The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration and finding community.
While many traditions involve gatherings with family and friends, many creatives and art appreciators in Victoria find another way to celebrate togetherness – through open mics.
“I think the holidays can be really difficult for a lot of people – so many emotions associated with it can be truly painful or isolating. Open mics are a place where artists of all ages and backgrounds come together to listen and to be heard. That in itself is a really beautiful, human thing to be a part of,” said Ella Slaughter, 22, who has been going to open mics since she was 17.
“You’re almost always going to hear something that resonates with you … People want to connect, and there’s no better way to start a conversation than a compliment or comment about someone’s set … It’s hard to feel lonely in a room full of open hearts.”
In Victoria, there is no shortage of open mics being offered at many locations and days of the week. These include Hermann’s Upstairs (Sunday and Wednesday), Gigi’s Cafe (Monday), Haus of Owl (every other Tuesday). The Loft (Wednesday), Loghouse Pub (Thursday), Victoria Event Centre (Friday), Christie’s Carriage House Pub (Sunday), Eric Martin Theatre (Sunday). The full list can be found on Live Victoria’s Instagram page (@livevictoriadotcom).
Each one is different, and some offer something unique besides what is typically thought of as a just-music activity.
Singer-songwriter Peter McMaster, for instance, hosts the five-year-running Pete’s Variety Show which just recently moved from the Mint to Herald Street Brewing. A typical night can see anything from comedy to poetry readings to drag.
Haus of Owl’s, every other Tuesday, focuses on original music only.
Then there’s an open mic that aims to help people in mental health recovery. At Greater Victoria Social Gathering Place Society’s Imagine Afternoons, which run every Friday from 12 to 3 p.m. at the Victoria Event Centre until Dec. 22 this month, there are creative activities, an open mic, food and supportive conversation revolving around mental health.
“Our open mic provides social connection and community support that we believe are essential components of the recovery process – music allows peers to engage in creative expression, a meaningful activity that promotes healing and growth,” said Natalie Senik, executive director.
Finding an outlet and community support is needed for many during the holidays; according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 52 per cent of Canadians report feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation during the holiday season.
And no matter the format or style, open mics provide a space that can provide connection and community.
“You get people who are just learning. I’ve had kids go up, elderly people go up,” said McMaster. “It’s been an absolute joy to watch to see everyone grow and improve and stick together … It’s all of us together that make this show something.”
For Slaughter, who now plays in the blues band The Smokestacks which got its start at Hermann’s Upstairs Blues Jam, open mics have been the place where her music career blossomed.
“God, the benefits I’ve personally gotten are immeasurable,” she said. “Off the top of my head, I would say the biggest benefit of open mics is they are a great place to start and to grow. Consistently going to open mics and showcasing what you’re working on gives you a weekly goal to work towards and a space to share it.
“It’s a really intimate thing, to show something you’re working on in front of people, and there’s a certain bravery and honesty you get to witness onstage that you don’t see anywhere else … Plus, the community you can find is so special!”
For those looking for a place to find a welcoming environment this holiday season, an open mic just might be the perfect place to find some holiday cheer.