Photo by the lovely and talented Lucy Pelletier

A groovy gig at Relish last night. Thanks to friends current and reconnected, family and strangers who stayed for the show.

This week’s topic is the venue where we performed, and the special place it holds for me in my own long, strange trip.

Owned by Joanne Clayton, Relish Bar and Grill opened nearly 11 years ago. Through the years, it has stuck with its slogan: Come for the food, Stay for the music!

The bar is a nexus for original talent, not only on stage where live music plays 7 days a week, but also on staff, as most employees are performers themselves. The most special of these musical nights for me, and led to Félix and the Cats directly, is Stir It Up Sundays, the weekly open mic hosted by my band mate, Paul Brennan, and David MacMichael, who earned his place as an honourary Cat last night, subbing for NEMO on bass.

What distinguishes SIUS from many other jams I’ve been to, is the strong emphasis on original material. To my knowledge, this is unique in Toronto, where the typical open mic features many cover, blues jams and the like. Relish is different, and full credit go to Paul and David, and encouraged by Joanne for curating that development.

Stir It Up Sundays was instrumental (groan!) in encouraging me to write new songs. A complimentary remark from David and Paul about a new tune always made my week. So I kept writing and launching them, polished or half-baked, most every Sunday night. The support, and counsel, of all the musicians that attend the open mic also meant a lot.

Speaking of which, there are so many regular attendees of SIUS that need mentioning, and I hope you will make some time to come out to listen to them. Here are some of my recent favourites (apologies if I missed you…I will do this again for you too!).

David MacMichael: the co-host and an incredible songwriter. David fronts the Danger Bees, plays bass for a variety of bands, including Sam Taylor and the East End Love, and guitar for Jonathan Roy. His songs blend angst, humour and sensitivity over a sophisticated yet approachable musical base (yes, get them on iTunes).

Michael Cuddy: Michael’s lovely phrasings and haunting lyrics stick with you long after hearing. Sink or Swim and Motel Kalifornya are great examples, but he also shows his wry humorous side in Tweet.

Arch Rockefeller: I can imagine playing with Arch is a happy challenge. Great lyrics over sometimes unusual chordal and rhytmic changes show Arch’s virtuosity and imagination. Check out his material here.

Jace Traz: When Paul Brennan is away,  Jace fills in with David. In true renaissance style, Jace is a talented visual artist, a great drummer, also with the above mentioned Sam Taylor and the East end Love, and a clever and gifted songwriter, with such powerfully catchy songs as Pistachio Girl and Start to Cry. I never tire of hearing any of Jace’s songs. A Sunday night without Jace at Relish is incomplete.

Will Meadows: Will’s love of country music is obvious when he is performing traditional bluegrass tunes, singing and playing with taste and intricacy. Will is a superb multi-instrumentalist, and rises to any challenge as a solid and capable sideman.

Tyler Ellis: He makes it look so easy, as every line Tyler sings seems to fall naturally in place, and brings a smile with it. Here he is with Will Meadows on one of the SIUS shows.

Special guests: One never knows who will pop in to Stir It Up Sundays. Some nights, the regular gang is there, and other nights, surprising performers make their way to Relish, such as an all-bassoon group covering popular songs, or even visitors from far-away places like France or Arizona, just passing through. Once in a while, new talents discover SIUS and makes it a regular feature of their week, as it’s such a welcoming and supportive place to try out new ideas.

The long and short of it is this: whether you are a budding songwriter, a musician who wants to network or a fan of original music, there is no better place to go on a Sunday evening. Enjoy!



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