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The ‘Yes’ man of open mics in Victoria

How a local musician created the city’s most popular five-year-running open mic variety show
Peter McMaster runs one of the biggest open mics in Victoria. (Sam Duerksen/Black Press Media)

When Victoria-based musician Peter McMaster first got asked to take over leadership of an open mic night at The Mint, he felt resistance.

“I didn’t even want to do it. I kind of got pushed into it,” he recalled. At the time, he lived a block away and his fiance worked at the underground restaurant bar on Douglas Street. He was a musician who played gigs around the city and would regularly attend the Mint, where the latest host of the open mic night had gotten fired. An acquaintance of McMaster’s at the time proposed to him that they run it together.

McMaster’s main hesitation was having “no idea how to really run an open mic.” What finally pushed him into giving a ‘yes’ was thinking of what it would do for his music career.

“I was playing music full time for the last three years but I was always working in bars and restaurants, and I’m like, it’s a regular music-based gig so I should do it.”

Little did he know at the time that it would go on to be his longest-running gig. “I’m happy I stuck with it because it’s really become something,” he said.

What, arguably, made Pete’s Variety Show – as he calls it – running for five years and counting was the fact that McMaster ran it a little differently than many other open mic nights.

“People would come up and ask, ‘Can I go up?’ and I thought, why not?” he said. “I didn’t really say no to anyone. I just wanted every art form because I knew no one was doing that.”

As a result, the show has seen tap dancers, drag performers, comedians, poets and musicians all go up, creating an atmosphere of support for artists of all kinds.

“Sometimes someone can share a poem and it can be a very heavy topic, and then someone has to go up after and sing, so it’s kind of odd but it’s nice because everyone is sharing in this supportive crowd,” McMaster said.

“The point of a variety show is you never know what you’re going to get,” McMaster said. “You might get some sad songs, some happy songs, some good comedy and bad comedy. Might get some good poetry. You never know. But the regulars that come are definitely worth watching. We’re just spoiled in this city for talent.”

Just as McMaster had to take a risk, so do the participants who have to overcome internal fears to share their talent on stage, but the reward of performing usually ends up paying off.

“I’ve seen comedians go up and they’re not good, but they keep coming back, they keep practising, and you see them get better, and then you think that was really good! You’re actually laughing. And then some people you see get their songs down, you see them talking to the crowd more and their stage presence improves. Their stage fright is going away,” he said. “I’ve seen bands form; I’m in three bands and I’ve met all of them from that show. It’s been an absolute joy to watch to see everyone grow and improve and stick together.”

The show recently moved to a new location – Herald Street Brewing – in November and gets an average of 20-25 performers per session.

“What’s taught me to say yes is that you shouldn’t doubt yourself. Also, learning to say yes often can lead to some exciting and very meaningful experiences and opportunities in the long run,” he said.

READ MORE: Open mics in Victoria provide a place of togetherness during the holidays

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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