More Updates: Putting the Oy in Joy

December had its ups and downs as you will see. As part of my open-mic therapy tour, I signed up for spots at two Boston area clubs: The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge; and The Burren in Somerville. In between I wanted to go to the Infinity Hall open mic again and probably something local with Charlie.


Lizard Lounge Open Mic Challenge is one of my many IMBC (I Must Be Crazy) trips. Driving two or more hours to sing two songs. This was actually a great time. The Lizard Lounge (LL) is a basement club underneath another bar/restaurant called Cambridge Common. They actually had a small parking lot in the back. I have not driven in Cambridge in many years. GPS made it easier but there are lots of bicycle riders and pedestrians. The early winter darkness kept me on my toes. I got there pretty early. LL doesn’t open until 7:30 so I had some chili and a beer at the bar upstairs.

The Lizard Lounge Open Mic uses an online sign-up procedure. I knew I would be playing at around 10 or 10:30. There are also a few spots for walk-ins. The LL is different because there is a contest attached to it if you do original songs.

Everyone pays a cover charge to get in and the winner takes it home as a prize. You can perform covers but you won’t win. There is a guest judge who is usually a member of the local music scene. Everyone performs two songs and at the end of the night, three finalists do one more song. I  didn’t win but I was one of the final three. After being upstairs in the noisy bar I was grateful that the LL is a listening room. The audience and all the other performers were terrific. It was a great place to play and I will try to go back again sometime.

Like I said I knew when I was going to perform. Except that, I didn’t. A few people didn’t show up, and some of those fill-in slots stayed unfilled. So, suddenly it was my turn and my guitar was still zipped up. And of course, in my haste, I forgot to turn the video on, again. I performed Marriage of Convenience and Love on the Line.

When I mentioned I lived in Western Massachusetts the judge said, “Where? Me too.”
“A town called Hampden.” She was from Belchertown, just up the road.

For my song in the final round, I asked the audience and the judge;

“Should I do a Christmas song? Or a love song?
Or should I pander to the judge?”

The judge said, “Oh, Pander!” So, I sang East Longmeadow because it is a Western Mass. anthem of sorts. The judge practically wet herself but in the end, I didn’t win. The winner, Kaiti Jones is a terrific songwriter and gave a great performance. And, to be honest there were several other performers that could or should have been finalists instead of yours truly. But, I’ll take it. I honestly didn’t envy the judge having to pick.


Infinity Hall Open-Mic. December 8. Ever since the Big Stage Competition at Infinity Hall, I wanted to make a return visit to Norfolk. It is a good little drive through the back roads of Connecticut but not as far as some of my other trips. Mike Sullivan went with me to play some percussion. I did the original jazz version of Two Cents Worth and Alligator.



Cracking the case. On December 16th Charlie, Mike and I had planned to go to an open mic up the road in Palmer MA, It is one of the ones that you try to support hoping it gets better. They have one or two good performers but it is mainly a community event. It was Charlie’s turn to drive so when it was time for him to pick me up I took my guitar out of the hard case and put it in the lightweight gig bag. I got Marty to go outside.Grabbed my camera equipment. And headed down the stairs to the basement so I could meet Charlie outside.

At the bottom of the stairs, I tripped.

My hand was still on the hand-rail and yanked my shoulder. I fell forward and my knee landed on the gig bag. I heard a crack but was in too much pain at first to check. I sat on the bottom step swearing. Marty was up at the top of the stairs looking at me like I was an idiot. I unzipped the bag, folded it back a little and everything looked fine. I ran my fingers across the strings. It was still in tune. I thought to myself:

I dodged a bullet. Not quite.

That was what I thought the last time I fell: scattering Kathy’s ashes at the lighthouse last month. My shoulder was very sore. Then I realized that I better look at the whole guitar and not just peel back the corner to peek. I had cracked the front face with my knee.

I probably should have waved Charlie off and stayed home. But, my arm was too sore to wave. I managed to limp to Charlie’s car. Because he used hearing aids it took a while before he realized what had happened. Quite a pair: Guitarist with injured picking arm and another that uses hearing aids.

Crossing that Bridge. When we got to the Three Rivers section of Palmer the bridge had one lane blocked off. We got to the Palmer Historical Center and the open mic had just started. There was a crafts fair going on in the room which gave the place a festive look. Mike had arrived earlier and signed all of us up.

Mike had the first slot. He wrote a song called Where the heck is Hampton?  It probes our local geography and wonders since there is a Northampton, an Easthampton, and a Southampton, there should be a plain “Hampton”. It is fun to play.

Charlie was next. He forgot to bring the bass, so I had to make something up on guitar for his songs, I Hear You Knockin’ and Summertime Blues. I tried sitting down to play. I thought that might be easier.

When my turn came up later I tried to make a joke about being clumsy and falling on my guitar. There were a few guitarists in the audience that gasped. Somehow I muddled through. This was Dear Mr. Santa Claus (Did You Lose My List?)  I probably shouldn’t share it. My hand was cramping up so I just got through it using my thumb. Worst of all I was whining. So it goes.


Recrossing that bridge. We headed home but when we got to that bridge there were no detour signs or instructions on where to go. It just said DO NOT ENTER. Charlie turned around in a parking lot. I was about to pull out my phone and ask Google what to do when we saw Mike pull up to the bridge. He stopped, looked and gunned it across the bridge. Charlie said, ” Hell! if Mike is going across, I’m going across.”

In a scene reminiscent of Alice’s Restaurant, the Three Rivers Police were waiting for us.

I guess the officer thought Charlie and his hearing aids was menacing and Mike in his old Buick looked shady. Backup was called in.

Charlie complained about the lack of signage to the officer, “You will have to take that up with the town highway department.” He told us one way we could have gone home that was a long way around. Each car got a $55 dollar ticket so it was an expensive open mic for all of us. I doubt they will try to appeal them.


Goat Peak Strings. When I got home I put the guitar back in the hard-shell case and loosened the strings. I didn’t want to damage the bracing underneath, too. I had messaged Jane, the owner of Goat Peak Strings about what had happened. They would be expecting me on the next day.

Of course, we received our first snow storm that night. I did some left-handed shoveling. It was too painful to worry about doing a good job. I was able to get out and made it up to Easthampton around 2:00 pm. It turned out they were about to close early because there were no customers. One of the luthiers was outside and saw me trudging through the snow with a guitar case.

“Are you the Martin that fell down the stairs?”
“That’s me.”

It was the first time I had been to Goat Peak Strings in Easthampton. The luthiers that work there had been part of Luthier’s Co-op. And I believe some had worked with the great luthier, Frank Luchesi when he was in Holyoke. Even though Kathy and I had our art studios in Holyoke I had only spoken to him on the phone. Frank started Luthier’s Co-op as a music store and guitar shop. Once he passed away about ten years ago, Luthier’s gradually changed. They still sell and repair instruments but they have also morphed into a bar.

They gave me an unauthorized estimate. When they really inspect the damage the estimate might go up. Jane messaged me a new estimate of $400. Still reasonable considering the braces underneath the top were damaged. And it will also receive some needed fret work while it is there. There are several luthiers in the valley that friends recommended for the repair. I posted the photos on Facebook, but I already knew where I wanted the Martin to go. I appreciated everyone’s concern. Goat Peak lent me a nice little Recording King guitar to use. It is a smaller bodied guitar that is easy to play. I will always use my hard-shell case.


The Burren. The last event of this series was the Tuesday Open Mic held at the Burren, an Irish pub in Davis Square, Somerville MA. Part of my IMBC tour (I must be crazy). There seems to be a friendly association between the folks that do the Lizard Lounge and this open mic. They use the same online sign-up system. And some of the same musicians show up to play.

The Burren is not a contest and it is not an easy place to perform because of the crowd and bar noise. The host Hugh McGowan keeps everything going and loves local music. He saw me with the camera and said if I get any good shots he could use them for the web page. So I took a bunch of photos while I was there. Christmas kitsch adorned the pub. A stuffed Santa sat up on the speakers. They even had gold letters J-O-Y hanging over the stage. But the” J “was hidden. It looked like “Oy” to me. Very appropriate.

One of the songs I performed was my Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Hugh, the host let me borrow a clip-on pickup because I was using the loaner guitar. A few of the other musicians were listening but the noise level was bordering on impossible. The feature performer was great. But the folks at the bar acted annoyed by the music. Some of the performers are better “Entertainers.” They have a level of energy and volume that cuts through the dim. I’m pretty damn low-key. I just try to find the people that are listening and try to entertain them.

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