Here is a venue that has seen various incarnations of jams and open stages over the years. The current version has been hosted by the sweet-voiced Sara McFadzean for the past few months, with David Wilcox on sound. I visited on aparticularly quiet night but Sara tells me that it can range from standing room only packed house to an intimate gathering of musicians and listeners. There is a late wave of participants who tend to arrive at 10:30-11:00; a contingent of musicians who are also hockey fans arrive in time for some post-game jamming. There is a sound system to plug into and, when things are in full swing, a band to back you up if you choose. A wide range of music is welcome, from original compositions to traditional folk songs to rock & roll.
I left promising myself a return visit to jam with the house band.
[Shepherd’s Pub, 8 Mill Street, Elora; every Thursday evening until late]
Whatever your reason or motivation, you are now ready to take the plunge and share your music. Here are a few suggestions to ease you into that first outing.
Relax and have fun!
The hosts and participants at these kind of events are generally very welcoming, encouraging and happy to see a new face. Show up a bit early to get a feel for the room and let your instrument acclimatize (particularly in the winter).
Know your venue:
What is the event is offering/looking for? Check out the website or call the host to find out more. Be aware of the style of music featured at that venue – could be bluegrass, celtic, folk, blues, original songs or anything goes. Song circles may appreciate lyric sheets unless you are leading a very well know or call-and-response song. An open stage is often miked – you may be on your own or there could be other musicians for back-up and collaboration. If it is a popular event it might be necessary to arrive fairly early to sign up – some events even arrange the list of performers in advance.
Make sure your instrument is tuned up in advance. Preferably, do not start tuning when it is your turn as this slows down the event (minor last minute adjustments are OK). Respect the time or song limit that the host has laid out. It is great to be enthusiastic about the music or stories you want to share but “share and share alike” – others also want their time to shine.
Cultivate the art of listening to the other musicians while playing. This elevates the event from a bunch individuals playing or singing at the same time to a group of people making music together. Listen for changes in tempo. Listen for harmony potential. If you don’t know how the song goes – stop playing and listen. If a singer is being overpowered by a room full of instruments – stop playing and listen. Everyone knows that open stages are about performing – they are just as much about listening.
Jeremiah McCaw also has some good tips to pass onto open stage performers: