Four years ago, my husband john and I went to Woot which had just opened up in front of our farm. We met the owner Dave and we all liked each other instantly. Over the course of the conversation we had the idea that they should begin live music at the restaurant. We live in a particularly artsy neighbourhood, which has traditionally supported the arts very well. We hoped to create a community through music at the restaurant.
David went right away out that week and applied to obtain a music license for the restaurant, and we began. We weren’t sure of a schedule yet or how it would work but we firmly determined that we wanted to create a regular event that would encourage community music to bring all ages together. Right away this was a unique approach since most jams in Montreal were held in bars that prohibited young players under 18.
At first many of the local area musicians who participate in jams at other venues didn’t attend. I don’t think they really took the little place very seriously with a seating capacity of only 75, if that even, Woot’s wasnt exactly a show bar.
But then word started to get out, and both professional and casual musicians began to show up regularly. Music lovers and supporters, so crucially important to the live music scene – began to attend regularly with their entire families’ to watch the band, or the random folk that would show up with a guitar or bass and plug-in with SoulFusion. The winter months were made less harsh by the anticipation of our musical night together. Some weeks or months into it we had a full house – spilling out to the parking lot. Craziness. The good people who live beside the bar never complained, but rather attended, swaying happily to the sound for he music in the parking lot.
Not every week or jam was busy like this. Other times, it would be intimate, and even with 30 people in the house, it always felt good and full of energy.
Over time, we got to know the jammers, both young and old. We encouraged people to dust off their old guitars, or come out of hiding from 20 years of playing in their basements. People who had given up on music, began putting together bands and working during the month to come and play a few tunes for the encouraging supportive crowd. Then came the young people, which is the part that really encouraged us all to keep the jam going.
These kids were ROCKING. We began encouraging a mentorship program, so that ids that were learning technical music – could learn with us how to “be musicians” – there is no school for this. only practical work with another musician.
I remember an 8 year student of our drummer dave Devine, blowing us away with a complicated Led Zeppelin tune. And another boy, only 13 with mild autism who is a brilliant timely drummer, shedding his fears and dawning a mile wide smile on the kit. I keep all these memories in my mind and still they can have such an effect on me.
But even in the context of such an amazing line of work that i have found myself in, sometimes life outside of work can be very difficult. In 2012 we received the news that my mother had lung cancer. Thus began the most difficult chapter of my life so far, and I am fully convinced that without the jam and without the obligation we felt to the amazing people who came every month to support us, to encourage us and the kids and adults who were coming out and finding this new focus bringing them so much joy and levity to their lives – there is no way i would be still playing music today.
Not only was my mother’s cancer difficult physical – lack of sleep, fear and hospital visits, focus on fear and all the scary horrible things that happen when someone you know is dying. She was my best friend, and the one person i could talk to about absolutely anything. The loss of her muted the music in me.
But over the months, even if I didn’t have the heart to book or play many gigs at other places, we had an obligation to the people we had come to love very much at the Jam, and so, the band HAD TO continue, and we HAD TO rehearse and we HAD TO keep trying…it was juts like that. Over two years, this is how my music functioned.
She died on a friday, at 8:15 at night. My world was shook and taken out from under my feet. But life goes on – and I had a gig the following night; the jam.
I have never cancelled a gig. I have never not attended nor not shown up. But, I could not imagine what I was going to do for the jam. Luckily, the music world is small, and there is a great love and empathy that musicians have for one another. I have such respect for these people who go around putting their hearts out on a stage every night for a pittance; it is a passionate affair musicians have with the sounds we make. Someone in the band called a friend, The awesome jeff Starzinsky, one of the few folks who could do what we did at our unique jam. He came without hesitation, and mastered the evening like a real pro and friend. I later discovered that he held vigil for my mother and I. All the people who came, even ones that had never come to the jam before and didn’t know me from a hole in the wall were deeply touched by the love that was expressed and have continued to reconnect with us every month since. It feels like a family.
What kind of job gives you that kind of love AND support?
The acoustic portion of the jam is where I pour my inside heart out. And honestly, it took me a LONG time to be brave enough to play acoustic without the band. but again encouraged by my mother to be self expressive and true to myself, I did it with David, and my band’s encouragement. Now, every jam is has a full hour dedicated to acoustic only music. It is the only jam in Montreal that does this – and it encourages some very special player to join us.
Here is one of my favourites:
Mia is a young girl who came in to the first time to jam with her acoustic guitar followed by a train of her parents and supportive friends. She was barely 13 at the time and she seemed shaken and scared, like many young performers. We didn’t have what she needed – namely a capo and I think I was having a rough night, because I was pretty hard on her. I told her;
“Shit happens. You just have to handle it!” Her wide-eyed fear stared back at me, as I tried to manage to crowd and the players, I felt a little out of control in the chaos. Happily, someone found a capo – and Mia played a stunningly beautiful version of ‘Landslide”, which took everyone’s hearts away. Then she had a total melt down and threw herself into the back her of her parent’s van and cried. Oh boy – do i ever remember feeling like that a few times in my life.
I went and sat with her, apologized for being rough on her and told her it was ok to be scared – it just wasnt ok letting being scared stop you from doing anything you loved. She obviously loved music – I encouraged her to continue.
That was 2 1/2 years ago.
Last jam at Woot, Mia came, as she often does and has over the years, increasing her talent, practicing between shows and even asking for our band to learn some pretty complicated tunes for her to sing. I absolutely LOVE seeing kids working between the jams always increasing their game.
Then the coolest thing in the world happened.
She came in with her guitar and a friend. They had obviously spent time learning and combining their voices and the effect was awesome. The crowd went wild and the girls sat down to thunderous applause. \
Then as usual SoulFusion did a few tunes and began one of our standard favourites “Long train Running” by the Doobie Brothers.
I was singing alone and Mia signalled me from her table asking if she could come up to sing with me. This surprised and delighted me because she was being so brave and i really flashed back to how scared she was and how far she had come.
She came on the mic just as I started the chorus
“Without looove – where would we be now”!!
She had practiced our song, and learned the complicated back vocals. Her harmonies blended with mine like water and the tears came to my eyes flowing like the sound.
This was the most incredible thing.
Yes my friends…
WITHOUT LOVE…where would we be now.?
We have helped a kid play music. Life does NOT get any better than this.
Please join us tomorrow night for the awesome JAM at Woot – Hosted with pleasure and love – By SoulFusion.