Entries tagged with “Blues Jams”.

Joy is on tap at the Independence Tap!

FRIDAY, April 12 at 7 PM

Independence Tap

3932 W Irving Park Rd

Stann Champion and I have revived the “Everything Goes” Open Stage we used to do at The Roots Room.

Now at the fabulous Independence Tap and under the moniker FretKnot Fridays.

The Venue & Name Have Changed, But The Song Remains The Same:

Great Poets, Storytellers, Musicians, Comics, And All & Sundry Forms Of Performer Shall Be In Evidence.

Come And Enjoy Them — Or Better Yet Sign Up To Be One Of Them!

The Independence Tap is a great space and this night is perfect for working out new material and expanding horizons as an Artist/Performer.

When Stann and I host Open Stages we create an atmosphere of respect for all genres of performance where Artists can feel safe and secure. [No stylistic cliquishness OR DISRESPECT allowed!]

Our greatest joy comes from seeing someone perform for the first time or watching an Artist try out a new genre: a Musician doing Storytelling, a Storyteller doing Stand-Up, a Poet playing Music, a Stand-Up reading a poem…

The Place Where The Boundaries Meet & Overlap Is Where True Magic Happens.

And there is nothing like the feeling of opening a door into a new room in the mansion of your soul— SO COME ON DOWN & GO ON UP!!!


The Roots Room Shall Be Doing A Takeover Night At The Independence Tap!!!

Mark Your Calendars For November 11, This Is Going To Be Epic!!!




We’ve Been Having So Much Fun At The Roots Room That We Decided To Take It On The Road!!!

The night will start with a Solo Music Set by Chicago Music Award Lifetime Achievement Honoree Stann Champion.

Then I (in my Comedy Persona) will host a Variety Open Mic. All Genres of Performer Welcome.

And then the night will close with a SMOKING HOT set by Stann’s newest band, The Propaganda Machine, featuring Yours Truly (in Musician Persona) on Harmonica.

This shall be a Wing Ding of Epic Proportions!!!

Come on down and check it out!


Come On Down And Do Some Performing Yourself!!!

The Propaganda Machine at their first official gig at The Roots Room on 5/20/2016.

The Propaganda Machine Rockin’ The Roots Room!!! Stann Champion- Guitar, Vocals, Michael Hollywood- Harmonica, Vocals, David Bernstein- Bass, Dave Smith- Drums.


I am now officially on my wild adventure to bring Chicago to the World.

For those of you who may not have heard, I purchased a one-way ticket to Berlin and plan to travel the world as an Itinerant Professional Chicagoan- heading whichever way the wind takes me. It’s a disorganized haphazard quest, but I have reached a point in my life where it’s time to live my beliefs and my Art and see the World while I still can (and while it’s still there).

Valuable Background Info

In 2010, I spent several months in and around Shanghai, China. My Cousin J had a music club there and the open freewheeling vibe of the place (and Shanghai in general) combined with where I was at in my life (it had just blown up in my face like a bad science experiment) spurred me to have a Musical Epiphany.

In addition to reconnecting with singing, I discovered that my harmonica playing (which I had mostly been doing by myself in my apartment for 30 years) sounded as good to other people as it did to me; and I began playing and singing every night in Jams in Shanghai (with people from all over the world), writing songs, doing my Performance Poetry, and even sitting in regularly (eventually for money) with a trio of Chinese musicians at a Chinese Jazz Club in Hangzhou.

Having done many different kinds of Performance throughout my life (most notably Acting, Standup Comedy, Storytelling, Performance Poetry, and Improv) I still longed to someday play music (something I had adored since birth) seriously— so this time in China was like opening the door to a previously shuttered wing in the Mansion Of My Soul.

When I returned to my “normal” life in Chicago as a Lecturer, Historian, and Tour Guide; I continued to play music at various jams around the city and with several musician friends. The book I had co-written in 2008-2009, the publishing of which falling into indefinite limbo was one of the major factors in the aforementioned “Life Explosion” (along with my Mother’s Death and a few other horrible things), finally was published in 2013. After a year or so of flogging it I began thinking about traveling again.

I longed to return to China but several factors had changed my direction, most notably my Cousin J passing away from ALS (RIP). Also, many of the people I had most strongly bonded with had returned to their respective European Countries. I also had several longtime friends who lived in Europe, and thus my crazy scheme was hatched.

Here is the recounting of my first week:



Week One- The Adventure Begins:

The trip here went about as well as it could. My Carry-On Bag was overloaded by 5 pounds (and the checked bag was just a few ounces in the clear) but I was able to switch some stuff over to my little Printers Row Lit Fest canvas bag enough to get through the check in process at Air Lingus.

I was still overloaded on both counts for the next flight from Dublin to Berlin but the woman behind the counter at O’Hare took pity on me and gave my boarding pass for the next flight so I could go straight to my flight with my overloaded carry-on (once she saw that it was the right size & just a little heavy she got much cooler about things) and put a big HEAVY BAG Transfer sticker on my massive checked bag. I got through security with no problem at all, they didn’t even freak out at my bag of harmonicas (which look really sinister in an X-Ray) and my paranoid worry about some bizarre Homeland Security “exit interview” was unfounded.

The flights were both blissfully without incident and went smoothly- didn’t have to “earn it” the way I did going to Shanghai in 2010, when I had a 10 hour delay on top of a 2 hour layover in New York before I even got on the flight to China. The transatlantic flight seemed like it was not long at all compared to that 14 hour flight and the Dublin to Berlin flight was a veritable puddle jump.

Oh what a relief it was to see that big bag of stuff on the carousel when I arrived in Berlin! Then to walk through those doors to the arrival gate and see my friend R emerge from the crowd. I had a nasty irrational fear that something would happen and I’d be stuck at Berlin Schoenfeld airport with no phone and nobody to contact or help me.

A quick drive from the airport to R (& his wife C’s) place and that was that. I was on The Continent! [as I had heard said in countless cheesy old movies and parodies of them]

Their apartment is large and labyrinthine; with immensely high ceilings, wood floors, and lots of french doors between the various sections. It’s seems out of some sort of Architectural Central Casting for a “big elegant European apartment.” The neighborhood is sort of sleepy and calm, it used to be a Jewish neighborhood back before the war and is mostly elderly folks and small businesses.

The first several days were just about getting acclimated and shaking off the jet lag and culture shock. On Friday I took my first Berlin subway ride (just 2 stops) to meet my friend V, who gave me one of her old cast off phones (still infinitely fancier than any I’ve ever had) with a prepaid card service number. Perhaps I’ll learn how to do something other than text and receive calls with it, but it’s unlikely!

We went and had some iced tea at this American-ish place called Bikini Bar that overlooked the Berlin Zoo (old, nasty and depressing even by Zoo standards) and chatted a bit before wandering around the area, which was quite “mall-ified” and not too interesting. There was a cool Art Museum/Center called The America House, however, and we wandered into their gift shop and perused the large selection of gorgeous Coffee Table Art Books (mostly about Photography) and talked about Art and Photography (I hipped her to Vivian Meier, who apparently isn’t that well known outside of the US/Chicago).

It’s always interesting to meet someone in person that you’ve only known through Social Media, a situation where the Avatar becomes a Person. Fortunately that went really well and we both were satisfied with the others Analog Self and fell into the same comfortable Art and World of Ideas conversations that we had been having online. After a couple hours we said our goodbyes and I walked back to the nest, having survived my first solo flight unscathed.

Saturday I was feeling a bit out of sorts; as my sleep patterns were still fitfull and my body was going through sugar and fat withdrawal from the lack of garbage American food. “Tough Shit, Body!” I told it. One of the many reasons I am on this crazy adventure excursion is to escape the American Obesity Matrix long enough to get back to a healthy weight.

But I was also getting into a weird anxious Hermit Spiral from the newness of the situation (similar to when I first arrived in China and was staying with my Cousin J) to the point where R & C had to sit me down for a “WTF Mike?!?” talk (similar to what Cousin J had to do in Shanghai). Although a bit intense and uncomfortable, it cleared the air all around and things got much better. That night we watched the film The Woman In Gold (superb), which also helped me get some of my gumption back.

Sunday morning I went shopping with C and got some items I was needing, not the least of which was some high-caffieine instant coffee (R’s little high-tech espresso nodules just weren’t delivering the payload I needed!). A big cup of that also did much to put me back on track.

Then I went for an exploratory walk through more of the surrounding area with my camera and a map. It was a gorgeous afternoon and Berliners were out in force enjoying it. I wandered around a flea market and through a couple adorable little parks and started to get the feel of the town and feel much more comfortable in my own skin. German words started to slowly trickle back and I took several photos of interesting things (at least to my eye and mind). After about an hour I was really getting into it; strolling along reading the street signs aloud to myself and doing a running commentary in my recovering (but still woefully weak) German. “A woman with a dog.” “A man and woman with a child.” I felt like Bruno Ganz in Wings Of Desire right after he fell to earth in Berlin.

By the time I got back to the nest I was feeling right as rain and had even come up with a stirring song to remember their address. Michael was starting to get some traction!


SOOO, I’m sitting around R & C’s apartment on Monday night when I Google “Blues Jams Berlin.” Several cool results pop up, most notably Rickenbackers Music Inn, which was just 2 blocks away from where I was sitting.

“Holy Shit!” I exclaimed to myself, “I must go check this out forthwith.” But I see that the Blues/Rock Jam is Tuesday night and tonight is the Pro Jam (which implies you’d better be fucking able to bring it). At first I hesitated and wondered if I should wait till Tuesday (sorry if a bad 80’s song just popped into your head) but remembered the encouraging words of my friend E (a great musician I played with in Shanghai) a few months ago and considered the fact that I was playing so much with many fine Chicago musicians at The Roots Room (and other places) before I left that my chops were pretty much back. So I said “What the Hell, I’ll at least get to check the place out even if I don’t get on to play.” So I cleaned the harps and headed on down there.

And my was I sure glad I did! First off, the place was JAM packed on a Monday night with cool folks watching some killer musicians tearing it up onstage. Then everyone; from the bartender, to the people watching, to the cats who ran the jam, to the musicians in attendance, made me feel so welcome and comfortable that I didn’t even care if I was able to fit into the mix that night- I already felt like I was home.

But, Gentle Reader, I was able to get into the mix at the very end of the night and played some harp along with a gaggle of great musicians and a sultry chanteuse on two tunes- the Screaming Jay Hawkins classic “I Put A Spell On You” and the Chicago Blues chestnut “I Just Wanna Make Love To You”- and acquitted myself rather well if I do say so myself.

Everyone else seemed to agree [!] and I was like “Hey, you should hear me on a tune I’ve actually played before!”

I thought that perhaps I might be availed that opportunity the next night- not that I mind the thrill of jumping on board an unfamiliar song and hanging on for dear life by my fingernails.


Night 2 at Rickenbackers Music Inn for the Blues/Rock Jam.

Even more packed- to the point where I quickly got claustrophobic and had to flee to the little beer garden outside until the break (fortunately I could still hear the smoking hot ensemble that was playing). Once the break came I found the guy in charge of the jam, introduced myself, asked if I could sit in at some point, and let him know that I wanted to play blues.

He introduced me to a man called S.T., who bore a striking resemblance to my late Cousin J, in whose honor I was wearing my Polkacide t-shirt (one of the many great SF area bands he played in over the decades).

After a set by yet another hot combo, S.T. had the stage and graciously let me sit in with his group for several tunes. The first one was the U2 song they did with B.B. King called “When Love Comes To Town.” Never played it before but it’s the kind of bluesy tune I can really sink my teeth into. S.T. was quite the showman (did I mention that he was dressed in a vintage white 3 piece suit with matching white shoes?) who brought it hot and heavy on guitar & vocals and wrangled the band with an expert hand (it takes a special talent to do arrangements on the fly with a bunch of cats all thrown together) and it was another “grab the tiger by your fingernails and hold the hell on” scenario.

He thanked me after that first song and I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to stay up there, but he did and I cooked with he and the band for a few more songs. One was the blues standard (made famous by B.B. King) “Rock Me,” and I’ll try and remember what the other ones were later. Playing with musicians (especially really great ones) just turns my brain to jello.

Anyway, I was able to bring it pretty well and everyone seemed to really dig it yet again. And the rest of the night was spent digging the subsequent ensembles and talking to all the cool folks who were in attendance.


Its now Wednesday evening in Berlin and I’m recovering from my two nights in a row out jamming, chronicling my week, and still trying to remember what were the other tune(s?) I played on the night before!

Fortunately for me, Berlin is (at least so far) much like Shanghai was; lots of Guitar players and not too many Harmonica players (although there was a very nice harp player there last night), which makes it easier for me to get into the mix.

At some point I’d love to be able to get some players together and do some of my crazy ass Swamp Demon original material on a jam; but all in good time.

So far it’s been two great jams, which earned me two free drink tickets (hey, you take what you can get in this world!) and some valuable playing experience.

Hopefully I (or rather Michael LaGrange) will also be able to get in on some Standup Comedy Open Mics (much more Standup in English here than I thought) and some Storytelling before I head up to Denmark (where further wonderment awaits). There are also several other music jams here as well.

We shall see what transpires.

Regardless, The Adventure Has Truly Begun!