It’s Dylanfest season in Torrance. Uncle Al Diesan of Sardinia, Italy graced us again this year with his presence and performance along with his lovely bride, Maria. At fifty something she managed to look not a day over thirty-five. I liked her anyway. Especially when she took my hands in hers and said at rehearsal on Saturday that she feels like she has known me all her life. First I thought she said she knew me in a past life, which would also have been fine with me.
For those who may remember my less than stellar behavior at Kulak’s Open Mic last year, it is with incredible courage that Uncle Al asked me to take them to another one Saturday night in parts south this time to a place called the Fox Cafe. What could go wrong? I picked them up at Andy’s after Dylanfest rehearsal. As we are driving there I ask Al what he will be playing tonight. No fool he. Rather than suffer the disdain I displayed the year before when he told me he was playing Blind Willie McTell (which somehow managed to morph into Mr. Tambourine Man by the time he hit the Kulak floor) his response this year was ‘what would you like to hear’. Please play Not Dark Yet. I regaled him with the tale of how it is a brand new Dylan song for me having only discovered it a few months ago thanks to “not in outer space” radio extraordinaire KCSN. Al did a major great job on it the week before at his Suzie’s in Hermosa Beach gig. Do you know what my absolutely favorite Dylan song is, I asked him. He looked at me with his wordless communication gaze which translated and not in Italian either to “not a clue but I am sure you’ll tell me”. Desolation Row, I said. That is my absolutely all time favorite Dylan song AND could be my favorite song of all time. Just haven’t given it much thought yet. I probably should make a decision on that soon.
Meanwhile, from the back seat Maria said she never heard Desolation Row. I thought to myself, it was probably because Al doesn’t know it well enough to play. Let’s play it for her, I say and hand him my phone to find it. And so we are merrily driving down the freeway to Long Beach with me showing off how I know the words to the ENTIRE song and that is a lot of words and Al is not singing one word. O, I thought, as I suspected, he doesn’t know this song at all but that stands to reason. Not too many Dylan cover boys are going to perform this very wordy 11 plus minute song.
We get to the place and I like it. I really do. There is something so sweet about this place. The front half is café with gluten free this and that and the requisite coffee house coffee but no bottled water. I liked that. They simply put out a big pitcher on a table and you can help yourself. I didn’t even bother looking for the alcohol this time. I remembered that there is a law against combining Open Mic nights and heavy drinking. This is not the place one wants to see people’s inhibitions turned way down for obvious reasons as I not so elegantly proved last year at Kulaks. For those now thoroughly annoyed with the Kulak reference and no explanation by me to the current reading audience at all, please go read OPEN MIC blog from last May. Thank you. I digress-what’s new.
The inner room is set up with a long, wooden, old picnic table down the middle and some chairs around it. Against the walls are a few more small tables and chairs. At the back are two ornate, comfy old chairs that I make a beeline for. Sitting at the big table are a few, shall we say, older guys listening to one of the saddest looking people I have ever seen on stage singing Sonny. I haven’t heard that song in ages and I kind of enjoyed it, I must admit. Seems I’m getting the hang of these Open Mic performers or else I was even sadder than he was. He followed this up with a not so rousing rendition of Light My Fire for which he forgot a word or two. I got some cappuccino and sat back down. There appeared to be some kind of age demarcation line to the place. In the café part sat kids in their 20s I think. In the performance part sat us older folks, but there was no full wall or anything so you could see no matter where you sat. The place was tiny but very musically cozy and run by a big burly Irishman named Sean Gallagher. He reminded me of one of the people in Whoville but in such a good way. Sean kept the whole thing going; introduced the acts, worked the sound, hawked the baked goods.
First up tonight after Sad Sonny finished was a young Hawaiian lad named Ishmael. It seems that he got the ‘headliner’ spot meaning he gets to perform for 55 minutes at a three song Open Mic night. Now, no matter how good someone may be, this IS an Open Mic night with a leaning towards the more musical start ups among us. Giving any act that much time is equivalent to musically waterboarding the audience. Ishmael was cute as a button, a bit off key and word forgetful while playing Imagine, but hey what do you expect for having to perform for 55 darn minutes. Ishmael told a great story of how he got to the Fox Café. Apparently he and his absent tonight singing partner went to a Christian Rock Open Mic night and performed Imagine. The nice Christians threw them out for saying things like ‘imagine there’s no heaven” and then “and no religion too”. I shook my head wondering how exactly Ishmael may have learned the song without hearing the lyrics to it, but as I said, I was on my best behavior and just glad we got the pleasure of his being ousted right here. Next up were a few more kids and then an older gent who went really, really acoustic with that guitar of his. Not a wire was to be found on the guitar or him. They simply stuck a mic on a stool in front of the guitar. We are talking old school stool here I’m sure.
Finally it was Uncle Al’s turn. I really did not say the words “There is a musical God” out loud. He gets up there, opens his mouth, strums his guitar and out comes THEY’RE SELLING POST CARDS OF THE HANGING… my mouth dropped open in unison. Remember that Desolation Row song I told you about a few paragraphs ago that I was sure he didn’t know the words to? Well there he is belting it out and grinning at me at the same time. My shock was not only that he knew it, but rather that he was now going to do an 11 minute song at a three song and done Open Mic night! But pro that he is, he actually did a great scaled down version of it or I was right all along and only Bob, me and my friend Sandi Behar know all the words to it; minus a preposition for her of course. Well that surely capped a great night at an Open Mic where I never had to touch my denim jacket at all or put it over my head.
On a serious note, though, I salute people like Sean Gallagher. This place here is not making a fortune or anywhere near it. He does it out of his own love for music and to give aspiring musicians with stars in their eyes a chance to be heard as well as provide a place for the bucket listers who want one last chance at musical glory. It’s a noble thing Sean does and I, for one, was glad to support it that night.