What is the secret to longevity in an open stage? I thought a visit to the Hamilton Folk Club – in operation since 1982 – might shed some light of this. Every other Tuesday night, musicians bring their instruments and voices to the Pheasant Plucker, just off James Street South in Hamilton. Host (and founder) Al Lindsay makes everyone feel at home and keeps the evening moving smoothly.
Pete & I were slated to do the feature set following the open stage. The big advantage of this order of events is that we were able to hear a fine fiddle player who we then asked to join us on a few songs – thank you, Steve!
As we sang and I looked around the room I didn’t see anything extraordinary that explained how they celebrated their 30 year anniversary in February. I saw friendly people, good quality sound, a comfortable room, very much in keeping with many of the clubs we have visited. Then Pete sang his song “Tuesday Night at the Copper Kettle”, a tribute to the jam where we are now regulars. When he got to the chorus: “Come on down, there’s always room for more, just park the world outside the door. Friendship’s on the house and the music’s free” I saw faces light up. The words paint a place where people come to share music, make lasting friendships, encourage, support and inspire each other. The song is about another place, a different group of people, but I could see that the lyrics resonated with them, that they told a story of self-expression and community that was very familiar.
So – our thanks to Al and the Hamilton Folk Club organizing committee for creating and sustaining a place where people can gather to share music and so much more.
[Hamilton Folk Club, The Pheasant Plucker, 20 Augusta Street, Hamilton; every other Tuesday starting at 8 pm; $3 cover, performers free]
This week I met up with co-adventurers Trish and Marg in Brantford to check out the open stage I have heard so much about. Held in a meeting room of a Best Western, this venue looks more like a place you would attend a conference or AGM than a folk club, but it is quickly transformed when the lights go down and the music starts. To start the night off we were treated to a 3 song set by Al Parrish, member of the group Tanglefoot, now showcasing his solo material. Following Al were performers that spanned at least three generations and many genres. The B.O.S. website has a record of the all the open stage performers and the songs they played.
The Brantford Open Stage was launched January 2006; prior to that the Brantford Folk Club, hosted by Donald and Brenda McGeoch, had been on the scene for 23 years. The event is hosted by Dave Jensen who shares his guitar, his button accordion and his quick east coast sense of humour. There is a sign up sheet at the door and I was warned that the order in which you sign up has nothing to do with when Dave will call you to the stage.
The atmosphere is very welcoming, from the volunteers at the door to the host and sound folks, to the friendly audience and, as a bonus, the $4 cover is waived for performers.
[Brantford Open Stage, 19 Holiday Drive, Best Western/Brant Park Inn, last Friday of the month Sept – June, 8 pm – ?]
This is a venue I wanted to visit before they took a break for the summer. The Black Walnut Folk Club
has been running for 16 years and is still going strong. It is well known to regulars that if you don’t arrive early to sign up for the open stage the spots will all be taken. The evening starts at 8:00 pm with a half hour feature set (Terry Golletz
on May 21) before moving to the open stage. Performers plug in and play two songs each until the evening wraps up around 11:30. Volunteers transform the community centre gymnasium into stage area and candle lit clusters of tables for listeners. The MC for the evening and sound people (one at the board, one to help adjust microphones) are efficient at keeping the momentum going so there is minimal “dead air” between sets.
Founded in 1994 by Robin Bruce Ward and Annie M, the Black Walnut started out in the Waterloo Regional Arts Council office and has had several homes over the years. It currently meets the third Friday of every month from September to June at the Mill Courtland Community Centre (home base since 2000).
Hosting responsibilities are shared by: Dan & Ellen Hergott, Jim Galway, David Maranta, Rancy Ouilette, Kate Henshaw, Jakki Annerino & Wayne Cheater.
The evening I visited, one of the performers has only lived in Waterloo for a month and felt a folk club open stage would be a good way to connect to her new neighbourhood. I don’t think she was disappointed – at the break she was swamped with invitations and suggestions of where else she could play.
If you can’t make it to the next Black Walnut on June 18th then check their website in September for the next open stage night.
[Black Walnut Folk Club, 216 Mill Street, Kitchener, 3rd Friday, Sept-June, 8pm -midnight]
Looking for a place to play music in public for the first time?
Hoping to share old standards or new songs with other musicians?
Do you have a suggestion for a great jam, open stage, or song circle to visit?
Welcome to the first installment of the Open Stage Adventure. It is my intention to explore how and why music brings us together as well as to celebrate the musical communities that are thriving all around the country. I will start close to home (southern Ontario), and as my schedule and budget allow I will explore musical events further a field. I will share my own experiences visiting open stages, song circles, acoustic jams, and other events where people share music. I will also talk to hosts and founders to learn more about how the various clubs and venues came to be, and what keeps them going.
Look to this space for regular posts on making and sharing music. I look forward to your input and ideas. Summaries of events (host, venue, format, etc) will be posted under Stages, Circles & Jams. Under Musical Musings you will find thoughts and opinions on making music and the place music has in our lives. See the side bar for links to venues, musicians I meet along the way, and other musical resources like folk clubs, organizations, festivals.
“Take the mic” asks you to respond with your own experiences, suggestions and stories.
If you have a suggestion for an open stage, jam or song circle I should visit, please send me the details: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or post it as a comment if you would like other readers to know about it.