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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Open Mics/Open Jams & Yea Mon Cruise lands in Key West


^Listen to the demo of “Titusville!”* while you read the blog!^
*BMI, McClure and Trowbridge Publishing, Nashville…. Acoustic and electric Guitars: Chris Rehm, vocals: Chris Rehm/Bass and Drums: Nick Jason. One day I’ll cut a proper version!

A preface: Open Mics and Open Jams are two names for the same thing. The first one I attended was called an Open Mic, so for simplicities sake, I’ll use that term henceforth in the blog, though either is common and accepted.

Open Mics are one of the best ways to play music, have fun, and meet like-minded people. You don’t have to be a musician to go either. I recall back in 1995, I met my friend Charlie Rathburn, who was playing at a place in Miami called “Chubby’s Bar B Que”, right across the street from The Falls. It was a spur of the moment, and impulsive move. My cousin Joe”Joco/Jombo/”Connolly suggested we forsake our usual weekly spot and try something new, “Chubby’s”. Charlie was playing there and sat down next to us at the bar for his break. After finding out I was a guitar player, he suggested I come to the open mic they had there on Tuesday nights by saying “Look, I don’t know how good you are, but I can promise you this: There will be people better than you and people worse than you. Nobody’s judging you, we’re all just having a good time”. Charlie was right too! I’ll be eternally grateful to him for that too. I ended up addicted to it and also ended up as lead guitarist in owner Glen Strong’s house band “The Chubby’s Bar B. Qued Band”… without doubt, one of the most insane, off the wall country bands that ever existed! A few weeks after that, I was invited to play in Deny Rowand’s fabulous band, “Outa D’ Blues”, which worked out fantastic, as the two bands played on different nights! I wouldn’t have been in those bands, or gotten back into music if it wasn’t for Charlie convincing me to go to that open mic. Additionally, because of going to that open mic, I also got back into songwriting and completed my first song in years, “Titusville”, which begot me a publishing deal in Nashville. BTW, the most famous open mic is in Nashville, at a little place called “The Bluebird Café”. A LOT of Country artists were discovered there.

From that point on, I searched out open mics. I’ve gained lifelong friends for which I’m eternally blessed. Half the people were musicians and the other half people who loved music. Every open mic is different too. I attended two in Tampa, yeas back. One was in a quiet, little coffee house, where everyone sat on couches to listen and play soft acoustic. The other was in a bar called The Corsair. It had a lingerie show beforehand and had a fantastic blues band that backed up whoever was on stage for the open mic.

When I first came to Key West four years ago, naturally I searched the Open Mics out. Having found a few that died out pretty quickly, I heard about one just starting up at Harpoon Harry’s on Monday nights. It was run by Easy Ed and was a great time… and still is, though Easy Ed stepped aside maybe nine months ago. Harpoon Harry’s is on Caroline Street, across from the Waterfront Markey/Brewery. The food is suicide at night. Completely unhealthy stuff.. (Breakfast and lunch are great though!!!).. to the point that one performer actually wrote a hysterical song “They’re Trying To Kill Me Down At Harpoon Harry’s Bar”. On top of that, their TV’s always have on Fox with commentators like Bill O’Reilly. Imagine the political mindset of A) Key West and B) Songwriters and musicians… and they have Bill O’Reilly on??? Go figure? They’d be much better running cartoons! Seriously. Their saving grace however, is that they have a good staff and the open mic is fantastic, plus they have a full bar. In the first two years, they had someone new stop by and play every week. Some were traveling through, others just stopping by to play. Sometimes people will sit in with the players, other times they won’t. The musicians and staff create a great atmosphere and it’s always a great time. This open mic has a signup list and starts at 7 and goes to 10 every Monday evening.

Local performers Larry Baeder and Dora Gholson started their open mic on the rooftop bar of The Rum Barrel, on Front Street about a year ago. Theirs is the type where, for the most part, players have various musicians sit in on their set. You might go one night and have a bass player, keyboards, and a trumpet and the following week you might have a sax player. Larry’s always there to help out on guitar as well … and Larry’s been around the country for thirty years playing with everyone! The Rum Barrel has great food and a full bar as well. Larry and Dora kick it off at 7 and it goes until about 11, sometimes later. Great times on the rooftop of the Rum Barrel Thursday nights! No sign up list, just touch base with Larry. He’s really good at knowing who’s there and getting people up.

“Popeye” Dan Cunard just started an open Jam at Bobalu’s, on Southard St., right next to The Green Parrot. Thus far they’ve only had two, but it’s been a great success in the early going. Popeye’s is on Tuesday’s and starts at 7 and goes until 11. Check with Popeye when you get there so you can play. Great time, great atmosphere.

Like anything in the music/bar business, when the first gig is played, the time clock starts ticking. Sooner or later it ends. Some end sooner than later. I recall one that was on here, the guy who ran it didn’t have a signup sheet, couldn’t keep track of who came in, and if his friends came in, he’d scoot them in in front of everyone else who were waiting.. and buying drinks and meals waiting to play. He couldn’t figure out why people were getting upset. Nice guy and a great player, just organizing an open mic really isn’t his forte. That fell by the wayside.
Someone mentioned that there is another starting at Grunts, just off Whithead on Caroline St. Haven’t heard much more about it yet however.

There used to be an open mic at Sippin’, a coffee shop on Eaton St, just west of Duval on Sunday nights. It was acoustic based and also had poetry reading. It’s been a while since I was there, so I’m not certain if it’s still up.

I was fortunate enough to be involved in the Beachfront Radio’s Yea Mon Cruise 2012, when it made Key West it’s port of call! The cruise ship rolled into Key West from Ft. Lauderdale at 8am and my gig was at Artist Koz’ Green World Gallery at 712 Duval, for the kick off! What a great time! Artist Koz, quite often has musical artists play at his gallery and I’ve been fortunate enough to have played there before! This was a bit different, as it was a morning gig and cruise that Beachfront Radio had rolled into its first stop, Key West, Monday morning. A good amount of folks from the cruise headed to Green World Gallery, right off the ship! We had a great time at Green World Gallery. I played for over an hour then was relieved by Gary Phillips, then after that by Jimmy Jr. Hal, and Mark of Jimmy and the Parrots, who were the host band on the cruise. After that, everyone headed up to Smokin’ Tuna, where Jimmy and the Parrots (This time including Jimmy Sr.) took the stage. They also had Howard Livingston on the bill as well… towards the end I was up with all of them singing Jimmy Buffett songs, as well as Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See?”. A great time was had by all and a big thanks to Artist Koz, and his wife Pam Campbell of Green World Gallery, Captain Cali and Jeff Allen, of Beachfront Radio, Jimmy and the Parrots, Howard and Cindy Livingston, and Charlie Bauer of Smokin’ Tuna.