Month: June 2012

Venue: Waterloo-Wellington Bluegrass Jam, Cambridge, ON

I really appreciate the tips I have received from readers recommending musical happenings even if it takes me a while to make the trip. It took me 6 months to follow Greg Murdoch’s bluegrass tip but I’m really glad I did.

A couple of weeks ago I visited a gem of a jam hosted by the Waterloo-Wellington Bluegrass Music Association. This event (in its third year) has a unique layered structure that attracts very proficient, experienced musicians while providing space for emerging players.

In the first room I found with Pete (fellow jam seeker), the music I heard made me hide my guitar under a table. The group playing (a combination of instruments including guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, bass) seemed to be communicating using telepathy – the tempo, changes and breaks all happened seamlessly without anyone speaking – and they played fast! At the end of the song we learned that this was only one of several rooms where bluegrass jams were happening simultaneously. We declined their invitation to sit in and made our way to the “slow jam”, a room where various levels of musicians were working together to build their skills and work on songs. Here you can add some basic chords, lead a song or take an instrumental break based on your experience and comfort. There are songbooks to facilitate everyone’s participation. I was introduced to some bluegrass etiquette as to how to lead a song, allow for instrumental breaks and (ideally) all end together! 

Activity tends to slow down with the summer months but Nancy Tellier said that there are usually 45- 50 musicians at the jam from September – June. Check the facebook page as some musicians will continue getting together over the summer.

This jam is welcoming, inclusive and motivating – a great place to hear some top notch bluegrass as well as expand your bluegrass repertoire.

[Waterloo-Wellington Bluegrass Jam, Galt Legion, 4 Veteran’s Way, Cambridge, Tuesdays 7-11 pm, September-June; slow jam from 7-8:30, no cover]

Venue: The Ark Coffee House

Ever since visiting last year’s Arkfest I have been wanting to come back to one of The Ark’s monthly coffee houses. I was lucky enough to catch the last feature performers of the season, Nabi Loney and Ian Reid. If it seems that the spacious straw bale house surrounded by woods and farm fields is made for music, that’s because it was. When the Loney family built this home, music was a part of the vision; this monthly musical happening is a way to build community as well as support musicians in their efforts. The coffee house showcases one or two artists and includes an open mic for anyone else who feels moved to share their music. One more campfire gathering and and then the music starts again in the fall for a fourth season.

The Open Stage Adventure – a second fun-filled year!

It’s great to look back on a year of music when you know there’s more to look forward to . Since last June I have visited 25 events in 12 towns. It seems the more places I visit the more I hear about – for every gathering spot that has ended (sorry to hear of Alliston’s Groundswell Café closing its doors) several new initiatives spring up (for example, the Open Mic & Jam at the Ivy Arms, Milton and the Two Rivers Song Gathering, Guelph).

I appreciate the emails people have sent me with their own recommendations of a jam or open mic to check out. It’s great to get leads for new adventures and inspiring to hear about how much these places mean to people in their musical and personal journeys. Over 2700 of you dropped into the Open Stage Adventure last month and I hope to hear from more of you!

Some highlights:

The Hamilton Folk ClubFor longevity

The longest running open stage I visited this year has been going since 1982 (edged out the Free Times Café by one year).



The Cornerstone Campfire SessionsFor group participation

This venue stands out for having the most audience participation – so much so, that there wasn’t really a distinction between performers and audience. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in the establishment who wasn’t raising their voice, shaking a shaker or strumming an instrument.

Monday Night Deliverance – For high calibre music

Although I’m not a regular, the times I happened in on this event I was treated to songs by both up-and-coming and seasoned performers. I hear that one of the hosts, Christen Zuch, has started an open stage on Wednesday nights at the Embassy in Waterloo. I haven’t been there yet but it is definitely on the list for the next OSA season.

News Café, Niagara Falls – For youth talent

I was impressed with the songwriting and performing of the young people I saw at this venue (and it wasn’t just because two of them cheered when I took out my ukulele).