Month: March 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

Venue: Imbibe, Kitchener ON

IMG_7652Throughout the week there is plenty of live music at Imbibe, the restaurant/bar attached to the Museum in downtown Kitchener. Sunday night is open mic night. A musical guest plays a feature set at 8 pm. At 9 pm, host and songwriter Jeremy Stuart kicks off the open mic with a couple of songs and then opens it up to the list – cleverly posted on the blackboard along with the list of brews available so there’s no missing it. The room is warm & appreciative and host Jeremy works at getting sound just right.

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Our trio, Callisto, was honoured to play the feature set recently. When we finished our set it turned out that there were many wonderfully talented musicians in the room who shared some gems during the open mic. I loved to see the collaboration happening – some rehearsed, some spontaneous. Definitely a venue worth revisiting.


[Imbibe Acoustic Jam Night, 10 King Street West, Kitchener; Sundays 8 pm, no cover]

Challenge #6: Write the next great holiday song

This week Lily Cheng (SAC Social Media rep) asked – “do you feel creatively drained or revved up wanting more”?

I feel it was a little like childbirth – definitely worth it but very glad it’s over! I’m looking forward to returning to a low pressure musical environment. I don’t mind drafting a song in a week. A whole song might come in an hour! But then I like to sit with it for a while, sing it in the car, rewrite it, add harmonies, get comfortable with it, before I would say it is finished. Once the challenge is over I may take a step back do just that with some of the songs I have drafted in the past 6 weeks.

I wrote a Christmas song a couple of years ago that, for me, captured the spirit of the season. I wasn’t sure I had another one in me but then I thought I’d try something different. For this challenge, I decided to write a holiday song without using the word Christmas. It is sung by someone who is pining for another person and can only think of all the Christmas symbols and traditions they won’t be enjoying, a kind of “Blue Christmas” feel to it. The temperatures the past few days have been in keeping with a Christmas-themed song – cold and snowy. I’ll submit a sketch of the song this week but hope to build on it between now and December.

Venue: The Brew House, Fergus ON

IMG_7615I have visited the Brew House in Fergus for live music on the patio and for Robbie Hancock’s songwriting competition. In keeping with the Brew House support of live music, songwriter & performer Noah Solomon is getting an open mic started on Thursday nights.



All set up for a nice acoustic sound in the main room, friendly host – all that’s needed is a few more players. If your regular open mic is so busy it is not always possible to get your turn at the mic, drop by the Brew House where your songs will be welcome. Since it is every second Thursday you might want to check the FB page to confirm dates.


[The Brew House, 170 St. David Street South, Fergus; every second Thursday, 8 pm sign-up, no cover]

Challenge#5: Love, Lust, Hate, Danger

This week’s challenge: A song featuring Love, Lust, Hate, Danger for a new TV series based on Lizzie Borden. The musical examples provided were funky, often stripped down and simple yet haunting. I tried to go for a subtle and sinister feel with my song Darkness.

Every week I seem to learn something, yet not the thing I thought I was going to learn. Based on some great advice from fellow song challenger Michael Hay I found myself an audio interface for recording with garage band. Still not studio quality but eons away from the last song where I sounded like I was down a deep well with walls made of tin. After posting a first draft I followed some advice from song challenge coach Debra Alexander (some of which was echoed by James Linderman). I slowed the pace and moved the pulse of the song from the chords in the treble to the bass. Even those small differences changed the feel of the song.

Would love to play and polish it some more, but onto the next – and final – challenge!

Venue: Corktown Ukulele Jam at The Paintbox Bistro, Toronto ON

Paintbox sign1It’s been a while since I visited Toronto’s beloved uke jam. Going strong for over 6 years now, the jam has recently moved to the Paintbox Bistro which seems to suit the event well. (This venue is an interesting venture in itself.) A clear wall separates the front of the café from the performance space so that it still feels like a part of the café but ambient sound of non-music-loving patrons, cash register, etc is blocked. And the food is good – worth having dinner there before the music starts.

The workshop portion of the evening is still lead by the dauntless Steve McNie. This particular evening the whole group participated in a kind of sound experiment that included rhythm (“the New York strum”), harmony and cameos from some stellar regulars at the jam. It was a “you had to be there” moment – really fun.

The open stage was hosted by Brendan O’Malley. I did pluck up my courage to sing an original, supported by the “A-list” musicians on stage (Richard Bales & David Olson), teased by the host that in doing so I was slightly cheating : ) Since the open mic requires performers to sign up on-line in advance, it makes it harder to chicken out at the last minute. This is more of a commitment than most open mics which might contribute to the quality of the performances.

The third portion of the evening was the group jam. This is a great place to pick up new techniques as well as new chords or alternate voicings of the old chords you already use.

Paintbox uke jam

One thing I like about this event is there are access points for participation of all levels of players. Beginner? Join in the group jam with help from Steve and the chord charts displayed on the front screen. No pressure – pull back when you’re lost, join back in when you’re able. Proficient? Bring your best to the open stage. Somewhere in between? Always something new to learn – new repertoire, theory, technique. If you want a little primer to get started visit the Toronto Ukes website.

Is this inclusive character the secret of the Uke Jam’s success? It could be the passion that host and uke aficionado Steve McNie brings to the group. There is also a sense of community. Folks here embark on music-themed adventures that go beyond the Wednesday night jam, from concerts to uke infused yoga sessions. There is a sense of mutual support and appreciation that makes it a safe place to explore, express and have fun.

[Corktown Ukulele Jam, The Paintbox Bistro 550 Dundas Street East, Toronto; every Wednesday; workshop 8-9:30 pm followed by open stage and group jam; $6 cover for workshop; $3 cover for theme night open stage first Wednesday of the month]


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