The open mic house is on the edge of existence

Pressure from bylaw officials forced tenants to cancel famous Monday night open mic.

What began as friends gathering to enjoy food, conversation and music, quickly gained popularity and transformed into a Monday night open mic. This tradition, located at 2539 Agricola Street in the north end of Halifax, gave rise to a community hub known as the open mic house and lasted seven years.

On Jan. 22, 2016, an inspection of the house, which stemmed from a noise complaint, caused Bylaw officials to inform the landlord that the tenants were in direct violation of the Land Use Bylaw. They perceived the home event as a business and forced the tenants to halt their tradition, at least until a development permit is obtained at the landlord’s discretion.

Over the years, the open mic house has received a lot of praise and publicity. The house was first mentioned in the Globe and Mail, during a 2013 interview with local musician Ben Caplan. The event has also been publicized in The Coast several times, and in 2015, won gold for best open mic.

In late December of 2015, the tenants received a letter from the province, which congratulated and thanked the open mic house for its contributions to the community as a venue. “Which is amazing considering we are not an official venue of any kind,” says Heather Moore, who has been living in the open mic house for two years. “No one has made any money off of this, but it has made a lot of the community come together.”

Although the tenants have changed, the house’s philosophy has stayed the same. “We are here as community support, primarily to help people express themselves artistically,” says another tenant, known as Jupiter M. VV, who has resided in the open mic house for six months. “And it just so happens that the residents, who have lived here over the years, have been open to the concept of a Monday night open mic and have rallied around it to have it continued.”

What makes the open mic house different from other open mic venues is that it is a home and not a business. It is a place that encourages creativity and individuality by being open to all people, of all ages.

“Friends of friends are welcome and it’s this idea that extends a little bit further and it tries to reach out to people who we don’t really know,” says Jacques Mindreau, who originally initiated the gatherings. “It has offered a place for people to just have their voices heard…a time for the community to share ideas, culture, music, song, story, poetry. That’s what it is and that offering people bring is an invaluable contribution to the community.”

Not only is the house a place for people to gather, but it is also a collective that thrives on people working together to create an eclectic and inspiring space. “Most of the yard work, in fact, that’s been done over the last years, has been by our friend Jen…She just loves the community and the house, so she’ll just show up at the door and be like, ‘I got some tomatoes for ya, I got some sunflowers for ya… I’ve got 20 bags of manure for ya.’” says Jupiter M. VV.

The open mic house is located across the street from Lion and Bright, and is surrounded by other businesses. Guitars hang on one side of the living room and gig posters are pasted on the adjacent wall. In the same room, a drum kit and piano are placed where they are easily visible from the family room, with other small instruments and equipment scattered around. Painted rat silhouettes are strategically placed around the cozy home. And a sign on top of a door frame, in the family room, reads: Quiet please, during performances. Thanks.

Even though community hubs, such as this one, can pop up anywhere, it is businesses in the surrounding area that will be most affected by the cancellation of this event. “If anything, it was a great little platform for people to tell their friends, or the people who were there, ‘Hey, tomorrow I’m playing at such and such venue.’ So it has actually helped businesses around the community greatly,” says Mindreau.

The gathering may have started as a potluck, but the event’s only intention was to provide a space for the community to meet, share and encourage one another. “At the end of it, it was just people showing up to see people play music,” says Mindreau. “People who’ve won Junos have shown up, people who have travelled from across the country had heard about it and just showed up, but it was still a home event – never to be confused as a music venue.”

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Leila Kadivar