You can jam if you want to
The lowdown on Regina’s jam nights
Tuesday – Bocados
Jam night at Bocados is a lot less energetic than some of the other jam nights around town. There are people eating meals and paying less attention to the music. As such, it serves more as background music to your time at Boccados than a main event to focus on.
The talent was consistently satisfactory, which also differs from places like McNally’s, where one performer or group may be outstanding and the next one complete garbage.
It’s predominantly acoustic, although towards the end groups started using drums and electric guitars and basses. If you’re an electric guitar player, though, you may have an issue playing here – jam host JJ Voss has a tendency to frown upon using amps and favours putting electric guitars through an iPad that’s hooked up to the PA. The simple and obvious solution would be to bring in a small combo amp which would not be any louder and sound better, but Voss insists that the app for the iPad is “for logistics; there’s not a lot of room,” and that it sounds “not bad if you work with it.”
Being in the tightly-packed lounge side of the restaurant, there is an intimate feeling about the night, which is also brought about by the tendency to feature acoustic artists who all seem to know each other. One of the jammers, Richard, says he comes out for “the fellowship” between the musicians performing and “the fun. It’s fun to play and meet new people.”
Wednesday – O’Hanlon’s
O’Hanlon’s jam night is a pretty strict blues jam. The sign-up is done individually as opposed to groups, and then a band is constructed of complete strangers. This sounds like a recipe for confusion among the performers; generally speaking, though, the performers are fairly in sync with one another, seeing as how 99 per cent of blues songs are the same progression, often in the same key.
“A lot of the jams around town are more band showcases,” said Tristan Helgason, who helps run the jam night. “People show up with a band and play their songs, and this, tonight, is more of a random calling people up which makes for more interesting songs … you get some magic for sure.”
Helgason says they try to do blues songs because “blues is very universal. Anyone can play the blues, even if you’ve never played the blues in your life. If you’re bummed out and had a shitty day, you can sing the blues.”
The great thing about this night is the ability to show up and improvise with complete strangers and not sound awful. Most songs feature multiple solos traded by the musicians. It’s a lot of fun to show up, play a guitar solo, and get free beer for it.
While blues is probably the easiest genre for random musicians to pick up and play together, by the end of the night you may find yourself sick of both listening to and playing the blues. Once you get to this point of the night, though, you can head on down to McNally’s for its jam night, which is also on Wednesdays and tends to run later than O’Hanlon’s.
Wednesday – McNally’s
The jam night at McNally’s is by far the most open of all the jam nights. You can sign up to play individually or with a group, and you can play whatever you want. The only issue with this is that you may have to listen to some absolutely terrible acts.
The group on this particular Wednesday only played Johnny Cash and could barely keep its songs together. The singer had her friend bring up the lyrics on her Blackberry and hold them in front of her, and the guitar player would throw random Johnny Cash riffs that he knew into the songs, despite not being from the right song or in the right key. Sometimes they would end mid song because “sorry, that’s all I know.”
This is by no means to say that if you go here you won’t see some fantastic musicians, but know that for every decent set there is another that’s talent is inversely related.
McNally’s has also seen a decline in the number of performers showing up for their jam night lately. I’ve gone to their jam night earlier in the year and had to wait hours to get on stage, but the bar was pretty empty on this night, and you could pretty much sign up and be on after the current act.
Jason Gervais, the sound man for the jam night, said, “Things have been slow lately due to competition around town, but you never know what you’re going to get here … it could be the time of year. I’ve been here when there are twenty bands in one night, and the next week three.”
[Ed. note: There’s also a jam night at The Sip on Saturdays and Sundays, but the two nights our writers went out there, the nights were cancelled.]