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November 3, 2015

Goodbye to The Path Cafe

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” —Heraclitus

The Path Cafe is closing. I have been hesitant to post about this. While, it is a blow for me, I am conscious of the fact that it is far worse news for many others. It has been a very significant part of my NYC experience and I do feel compelled to write.

I was booked for the first ever night of music at the Path Cafe. I don’t keep great records, (though I do try to make them) . I think it was Autumn, 2009. The founders of the cafe and then owners, my friends David Sheridan and his wife Hazel,  asked me to start an open mic night.  If I remember correctly, which is doubtful,  I was hesitant. For the first few weeks it was just me and my friends Colin Campbell,​ Eric Wilson Harris​, and Warren Malone playing songs for nobody. I know Paul Tabachneck was in there in the early weeks too. Each week I would offer to quit and each week David wouldn’t let me.

It built up over the years till we eventually had more than 40 acts a night at open mic and live music 7 days a week. My problem of filling the time was replaced by the challenge of making sure everyone got to play. Friends were made, bands were were formed, people fell in and out of love. In 6 years I only ever asked one person to leave.

Paul McCartney ate there one night. When Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch stopped by to say hello, he was impressed to be told he was sitting at the same stool. The Coen brothers were there with Glen Hansard for a ‘Once’ party. Courtney Love too.  We met Edie Falco outside walking her dog, she was so cordial and friendly with David it left me wondering, “Who is this woman she looks very familiar?” Despite the fact I had been binge watching the Sopranos at the time.  Another night we met Bruce Springsteen and had a grand chat. He told us he loved Ireland. I offered him a good slot at the open mic and told him he should play in Cork on his next tour. He didn’t play the open mic but he did go on to play in Cork on his next tour. At least a moderate sense of delusion is an important part of any career in music, so I like to pretend it was because of the charming conversation he had with those Irish guys near the Path train that Thursday.

The famous names are fun anecdotes to share, but they are not the substance of my time there. The regulars, the staff and the constant stream of people passing through provided that.  I am 99% sure Heraclitus never came to the mic, but his famous river quote fits well with my hosting experience. New York City attracts dreamers and schemers like nowhere else. Open mics serve as a microcosm for that. Like a little snow globe, put them all in one room, shake it up and see what happens. I met so many people from all over the world here.  A guy in motor bike helmut singing “Like A Virgin”, Japanese piano players singing “This is how we do it! “, comedians, poets, one magician, and quite literally thousands of songwriters. Most of whom played my guitar. We’ve had middle school bands do their first public performance. Dave Burke ( RIP) in his eighties, assisted to the piano only to play and sing impeccably and melt everyone’s hearts.

I’m not here to eulogise. We didn’t always have the right cables and the fucking fridge would always kick in during a poem or quiet song. I could be grumpy when trying to make sure everyone had time to play, stuck around to support each other. Still, I tried to keep it a safe, welcoming and open space for creativity.

A couple of years ago David and Hazel moved back to Ireland to start a new life and business in Darnley Lodge Hotel, Athboy, Co. Meath. Rakan Ammouri took over. Despite my initial fears of change, we hit it off and I had a great couple of years working with Rakan.

For reasons of diplomacy, and my lack of willingness and ability to hurt anyone’s feelings face to face, I kept it pretty quiet that I also did a lot of the booking at the Path Cafe.  I won’t miss trolling through hundreds of emails. Not all great. There was enough great stuff to put together line ups of really good and great music.  Again, I certainly didn’t always get it right. On more than one occasion my sanity/ judgement has been called into question.  I also know I booked a lot of bands for this tiny cafe that have, and will go onto much bigger and brighter stages.  I liked having the opportunity to help touring acts secure a New York date. Feeling helpful or useful being such a crucial component for my happiness and health. (Side note. A booking hint from a booker: When booking a send an easy access streaming link to your music, your preferred dates and your expected draw. That’s enough!)

This past Sunday night I found out that the Cafe was closing this week and that I had to cancel all music from Monday onwards.  I suspected it was on the cards,  but the timing of it pulled the proverbial rug from under my feet. My first thought was for the bands I had already booked that I would have to cancel. Musicians who had already made travel arrangements. All of the kitchen and wait staff. The other bookers. The regulars. The community. Rakan.  Parallel to all of this I was of course simultaneously thinking of myself. As most of us must.   I will really have to hustle, to thread water and figure things out in the coming weeks. I’ve done it before. I will do it again. I have spent much of this morning and the past few days talking with friends. I feel fortunate to be part of a vital, supportive and talented musical community here in New York. The Path is closed. I will step into another river. I will do my best to keep the mic open.

If you’ve had a good time, tell your friends, if you didn’t keep it to yourself. Nobody likes a loudmouth.

November 3, 2015

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