When I first started this blog, my instinct was to avoid the Toronto open stage scene. This was out of pragmatism – the sheer number of events and venues might overwhelm and overshadow all the unique venues to be explored in smaller communities – and intimidation – surely I would find myself out of my depth in a pool of talent that size.
At the end of October, co-conspirator, Trish, and I decided to test that boundary at an open stage in Kensington Market. The first shock was the number of musicians who turn out to play. This week there were close to 40 people signing up for their turn on stage. Hosts Steve York and Tony Rabalao (aka Leh-lo) say that there are 30-50 performers every week. People in the know show up to add their name to the list between 4:30 and 5:00 pm. At 7:00 pm participants are called up in the order they signed in to choose a performance time and the music starts at 8:00. This is triple or quadruple the number I am used to seeing at an open stage! Since we unknowingly showed up late in the game it looked like we were facing a 1 am performance time slot. We pleaded out of town status and they managed to work us in a little earlier.
I won’t lie – initially the ambiance was intimidating. The number of musicians, the downtown feel to the club all led to a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” feel. But once the music started, I felt at home again. It helped that I had a table full of family support in the corner of the room. Like other open stages, there was a wide variety of styles and a range of proficiency but the calibre of music was generally quite high. Some of the highlights were: duo Tom & Martha (great lyrics and beautiful harmonies), songwriter Brendan Albert, and rap artist 4 by 4. Great experience! Definitely hope to come back sometime.
Although it has only been running since 2007, Free F’all Sundays has quite a following. You can watch a 10 minute documentary about the hosts and the people who come out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOHfEvLm8M8
[Free F’All Sundays at The Supermarket, 268 Augusta Ave, Toronto, every Sunday 8 pm until late, sign up between 5 & 7 pm]