One night in a faux-psychedelic oasis

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By Mariama LeBlanc

We’ve all got to start somewhere, even if we find ourselves starting again and again, grasping half-drunk at invisible straws on filthy barroom floors. I was that self-starter last Friday March 9 at the Oasis music room at 294 College St. I was covering the performances of two Ryerson RTA grads-Jeff Stone and Vanessa John-at what was billed as a special psychedelia show.

The scene seemed psychedelic, from the coffee stains to the purple wiggling line graphics on the four TVs in front of the stage to the colours of the wax dripping covering the wine bottles holding the candles-which, incidentally, were pink, blue, and white. But nobody could clue me into why the concert was psychedelic. If no one there knew what made an even psychedelic, I sure as hell didn’t have a clue.

Psychedelia is “like whoa trippy,” one of the two girls at the door told me. She swivelled a bit to the right moving as though she had jumped right out of the Bangles’ Walk Like An Egyptian video. She told me to wait for Will; he knows the meaning of psychedelic, she said.
But Will didn’t know either. He thought maybe his painting of hollowed-out yellow faces that hung on the stage was psychedelic. “It’s kind of trippy because when you stand away from it looks like real people and when you get up close it looks all pimply and full of dirt and grimy,” he explained.

Promoter Tom Glenne then told me the psychedelic theme is just a way to promote the bands, none of the six bands were actually psychedelic. Last time he put on a concert centred around Valentine’s Day. His next event is hockey-inspired.

At least now I knew why none of them knew anything about psychedelia. From this revelation onward, the night gets weirder.

Jeff Stone chats with me after his one-mari-and-a-guitar performance at the beginning of the night. Stone graduated from RTA seven years ago. While he was in school, he dreamed of being a sportscaster and a musician. Now he works at Classical 96 radio and performs at about two open mics a week.

“I think most men dream of being a rock star and many women, too,” Stone says. “If they’re on stage they’re dreaming of being a rock star.”

Stone’s been playing open mics and playing professionally for seven years. One of his songs even charted number 10 at a Sudbury radio station.

Louise Simpson and Stephen Near are up after him.

They have the psychedelic talk down, in a boring. “April 16, 2938 Albert Walker invented LSD,” Simpson mutters into the mic.

I look at the audience. There are only two adults in a crowd of 30 or so 20-somethings: a man in a matching brown outfit and a woman in all acid-wash and a baby blue hat, tapping her feet to the music. They’re about 50 years old. Are they someone’s parents?

Check in with the girls at the door, they’re become a bit jaded. “We’re here. We’re having free beer. We’re happy,” one of them tells me.
Vanessa John, who graduated from RTA last year, goes on next. She’s got fans: two guys sitting on a garage sale-find maroon couch. One guy is beating out every song. The other guy knows all the lyrics.

John puts on an energetic set. She sways into the mic, shakes her hips, shouts and does a mini-Betty Boop impression.

“It’s all the adrenaline,” John says afterward. “It’s all this rush and what you give out to people they’ll give right back to you 100-fold.”

Plus it’s a low-pressure event where she can perform with her friends.

“It’s really … a supportive songwriters community here.”

Tonight was about watching how bands start out, how they learn from trying and how they build their fan base along the way. At the end of John’s set, she’s got two new fans. The girls at the door are offering to work the door for her at her next gig-for free. The man in brown tells her she played a good set. It turns out he’s no one’s dad. John tells me she works with him. As I leave, she’s talking with her friends about what they’re going to do now that her set is over.

Just another Friday night at the Oasis music room.

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