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Step up to the mic

Open mics, jam nights and karaoke stage fun for the shoulder season six nights a week

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The Boot Pub is closed and with it Punk Night has disappeared, at least until the fall. Clubs are taking dark nights. Live concerts are becoming slim pickings. Whistler is winding down to shoulder season with time to spare in the late-night hours.

Sure you can count on the Dubh Linn Gate and Crystal Lounge for daily live shows, but now is the time to take advantage of an overlooked segment of live entertainment in Whistler. It offers live showmanship of varying levels and in varying forms six days a week in Whistler.

The only thing is that the success of these evenings relies entirely on you – or perhaps how much liquid-courage you’ve pounded back.

Open mic nights, jam nights, karaoke and one show that includes a bit of each are stronger than ever in Whistler.

Wandering into the long-standing tradition of the open jam night at the Crystal Lounge this past Sunday, a young girl stares over a mic at a full house looking right back at her. She lets her head drop back, closes her eyes and carries on with Hands by Jewel.

Her sweet voice is met with shouts of approval as she slinks bashfully back to her couch of friends.

The seasonal Aussie worker didn’t plan her debut performance, but after a little vodka-cranberry and a lot more encouragement from friends she was up and singing. Welcome to jam night, where spontaneity rules and anything can happen – good, bad or otherwise.

Well good was down and two drunken blokes later, bad was singing about how orange doesn’t rhyme with anything. It didn’t matter; everybody was joining in the humour and the humiliation.

Kostaman, the host of the evening, retires from his backup guitar and percussion support to take a break. It’s the first night in a long time when he hasn’t had someone playing for him during his break. Many nights he limits jammers to three songs, and there’s a lineup at the mic. Other times jam night is a Kostaman solo act.

"They aren’t frequented enough," Kostaman says of the open mic, jam night circuit in Whistler. "You hear musicians complain they don’t have venues to perform, but when they do they are watching TV. I love you all, but break your TVs."

A musician from last week’s jam night says a quick hello to Kostaman then makes himself at home by hooking up his electric guitar on stage.

"Looks like I’ve got someone to cover me," Kostaman says with a smile. "A good night is when we have six or seven people at the end of the night on the stage jamming together."

From these jams, musicians emerge from the closet, sometimes for one night, sometimes for many more to come.

"I use the local jam nights to scout out talent and if they have the desire, give them a chance at some professional gigs," Kostaman said.

Kostaman himself was a product of the open mic/jam night circuit before moving onto paid gigs around town, including Merlin’s, Moe Joe’s, Black’s and the Crystal. Kostaman most recently opened for Michael Franti and Spearhead at the 2006 Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

"We broke out Rob Tamblyn and Rich Cochrane," Kostaman said of "discovered" amateur talent now turned professional.

Check out jam/open mic nights Sundays at the Crystal Lounge, Tuesdays at Joey Chan’s Chinese Creekside eatery, Wednesdays at Black’s Pub and Fridays at BBK’s in the Upper Village.

A jam is a free-flowing adventure with some talent, or at least comedic value, required. Karaoke is another beast entirely.

"With karaoke you are supposed to sound like shit on purpose," said one of the jam night crusaders. "It’s what people expect. We love it."

Karaoke strikes up all your Billy Joel favourites with words played out right in front of you. Each syllable is spelled out for you as the words light up for you to sing on time with the music, if not on key.

Steve Jiu is the karaoke guru of Whistler and Pemberton these days. He hosts the Pemberton Idol Karaoke contest every Monday night at the Pemberton Legion until May 8. But if you can’t make up your mind between jam night/open mic night and karaoke, the multi-talented swinger hosts a variety show, a competition of rap battles, spoken word, karaoke and open jams every Thursday at the Crystal Lounge.

It’s the shoulder season, so adventure out of the winter-rush chaos and into some writing and playing time with a stage ready and waiting.

"It’s community time," Kostaman said. "Springtime is the time for writing your novel and song. It’s a self-improvement thing. Settle down a bit and live a more folky existence."

No cover required; only courage.

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