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]
What better way to spend a snowy, slushy, Saturday afternoon than in a cozy pub sharing music! Although it has been running for over half a dozen years, I had never heard of the open mic at Mackenzie’s, just across from High Park, until I saw the post on Open Mic Jamming.
There are several rotating hosts for this weekly open mic. This is something I have noticed more and more – sharing the position of host. Musicians who have gigs or other competing obligations might find it hard to commit to a weekly event and this is a solution that allows the music to continue. This week’s host was Michael Menegon who doubled as soundman – and also perfomer. Covers, originals and collaborations all came to the stage.
My companions on this adventure (thanks G, N & L) sampled the menu and gave it the stamp of approval: delicious hot chocolate, poutine, flatbread with goat cheese, as well as many offerings on tap.
Since there were no other ukuleles in evidence I made sure to play mine, declaring that no open mic was complete without a ukulele. I even got to debut a new song written for the SAC Songwriting Challenge so that was extra fun.
[Mackenzie’s, 1982 Bloor Street West, Toronto; Saturdays 2-6pm; no cover]
Nestled in the heart of the Junction, La Revolucion has been serving delicious Mexican food for 4 years now, but I happened to visit on the first night of a new open mic event, affectionately named “Tinderbox” by owner Indira Cadena. It was a pretty quiet night (total of three performers) but this allowed Indira herself to step out from behind the bar and grace us with a couple of old standards at the piano.
Host Michael Keith has been playing music in the west end for some time. I had the honour of being the first – inaugural, as I described it – open mic guest. Since there was time to play, Michael joined me on stage to add guitar leads to my original songs – I just love that kind of spontaneous collaboration!
The vision for Tinderbox Thursday nights is that people will bring music, spoken word, poetry, dance, comedy – a cabaret style event where people share their creative endeavours.
[La Revolucion, 2848 Dundas St W, Toronto; every Thursday 8-11 pm; no cover]
Although Toronto boasts a large number of open mics, not many are devoted to the songwriter. Samantha Martin, a songwriter and performer herself, started Manic Monday Songwriter Night at Bar Radio to remedy this unfortunate gap in the live music scene. Samantha opens with some of her own originals, hosts the evening, serves as the dedicated sound person, and closes with a jam. The Songwriter Night is a relaxed, supportive venue for writers who want to share their songs or try out new material. Spontaneous musical collaboration is welcome!
Manic Monday started in March with a weekly songwriter night but, as of now, is moving to a monthly format since Samantha and the other hosts are busy working musicians. The next two Manic Mondays will be August 4th and September 8th. They will usually fall on the first Monday of the month but check the FB page to confirm before heading there with your guitar. In the meantime you can catch Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar at Hillside Festival this weekend.
[Bar Radio 615 College Street, Toronto, first Monday of the month – usually 8-11pm]
Another long standing musical gathering, the Lazy Cat Café has been welcoming people to this east end open mic for 20 years. The format:
two songs (10 minute) sets for open mic-ers with a 25 minute feature set about half way through.
Hosts (and songwriters) Linda Lavender and David Shilman run the event in a lovely space boasting natural light andgreat acoustics. There seem to be a lot of regulars in attendance but the afternoon I visited had two first time father-daughter acts. In fact, there was a duet theme to the day, including the delightful feature set by Jack & Anita. There was a range of ages, abilities and musical styles – new performers are welcomed and encouraged.
Although I haven’t been there myself, Linda & David would like you to know about their other venture in the open mic world: the Woodshed Open Mic (@Lazy Daisy’s Café, 1515 Gerrard St E) 8:00-10:30 pm on the second Saturday of the month.
[Lazy Cat Café, Bain Co-op Community Centre, Riverdale, Toronto, last Sunday of the month 3:00-5:30, no cover]