The open mic/open jam experience is a way for musicians to strut their stuff onstage solo or in a group effort with other artists. It’s a way to network with fellow musicians, make new friends, and gain some exposure and stage experience. It’s sometimes even how bands are formed and talent is discovered. Or, you may want to simply kick back and be entertained by the wealth of local talent that exists in this city. The age-old experience of coming together to share in a collective musical release has been around since the dawn of the human race…and it is alive and well, right here in the Ottawa area.
This is the first installment of an in-depth look at the open mic/open jam experience…the musicians who attend them, the people that host them, and the venues that offer their stages for our local talent to shine. For complete listings in the Ottawa area, check out open mic scene.
Sunday Open Blues Jam – Rainbow Bistro
Welcome to the Rainbow Bistro, located in the heart of Ottawa’s Byward Market area…a rustic and cozy live entertainment music club that started its roots in blues 29 years ago, but has since incorporated various local, out-of-town, and headlining acts of other musical genres…many of them returning frequently to grace the landmark Rainbow stage. There is music every night of the week, with Sundays being Ottawa’s longest running Open Blues Jam, held from 4 – 7pm.
The jam is always hosted by one of a series of talented local professional bands on the Rainbow roster each week, and who kick off the jam with an opening set. Look for a sign-up sheet near the stage or sound booth, write your name and instrument you play, or your band’s name, then wait to be called up on a first-come, first-served basis. It is customary to bring your own instrument to play, with the exception of drums, which are provided…as are amps, mics, and stands.
Participants are then called up to either perform with the house band, or to take the stage on their own or with a group to play their own material in an open mic format. Drummers, guitarists, bassists, singers, etc. that have arrived solo can also be teamed up with others alike to jam onstage together. This is one of the unique elements here, in that it can be both a jam, as well as an open mic.
There are no said “rules”, other than to show common courtesy and respect to your fellow artist(s) onstage. Usually 3-4 songs per act is permitted, depending on the time factor, and number of participants. Aside from the musicians present, there are always patrons and regulars who frequently attend the jam, to listen, dance, and appreciate the music, lending to the ever present warm and comfortable vibe that the Rainbow delivers.
Other key mentionables always present here are longtime Soundman, Dave Sunstrum, tuning up the artists to sound their best, and the always smiling Doorman/Bouncer of 10 years, Terry Bloom. I highly recommend the Rainbow’s Open Blues Jam as a must for any musician…those experienced, and those looking to dabble in it for the first time.
On a personal note: One of my very first stage experiences was right here on the Rainbow stage during a jam, some 20 years ago, and then again, just a few years back after a long musical hiatus. For me, returning to the Rainbow stage marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life. It led me to becoming lead singer of the house band that was hosting the jam that day. Now embarking on my third year with this band, I am reminded of how beneficial the open mic/open jam experience is, in so many ways.
I still frequently attend and host many Open Blues Jam sessions on a regular basis, keeping me connected to the ever growing and changing fabric of local artists in this city. My heartfelt thanks to the Rainbow Bistro, the warm and friendly staff, and to the gracious house bands I’ve had the pleasure to sing with. River City Junction, Maria Hawkins Band, Wicked Grin, Stephen Thomas, Brian Downey & The Ship of Fools, Bruised Egos…to name a few, and to all the other talented musicians with whom I’ve shared some of the most memorable and soul-bearing moments of my musical life…
The Rainbow Bistro is located at 76 Murray Street. Cover charge is $3 (unless you are a performer).