I had the opportunity to visit a brand new acoustic jam in Orangeville. Nando, owner of the Orange Café, seemed to really enjoy the music and his son was the by far the youngest (and bravest) participant. Hosted by Mark Ostrowski, the format is that of a song circle: everybody gets a chance to lead and this moves around the circle evenly. Once a song gets going, people join in with harmonies, instrumental breaks, whatever the song calls for. There were plenty of proficient musicians there, making it a lot of fun.
The menu includes a fresh pasta bar and local brews on tap.
This was just the second time the group had come together. The plan is to have an acoustic jam the third Thursday of every month; check the Orangeville Live Music Scene website to confirm the next date. And – one good thing leads to another – I learned about an open mic that will be happening in Acton starting this spring/summer. Details to follow!
[Acoustic Song Circle, Orange Bistro, 20 Dawson Road, Orangeville; third Thursday of the month (usually); no cover]
It’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.
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]
Looking for some music to chase away the midwinter chill? Want to let a hibernating song out to see its shadow? Southern Ontario has a lot to offer – here is just a sampling (including two uke events):
Brantford Open Stage – Friday, February 1st @ 8 pm – 19 Holiday Drive, Brantford; Admission $4 (performers free)
Hamilton Folk Club – Tuesday, February 12 @ 8 pm – The Pheasant Plucker, 20 Augusta Street, Hamilton; Admission $4 – This will also mark the club’s 31st birthday!
Uke Club #2, Saturday, February 23 @ 1:15 pm – Long & McQuade in Guelph, 30 Arrow Road; Admission $6
*NEW* Open Mic at the Magnolia Café, hosted by Ian Reid – Tuesday, February 12 @7-9 pm; Admission $2 for non-performers (“pay or play”) – 88 Yarmouth Street, Guelph
Corktown Uke Jam – While the Dominion on Queen boasts a weekly uke jam, Wednesday, February 13 @8-11 pm is a special N’Awlins Theme Nite, Kevin Fox as host; Admission $5 – 500 Queen Street East, Toronto
Random Acts of Music at Schinbein’s Studio in Mitchell – Country/folk open mic & jam on Saturdays (1-4:30 pm) and Blues open mic & jam on Thursdays (7-10 pm) – 117 St. Andrew Street, Mitchell
Tuesday night acoustic jam (7-11 pm) in Elora is alive and well at the Café Creperie (no cover) – 40 Mill Street West, Elora
Are you feeling like you’d like to be part of the music instead of being a spectator? Ready to stretch your skills and learn from other musicians?
This fall holds many opportunities to start or expand on your musical journey.
SAC – The Guelph chapter of the Songwriters’ Association of Canada gets together the second Wednesday of the month (West End Rec Centre – 21 Imperial Rd S) to share and critique works in progress. There is often an invited speaker who will talk about a songwriting-related topic. Suggested contribution is $5. The next meeting of the group is September 12th (Jane Lewis will talk about vocal performance). For more info contact: Peter Light at [email protected] or Peter Boyer at [email protected]
The Waterloo Wellington Bluegrass Music Association hosts a weekly “slow jam” at the Galt Legion in Cambridge. There work from asongbook to facilitate everyone’s participation (The Real Bluegrass Book by Hal Leonard) and each person contributes whatever they can: strum along, take a solo, lead a song. The pace allows you to enjoy yourself while learning new songs and improving your skills. The first official “slow jam” of the season is September 4th (7:00 – 8:30).
If singing and harmonizing is what you want to explore, check out the All Together Now website. Jane Lewis and Sam Turton (along with a roster of accomplished musicians as facilitators) host a variety of workshops and 6-8 week courses in Guelph, Kitchener and Hamilton.
Then, when you’re ready for more, pick a song circle or open stage nearby and share your stuff with an audience (Go to the Links tab at the top > Venues/Clubs and find one closest to you).
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]