I spent July in NYC to explore its music scene as much as I could: playing open mics and gigs, going to concerts, and soaking it all up.
I want to keep a list of all places and situations I discovered and decided to make it a blog post for other people that want to do the same.
Considerations on the city from a Londoner
New York City is buzzing with energy and excitement at all times. It is so alive that it blew my mind! ‘The city that never sleeps’ indeed: always on, multi-cultural, and yet with very strong American roots, it made me feel alive and…home!
Nobody looks at you funny if you ask for a table for one or drink pints alone at the counter. People have a gracious way of striking up a conversation and without being creepy finding out who you are, what you do, what you think, what you like.
Life through the glass!
Music is such a big part of New York City: you see people singing songs aloud whilst listening to their headphones (and nobody turning around to watch them…I saw it so many times that I decided it must be normal); cars blasting out music, streets bursting with clubs, bars that pump out loud music, and heaps of venues offering live music.
NYC still makes you feel you are welcome, a place where you can explore being your true self and evolve. If you decide to share your ideas in front of an audience you will find one and people will listen!
New York is freedom.
I never felt so free in my life as I did in the Big Apple.
Public transportation runs at all times so you never have to worry over how to get home!
My list of venues for open mics and gigs
I have played five open mics and two gigs in the past month.
In general, open mics situations tend to attract decent amounts of people if compared to London and the audience respectfully listens to you; a piano is generally available; and it is really easy to make the acquaintance of other artists.
This is the list of open mics I played at, in order of my preference:
- Pete’s Candy Store, Williamsburg (on Sundays): one of the historical open mics in NY, hosted by Bruce Martin who is a force of nature, the open mic is super chill and fun, the sound is good and the place is nice; you get to play 1 song; I went twice.
- Sidewalk Cafe, East Village (on Mondays): hosted by Somer who disposes of infinite patience and sarcasm; at least 40 – 50 people show up on a weekly to play; she runs a lottery to assign you a slot, so if unlucky you might pick up number 44 and have to wait until midnight before you get to play; the sound is good; you get to play 1 song; I was asked to play a gig after the open mic.
- Little Skips, Bushwick (on Tuesdays): hosted by Joe Crow Ryan…that man is a living legend; raggedy madness, underground feel and definitely a whole lot of genres all together; it is a messy open mic but really unique and fun; the sound was good then bad then good again then bad but the good vibes make up for the technical unreliability; you get to play 2 songs.
- The West Brooklyn, Williamsburg (on Mondays): about 10 people show up to play and some are regulars (some of the finest musicians I’ve ever seen playing an open mic); the sound is good; you get to play 2 songs and if time allows it, you can play again at the end.
- The Bitter End, between Greenwich Village and Lower Manhattan (on Saturdays): the stage is huge, the open mic starts early in the afternoon, it is pretty chilled and a nice environment; the sound was good; you get to play 2 songs; I believe that if you enquire you could probably book yourself a gig there too.
Talking to people at open mics I was also recommended the following ones which I did not get a chance to check out:
- Mondays: Cafe Vivaldi, Park Side Lounge, Prohibition
- Tuesdays: Under St. Mark’s, Topaz, Park Side Lounge
- Thursdays: The Sugar Bar, Music Inn
I played two gigs.
I landed the Sidewalk gig after playing at their open mic; I was the last person on stage at the gig; the sound wasn’t amazing and luckily one of my people stood up to tell me to turn down the volume of the guitar after the 1st song. The set was 45 minutes. A bunch of my NYC friends showed up and also two groups of people having drinks next door decided to come in and watch.
The Rockwood Music Hall | Stage 1 gig came about after I sent them an email at the end of April asking if I could play there. I was the last person on stage with everything running late. The quality of the two bands I saw playing before me was really high, probably the highest quality venue I have played thus far (a part from Scala in London). The sound engineer was really good and always listening. Too bad everyone left just before I started to play as it was almost 1:00am on a Wednesday night.
These are three more venues to keep on the radar to play gigs:
- The Silent Barn, Bushwick
- Baby’s Alright, Williamsburg
- Pine Box Rock Shop, Bushwick