By Jessica Lewis
The first person to stand up to the microphone is always the brave one. Last Wednesday night, it was Charles Tilden, a fourth-year urban planning student.
“This song is about fornicating in the backyard,” said Tilden to a crowd of about thirty students in the front room of the campus pub as he held his acoustic guitar. “It’s called ‘Horizontal Dancing’.”
Tonight is just one of many open mic performances for Tilden, who is still considered an amateur musician. But that could change.
Open Mic nights at the Ram in the Rye have produced and showcased a number of some of Toronto’s future stars. Since its inception in 1999, the RSU sponsored show has fostered the careers of such acts as Tokyo Police Club, Peter Katz, Matt York, The Junction, Wooden Sky, and one guy from Billy Talent.
Joe Garisto, Duty Manager of The Ram and Oakham House currently hosts the show, since the previous host was fired in September. When the show was starting out, Garisto was a regular performer.
“They all have done well,” he said of the famous alumni during a break on a busy Thursday afternoon. “Who would have thought that most of these guys would be signed right now? Or if they’re not signed, they’re just around the corner from being signed.”
The creator, and first host, of the show was D’Ari Pouyat, a graduate from Ryerson and the front man of Nine Mile. He now has his own record label called Deadrock. Garisto was asked to host after the RSU saw how often he came out to play.
During those first few years, when Garisto was in charge, the Ram was jam-packed, and performers like The Junction, Matt York, and Peter Katz lit up the stage.
“All of those names were the people that would make up the list each night,” said Garisto, who is working on his first record under the stage name Dean Marr. “They were no different than the kids that are up now. Five years later, you’re reading about all these guys.” For these bands, Open Mic night was either the start to their musical career, or their first regular gig.
“Peter Katz played his first show here,” said Garisto. “One of my friends would come by a lot, Matt York, he got signed to a label in Japan. And one of the guys from Billy Talent used to come by and he never sang, he just played the bongos.”
Now based in Oakville, Matt York had been playing for a while before he decided to play the Open Mic nights in his second year of ITM.
“I went out and got a bunch of buddies to come and see me play and that’s how I got started,” said York. “What’s funny about that night is I just recently got engaged, and I met my fiancée at that open mic night.”
York played until he graduated in 2004, and now tours with the people he met at the Ram like The Junction, who graduated from open mic, but not Ryerson.
“The only reason I came was because my girlfriend went to Ryerson and one night I went to visit the pub,” said Brent Jackson, the vocalist and guitarist for The Junction.
“I would play alone and sometimes bring the band. But when she moved out, we didn’t really come by anymore.”
Open Mic night lured in the talent because of its community feel. The performance space was tighter then. Performers knew each other, and they would get a free pitcher of beer.
Now, the crowds are dying down along with the semester. But a good heap of students still take the stage. After all, the first ten performers receive a ten dollar voucher for anything at the pub.
Students like Tilden, who has been playing at the Open Mic nights since 2005 and is now working on putting out a record.
“I knew that Tokyo Police Club used to play at Ryerson, and Peter Katz, but all the others were news to me,” he said. “When I move back to Toronto after the summer, you can expect to see me back there.”