Open (mic) for business
While it carries its share of risks, the open mic format has an important role, particularly in transitory expat communities, in bringing musicians, songwriters, and even comedians together. Phnom Penh is full of bands that grew out of open jams that started with a handshake and became a friendship; many have made their first steps towards becoming performers through a sympathetic and encouraging host. While we’ve lost some key venues in recent years, new nights keep opening up, and other well-established ones keep rolling on. We may be deep in low season, but as it’s also a time when there is a surge of new people arriving in town, it seems worthwhile to take a quick run around the scene.
Early on Thursday, way on down in Tuol Tom Pong, The Deck has an acoustic open mic that, while comparatively new, continues going strong, with a generally younger crowd. Then late on Thursday, Jeffro Starks holds court at Good Times Bar on St 19. While he’s known for blues with his band Chi-Town, Jeffro solo has a wide palate, and an infectious enthusiasm which can lift up the pre-weekend night.
Skipping past Friday and Saturday night, traditionally difficult nights for open mic, we get to Sunday, where two long-running events sit back to back. The Sunday Sundowner Sessions at Tacos Kokopelli (formerly the Alley Cat Café), an event now six years old, is a relaxed and intimate way to end the weekend. Hosted by Scott Bywater, with a strong following of both performers and audience, it’s been the starting point for many of the key players in Phnom Penh today, and continues to attract newcomers and passing-throughers, and the 8 pm finish suits those with a Monday morning ahead of them.
Sunday Sundowner Sessions at Tacos Kokopelli: never know what to expect. Photos: David Flack
For those who want to go later and louder on a Sunday, the Sharky Bar open mic, with Pavel Ramirez, is set up for jamming. The stage is set with full drum kit, bass, guitar and amps, and the music goes through to midnight, so there’s plenty of time for an unknown drummer or bass player to show off their chops – or, indeed, a guitarist or singer.
David Zdriluk, aka Canadian Dave or Dave Z, is mainly seen on Phnom Penh stages playing bass; he is also a fine finger-picking guitarist, and the host of Sundance Inn & Saloon’s Tuesday night open mic. This night is primarily for solos and duos, although there is the occasional addition of bass guitar and a little percussion.
Come Wednesday there’s a contrasting choice between the quieter Lone Star Saloon on St 23 or the LF Social Club on St 308. Lone Star’s night is hosted by Peter Doyle, and again is primarily suited for solos and duos, a more laidback acoustic night. LF Social Club provides not only backline but also a house band with drums, bass, guitar and percussion – a jam night that has spawned more than a few bands. And if you’re in Kampot, catch Ant Colloff’s regular night at The Magic Sponge.
LF Social Club Wednesday jam: it might get loud
It’s a shame that we lost another one in the last month, with the closing of Bona’s Pub, who used to host regular jam nights – another venue that assisted with putting together bands and giving them a place to rehearse.