Montreal Open Mic Adventure Consolidated:
A micro trailer from the film: From the Montreal segment of “Out of a Jam.”
A song from the album:
A podcast: with an open mic MC during my year of podcast making with MCs of open mics in 2012. This is Scott Mitchell, the MC of the open mic at Brutopia in Montreal:
The Thumbnail Guide: Thumbnail Guide to Montreal Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music
A link to a favorite blog item from the past: THE WARM AND COOL SOIREE AT THE CHARNOBYL VOICE IN MONTREAL
A favorite video: A scene from the bluegrass jam at Grumpys, where you see me in the crowd playing along and looking completely lost, and then kind of proud that I could do a few chords in time with the others:
An excerpt from the Book: from the Canada chapter – here it is Toronto, since I had only a brief Montreal visit and one open mic there in the year of the book, and I have cut it out – from OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Journey of Healing and Rebirth Through Music:
Toronto, aside from being the city of my birth, was the place where I first returned at 18 to become a star, television performer, musician and actor. It was where I ran away to join the circus, a year after running away to join nothing – in a one-week fugue.
It was especially the musical and show business center of Canada. Neil Young came from Toronto; Joni Mitchell, originally from the prairies, went to play and develop in Toronto; Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks (later The Band, most of whose members, farmers, came from Northern Ontario), started out in Toronto. In the 70s Toronto had a punk scene, and my first piece of unpublished journalism and descriptive prose was about seeing the punk band, The Viletones, at what turned out to be an “historic” show at the Colonial Underground bar on Yonge Street in Toronto in 1977. I was fired up by the evening because I thought it was representative of our corrupt society. I knew nothing of the punk movement, but I had been reading the prefaces to George Bernard Shaw’s plays and I saw the Viletones punk thing through the conservative eyes of the Shaw thing and I critiqued it in the style of one of his famous play prefaces. The Viletones went down in pop music history as one of the first and most important punk bands in Canada, but they never had success anywhere else; barely even in Canada.
In the 1980s, the city became hip, producing a musical scene in the trendy Queen Street West, from which came the band Blue Rodeo. The two founders had spent three years in New York City before they returned to Toronto in the mid-eighties and began Blue Rodeo. Historically, Canadian bands and singers had to leave the country to become recognized. The Oscar Petersons, Joni Mitchells, Neil Youngs, The Band, all of them went abroad to succeed. They joined the melting pot of American culture and business. Yet the founding Blue Rodeo musicians went to the U.S. and did not make it there, so they returned to Toronto and succeeded from there, eventually signing with Warner Music. I have a life-long family friend, Mark French, who became a drummer and played in many bands, including a stint at Blue Rodeo.
There followed other contemporary bands, like the Barenaked Ladies, who also succeeded in Canada at that time, and that was followed by the movement of women singers like Alanis Morrissette and Avril Lavigne. Montreal came along eventually too with bands like Arcade Fire.
Outside of music, Toronto later – from the 1980s – found a niche in the U.S. film industry thanks to tax breaks and advantages to U.S. film companies working there. That and a low Canadian dollar made it a major Hollywood outpost, and a bonanza for local small-time actors and casting agents. But when I returned to Toronto from Ottawa in 1976 after my television show filmed at the CJOH station, “Bang Bang You’re Alive,” I stayed for only a week before I went to New York, thinking I could do nothing in Toronto. I returned after failing in New York, and I got lots of good paying work in TV commercials and bit parts in film and TV.
Now returning to Toronto on this musical journey, I found that the city’s nightlife had grown immensely since I lived there in the late 70s and early 80s. With my kids we found in New York City that the nightlife was pocketed in certain areas – Times Square, around the Village, in Soho, mid-town – here and there but not everywhere, with large areas of emptiness and quiet. In Toronto, by contrast, the whole King Street West area had blossomed into clubs and bars and restaurants. College Street, Queen Street, Yonge Street, nightlife was just everywhere, throughout the downtown area, with music in bars, clubs and other venues. Very lively.
Yet despite all the action, I did not find cohesion in the music scene as I did in Paris at Earle’s scene, or in any sense of the Toronto of the 1980s. There were groups aplenty, but with nothing tying them together.