wah

Just north of the touristy district is ‘Chickie Wah Wah’ – a venue that seems to draw more locals to witness some truly unique acts. ‘Helen Gillet’ – a cellist, singer and loop-pedal extraordinaire happened to be on this night along with her 5-piece band. She took us on a musical journey that ventured from French musettes to orchestral fusion and it was an absolute wonder to watch and listen to. Aside from music, the food at this place is definitely worth the try for authentic southern cooking.

Whilst these are definitely the highlights I experienced, there are many other places to check out such as ‘Preservation Hall’  where you literally go back in time to the 1930s and ‘Apple Barrel’ where the audience are spilling onto the street, dancing the night away. Just walking through the streets of the French Quarter and you will come across some very talented busking. Violinist and Guitarist duo ‘Tanya and Dorise’ literally have people with deck chairs set up to watch their creative take on well-known covers. There are also countless free music festivals throughout the year that pack the city parks.

Tanya and Dorice, New Orleans

Tanya and Dorice

New Orleans is all about accessible live music. The compact city and 24-hour tram allow punters to get anywhere to watch almost anything. Most venues offer free entry with performers leaving tip jars at the front of stages for audiences to show their appreciation. Coupled with affordable drinks, it’s definitely cheaper than going to the cinema and way more exhilarating. It’s really heartening to see an entire city come together to support what they do best – everyone knows everyone and they all help each other out to maintain what makes New Orleans one of the great live music capitals.

By James Hallal | twitter // @jameshallal

Bar Oussou

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“Anyone that comes to Bar Oussou by themselves always feels welcomed and can go up to any group of people and join the conversation. It’s a super-friendly place for all!”

Bar Oussou is a hidden gem. A welcoming little oasis neatly tucked away in the heart of Brunswick’s music district, this homely bar is like a home away from home.

Bar Oussou is not only a great place to unwind after a long day, it’s also a vibrant hub of artistic culture, great music and food. Walking through its doors into a lively bar and bandroom with live music and comfy booths, you will advance to discover a sensuous Eastern-themed chill-out room. Beyond this, you’ll emerge into a gorgeous candle-lit open beer garden overlooking a humble kitchen where one of their talented chefs prepares delicious, yet generously underpriced food. Fresh pizzas, tacos, burgers, steaks and crisp salads are available 7 days a week, and most menu items fall between $5 and $15. And if this wasn’t already enticing enough, the bar offers four back-to-back happy hours every evening from 5-9pm with imported beers on tap, a pint of which will set you back a mere $5, or just $7 for a quality house wine.

Indya Connley

Hang on, have you unwittingly followed a link to a real estate site? Maybe a food blog? No, this is (Sparta) Heartstrings Melbourne and all this ambience, lovely cuisine and inexpensive alcohol is merely a pleasant bonus. Bar Oussou is among the biggest supporters of local talent to be found anywhere in Melbourne. This place boasts an incredible entertainment program which showcases a diverse array of fantastic performers. Bar Oussou constantly features some of the best and brightest musicians in Melbourne.  Wednesday usually features local bands and evolves into a wonderful open jam session. You can check out some live jazz, blues, funk and soul every Thursday night, before an epic weekend of world music. To spice it all up, get ready for Latin music every Saturday in July!

Indya Connley

We discovered some of our favourite performers at the venue’s Tuesday night Open Mic sessions – if you’re an aspiring musician, there’s no better place to strut your stuff and mix with fellow artists.

As Oussou’s entertainment manager Danni says:

“What are you waiting for? Email me!”

Contact Danni now to book your place at Oussou’s famous Open Mic night. Email: danni.dragonfire@gmail.com  Ph: 0431 688 841

Bar Oussou is also available for private functions. Contact Mary for more information. Email: mary@baroussou.com.au  Ph: 9384 3040

baroussou.com.au
facebook.com/BarOussou

WE’VE CREATED A MONSTER!

_CI23806Open Mic Night Wednesdays @ Mr Boogie Man BAR

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The recent closure of the nearby Acoustic Café left a musical void in its wake. The future for local musicians looked uncertain. Thankfully, the newly refurbished Mr Boogie Man Bar has stepped up to fill the hole in our hearts. This cosy little bar will now play host to ongoing Open Mic nights every Wednesday evening!

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The first ever Open Mic Night at Mr Boogie Man Bar last week was a roaring success. In contrast to the crisp chill of the autumnal evening, the welcoming atmosphere of this place could not have been warmer. The groovy décor and rock memorabilia inside creates a sense of happy nostalgia which complements that amazing electric vibe which comes only from live music. Enthusiastic musicians and punters turned up in droves and the resulting community spirit was a joy to behold. The place was buzzing with infectious energy and positive vibes and we were all treated to a dazzling showcase of non-stop musical brilliance from some of Melbourne’s best underground talent.

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If you dabble in the Performing Arts, you’re unlikely to find a more encouraging audience than the patrons of Mr Boogie Man’s Open Mic. So don’t be shy: secure your 15 minutes of fame with Mr Boogie Man’s super-friendly owner (and get a free drink too)!
Call David on 0406 797 644 to book a slot, or just come down and enjoy the show with us!

We can’t wait to see you there!

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The Great Britain Hotel

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“It’s got the vibe where you don’t need to impress anybody; it takes such a long time to get to that point.”

The Great Britain Hotel (or The GB) is very special to me as it was where I played my first Open Mic Night. This was my first introduction to the local music scene, and I’ve been back time and time again. The best way I can explain the GB is it’s like your living room – if you had a full bar and beer on tap in your living room! Unfortunately, this venue’s lease expires in the end of June this year and no one quite knows what the future holds for this decades-old rock n’ roll venue.

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The GB has played host to the likes of Magic Dirt, Checkerboard Lounge, as well as the Cat Empire (who held a 2-year residency at this pub playing every weekend; the lead singer was even living in accommodations above the pub!).

Whilst having dabbled in Open Mic Nights earlier in the 90s, it wasn’t until the early 2000s when James Fitzpatrick (now veteran staff member & sound engineer at the GB) approached the venue and offered to host an ongoing Open Mic that it became what we know and love today – particularly borne out of the fact that there were plenty of students/musicians living in the area who simply wanted to play.

“My favourite thing about the live music at the GB would be the community – the people.”

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Of course the audience plays a significant role in the building of a community, but the musical talent talent is what’s most humbling for James.

“The ‘diamonds in the rough’ – it’s abit unrefined but you know there’s something in there that you find totally inspiring. It’s that moment when you realise you’ve been performing for years but you’re nowhere near as talented as they are.”

Being the sound engineer for many years at this fantastic venue, James recalls many occasions of coming across extremely talented musicians.

“A lot of the locals would come up to me afterwards and say – ‘who was that?’ ‘they were amazing!’ ‘can you get them back in?’”

At the same time, he has a wealth of advice for local live musicians:

“Remember who your audience is – try and cater to who is in front of you and engage with them. If you can get people to turn around from their conversation from your first song, you’ve got them.”

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And it doesn’t take much – eye contact, abit of banter, background to your songs/yourself, etc. Read our 7 habits of highly effective open mics for some tips.

It is unfortunate to see this venue go however for the short term after June 30, it is likely to remain open as a pub, though for how long and whether the new owners will continue the live music tradition remains to be seen.

“It’s not just the building – it’s the staff and the locals. It’s got the vibe where you don’t need to impress anybody; it takes such a long time to get to that point.”

Mr Boogie Man’s Open Mic – The Backstory

About a month ago I was seeing a friend’s band (Mass Rejection) play a show at the Mr Boogie Man Bar on Hoddle street. It was a Saturday evening and I had never been to this joint before. I instantly fell in love with the bar’s décor and its set up, as well as the lovely and down-to-Earth owner, David.

I was speaking with a fellow Heartstrings Melbourne-ite at the bar about how well this venue would suit an Open Mic Night – already having a killer sound system installed along with a funky and inviting stage. Draped with Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and other rock memorabilia, this venue was perfect. Especially with the unfortunate closure of the Acoustic Café, the area needed a platform for local talents.

We managed to speak to the owner about this prospect and, while he was very keen, he wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it as he had never held an Open Mic Night before.

Being a seasoned Open Mic performer both in Melbourne and overseas, I’ve been meeting with the venue owner over the past couple weeks to help him establish his very own and very first Open Mic Night.

We are all excited to announce that the first one will be held on this Wednesday 7th May. Musicians can book anytime from now ’til the night itself by calling David on 0406 797 644.

Hosted by yours truly, both David and myself hope to see you all there!

Obituary: The Acoustic Cafe’s Final Hours

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The Acoustic Cafe saw its final Open Mic Night on Thursday 27th March and closes officially as of today. So it is with great sadness that I find myself writing the obituary for this fantastic live music venue and watering hole.

I made my way through the venue for the last time, a cold beer in my hand, squeezing past people occupying whatever space they could find – I had never seen the place so busy before. There was a strong sense of community – there are few venues that can generate this kind of atmosphere. Nodding acknowledgements to some fantastic performers I’d seen and met there in the past, the place was filled with good cheer and merry, though with a distinct tinge of sadness in the air.

Normally performers would have to book a week in advance to play at their Open Mic, however Thursday night’s finale was a free-for-all, ‘sign up and play’ arrangement. With a record 41 acts signed up to play on the Acoustic Cafe’s final Open Mic, the venue surely went out with a bang supporting Melbourne’s local live music one last time.

While it was easy to feel nostalgic and melancholy, the night was also a celebration and tribute to the fantastic music talent our city has to offer.

– The Future –

No one knows quite yet what’s on the cards for the owners Ian & Glenda going forward – staying in Melbourne and hosting other Open Mics in the short term seems likely. Beyond that, Ian & Glenda plan on moving out of the city and potentially hosting live music festivals down near Wilson’s Promontory.

Whatever their ambitions, we all wish them well and thank them for their unconditional love for local live music.

 “Hopefully in over the four years I’ve given enough people enough starts.”
– Ian Beer, Owner, The Acoustic Cafe

The Cornish Arms

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“You get the opportunity to see some great acts and chat to people who love live music.”

Situated in the musical heart of Brunswick on Sydney road, The Cornish Arms have always supported local live music. Speaking on behalf of the venue, veteran barman Lachlan Lane explains that over the years, the venue has hosted music ranging from 70s soul/funk, local Melbourne grunge, DJs, blues, etc. but these days you’ll find more acoustic acts with afew rock bands thrown in the mix as well.

“The Cornish Arms was the place to go and get your music fix.”

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The venue complements its music reputation with a focus on good food. People come down for a good feed and stick around for the music acts. You can expect free live music on Fridays and Saturdays, including their Open Mic on Monday nights – a stage I’ve had the pleasure of playing on myself.

“Every Monday night [since 2009] there’s always been an Open Mic – I can’t remember a single Monday we haven’t hosted one.”

The Cornish Arms stage sees comedians, first-time music performers, travellers new to the area, etc. From a performer’s perspective it is a delight to play there – perfect amount of fold-back and a well-balanced sound for the audience.

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Many performers have gone on to bigger things such as ‘Busy Kingdom’ playing the Sydney Road & St Kilda festival in 2014, and even a 70s soul/funk band ‘Electric Empire’ playing the prestigious Glastonbury festival in 2011!

At the same time, the venue has played host to some… interesting acts. A notable one that Lachlan recalls was a musician who would plug his iPod in his ears and play along to songs that only he could hear in his headphones. All the crowd could hear was monotonous singing and 2 notes on the guitar over and over. Some comic relief though surely for the audience, but as Lachlan rightly states:

“Good on him for having a crack”

Musicians need to be sensitive about adapting their style for the venue or choosing venues with a crowd who appreciates their style.

“Here [Brunswick] you wouldn’t really put a cover band on.”

In closing, Lachlan expressed concern about Melbourne’s dwindling live music scene:

“It’s all about getting to the gigs. I know budget-wise it’s easy to get blind at home and then go to the gig, but it doesn’t support the pub. They’re spending money to put the band on.”

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The Acoustic Cafe

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“Hopefully in over the four years I’ve given enough people enough starts.”

Run by a musician for musicians, everyone’s encouraged at the Acoustic Cafe: A Cappella, xylophones, harps, poets, but the majority are singer/songwriters on acoustic guitar.

Ian Beer, a down-to-Earth singer/songwriter himself, owns this fantastic venue on Johnston St Collingwood, decorated with beautiful acoustic guitars on the wall.
Prior to The Acoustic Cafe’s launch in 2010, the place was known as the Ilk Bar and lacked the emphasis on live music that the venue has today. Ian had played a gig there and, impressed by the acoustics of the space, offered to buy the venue!

“Everyone talks about the Acoustic Cafe’s sound. I take a lot of care when I’m doing the mixing and I put the sound system in myself, but I have to say it’s mainly the room.”

Ian has been hosting Open Mic Nights at his venue for over 4 years:

“I like to nurture talent. I know what it was like when I did Open Mics; you’d play two songs and then ‘alright, off you go’. I thought, when I do it I’m gonna give them half an hour and make it more of a showcase Open Mic; one that they can learn and grow from.”

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Some notable examples of musicians going on to successful careers in music after The Acoustic Cafe:

  • Gena Rose Bruce –  2012 Telstra Road to Discovery winner  –  acknowledged the Acoustic Café’s contribution to her own learning and growth as a musician
  • Michael Waugh – multi -award winning songwriter

Ian recalls a notably unusual experience he’s had hosting a live music night:

There was a drunk performer from Frankston who slurred his words and ignored hints to finish his set – to the point where Ian was compelled to cut the PA system on him. The performer retaliated some time after by throwing a cup of water all over the venue owner. Rock n roll, right!?

According to Ian:

“Open Mics provide valuable learning opportunities for musicians; they should stay a little longer and watch other performers! Musicians and their supporters need to understand that it’s a two way street. Venues won’t keep going if they get 12 acts in; 10 of those 12 don’t buy drinks and half of them walk out right after their sets. Where else in Melbourne can you get 12 fresh faces performing for you?”

Unfortunately, as of March 31st, the Acoustic Cafe has closed its doors for good – Read the Obituary blog post.

Readers of Heartstrings Melbourne are also invited to Ian Beer’s own live performance – Sunday 30th March, 1-4pm, Tylden Harvester (43 Trentham Road, Tylden). See you there!

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