Some events make it worthwhile to stay up past my bedtime. The Amsterdam Bicycle Club’s Monday night open mic has been going strong for almost five years and seems to attract not only a high caliber of music but a great diversity of styles. Rap, electronica, folk, originals, covers, solo and full band numbers all graced the stage. According to Justin, a regular at the ABC, it is also a community of musicians who are very supportive of each other.
The internet led me to believe that sign-up started at 9:30, music at 10:00, three songs/15 minutes per performer was the drill. It is such a popular spot that, in an attempt to get everyone on stage, sign-up actually started at 9:00, music at 9:30 and two songs per performer.
Special thanks to Justin, Michel & Laura, Kunle, and India for taking a moment to chat and making the night even more memorable!
[Amsterdam Bicycle Club 54 The Esplanade, Toronto; Mondays 9:30 pm (sign up at 9:00); no cover]
I took advantage of a Monday trip to Toronto to return to the Free Times Café, one of the longest running open mics in Ontario. Although there were no familiar faces the Free Times Café never seems to change. Our host, David (subbing in for Miranda Signe?), kept things running smoothly despite multiple stage configurations. Everything from heartfelt original tunes and beautiful finger style guitar to solo tambourine and well known covers. Everyone is welcome.
[Free Times Café, 320 College Street, Toronto; Mondays 7:30pm (sign-up at 7:00); no cover]
In many ways this event has a very familiar format: an evening at the pub, 2-3 songs each, lots of variety. But there are some things that make this jam unique. Hosted by the award-winning student group Musicians at Ryerson (M@R), house instruments (guitar, ukulele, keyboard, bass, djembe) are provided to allow you to take part even if you don’t have an instrument. Despite having to compete with the background pub noise, there is a core group that is there to listen and especially to encourage any reticent or first-time participants.
In addition to the open mic, the M@R team has hosted free guitar and ukulele workshops , open outdoor jams, a darkness concert, battle of the bands and campus concerts. There is a directory to help students find musical collaborators. When a musician leaves home for university, they may be leaving behind their choir, their band or their friends they can count on for a jam. Affectionately called “Ryerson’s unofficial music program”, M@R has created a musical home away from home where people can connect through music.
Thank you to the M@R crew for sharing their talent and for making me feel so welcome!
[Ram in the Rye, 63 Gould Street, Wednesdays 8-11pm, no cover, licensed – Check FB page for updates]
This open mic is a story of resilience. Arlene Levin started an open mic at Reba’s on Dundas Street West about 6 years ago. When the place sold the musicians looked for a new home; they tried a few places that just didn’t work out. According to Boris, a regular participant, “several incarnations later” they ended up at the Magic Oven and have been here for just over a year. It seems to be a good fit with food and drink available downstairs (healthy pizza with veggie, vegan, chicken and meat options) while the event has a whole room upstairs just for music.
This event has a family feel to it, even more on this lovely May day since it was Arlene Levin’s birthday and her friends surprised her with birthday cake and pizza. There is a rotating roster of hosts – when I visited it was the very congenial and welcoming Philomene Hoffman at the helm.
The sign up list was overflowing so I would recommend showing up early if you want a spot to play. And be prepared to share with folks outside the venue. Soundman Roy doubles as a StreetJelly broadcaster.
You can find pics from the open mic and announcements of upcoming events on the group’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/yorjunctionopenmic/
[Magic Oven 347 Keele Street, Toronto; Saturdays 2-6 pm; licensed, no cover]
It’s been a while since I visited Toronto’s beloved uke jam. Going strong for over 6 years now, the jam has recently moved to the Paintbox Bistro which seems to suit the event well. (This venue is an interesting venture in itself.) A clear wall separates the front of the café from the performance space so that it still feels like a part of the café but ambient sound of non-music-loving patrons, cash register, etc is blocked. And the food is good – worth having dinner there before the music starts.
The workshop portion of the evening is still lead by the dauntless Steve McNie. This particular evening the whole group participated in a kind of sound experiment that included rhythm (“the New York strum”), harmony and cameos from some stellar regulars at the jam. It was a “you had to be there” moment – really fun.
The open stage was hosted by Brendan O’Malley. I did pluck up my courage to sing an original, supported by the “A-list” musicians on stage (Richard Bales & David Olson), teased by the host that in doing so I was slightly cheating : ) Since the open mic requires performers to sign up on-line in advance, it makes it harder to chicken out at the last minute. This is more of a commitment than most open mics which might contribute to the quality of the performances.
The third portion of the evening was the group jam. This is a great place to pick up new techniques as well as new chords or alternate voicings of the old chords you already use.
One thing I like about this event is there are access points for participation of all levels of players. Beginner? Join in the group jam with help from Steve and the chord charts displayed on the front screen. No pressure – pull back when you’re lost, join back in when you’re able. Proficient? Bring your best to the open stage. Somewhere in between? Always something new to learn – new repertoire, theory, technique. If you want a little primer to get started visit the Toronto Ukes website.
Is this inclusive character the secret of the Uke Jam’s success? It could be the passion that host and uke aficionado Steve McNie brings to the group. There is also a sense of community. Folks here embark on music-themed adventures that go beyond the Wednesday night jam, from concerts to uke infused yoga sessions. There is a sense of mutual support and appreciation that makes it a safe place to explore, express and have fun.
[Corktown Ukulele Jam, The Paintbox Bistro 550 Dundas Street East, Toronto; every Wednesday; workshop 8-9:30 pm followed by open stage and group jam; $6 cover for workshop; $3 cover for theme night open stage first Wednesday of the month]