Month: March 2012

Venue: Free Times Café, Toronto

This week’s musical quest had a double purpose: to visit one of the longest running open stages in Ontario and to scout out the venue for an upcoming gig. The Free Times Café – a venue known for its live music and great food – boasts an open stage now in its 28th year. At 7:00, the host asks musicians to sign up in the order that they arrived – somewhat of an honour system, and a little confusing if you don’t know the system and didn’t happen to make a mental note of who was in the room when you arrived. Each performer plays two or three songs depending on the size of the list.

Host Jessica Speziale (photo Tricia Brubacher)

We settled into a cozy alcove by the stage where the walls are papered with posters of Free Times performers from over the years. The lovely and talented Jessica Speziale, one of a rotating roster of hosts, provided the welcome and kept everything running smoothly. There is excellent comfort food (we went with the latkes, blintzes and and deluxe snack platter) and libations to go with it (the Amsterdam dark was good).

The music was, for the most part, a real treat. Original compositions alongside creatively interpreted covers made for a fun evening and a who-knows-what-will-come-next atmosphere.


Hats off to owner, Judy Perly, for supporting a longstanding tradition of live music in Toronto. Our trio (Callisto) is looking forward to returning on April 26th to share a few more of our songs.

[Free Times Café, 320 College Street, Toronto; every Monday @7:30 pm (sign up @ 7:00)]

Venue: Open Mic & Jam @ Ivy Arms, Milton ON

I think 2011 must have been a banner year for new open stages because here is yet another. The current incarnation of the Open Mic & Jam at the Ivy Arms was launched in December 2011 and is hosted by Paul Crawford and Ryan Hill. The music gets started between 8:30 and 9:00 pm with a sound system to plug into or a house guitar for performers to use. No formal sign-up procedure – just let it be known that you want to play and they’ll work you into the line-up. Paul is working hard to promote the event and he repeated his invitation to come up to the mic every couple of songs. He has also created a FB page to update folks on the jam:

I complained about the TV being on at the last venue I visited – I wouldn’t describe myself as a  Luddite but there are times I relish the the SCTV opening scene:  I am partial to the music being the focus. This pub had five TVs of various sizes so I could choose between NHL highlights and Ultimate Fight Club to entertain me while I sang. Luckily, the sound system easily trumped the TVs so the distraction was only visual.

It was great to hear some originals amongst the covers. Members of local bands (4Play & The Lucky Ones) took the stage. Thanks to Paul & Ryan for inviting me up to do some harmony vocals – that was fun.

[Open Mic & Jam @ The Ivy Arms, 201 Main St E, Milton, every Sunday 9 pm – 1 am, no cover, licensed]

Venue: Two Rivers Song Gathering, Guelph ON

Since October, Guelph has yet another venue to satisfy the appetite for sharing music.  The Two Rivers Song Gathering meets twice a month at the Army, Navy & Air Force (ANAF) Club 344, hosted by Jack Cooper and Debby Moon.

I visited for the first time this month and enjoyed the songs everyone brought – lots of originals seasoned with a few folk songs people could join in on. However, it took some dedicated powers of concentration to tune out the TV just behind me that was broadcasting a soccer game – too bad considering how great the music was. I imagine that once the song gathering becomes a longer running tradition that there might be less competition for the soundspace.

[Two Rivers Song Gathering, ANAF Club 344,32 Gordon Street, Guelph, twice/month on Thursday 7:30-10:30 pm, no cover, licensed]  FYI – THIS EVENT NOW TAKES PLACE ON THE 2ND & 4TH WEDNESDAYS OF THE MONTH