Open Mic Night at Mahtay: Positive Crowd, Positive Community

Mike Price, the self-described ‘force’ behind the evening events at Mahtay Cafe and Open Mic Night says “Open Mic Night gives people a stage to practice whatever it is they want to do. We open up the sign-up sheet as the event begins and anyone is permitted to sign up and showcase what they’ve been working on,”

Musicians, poets and comedians all take the stage weekly as Open Mic allows a wide variety of local talent to perform. This, Price noted, can also help to calm a new artist’s nerves.

As a musician, Open Mic provides a stage, a mic, and a guitar to anyone,” said Price.

This seems to be at the heart of what makes Open Mic Night at Mahtay successful — inclusivity. Comparable to some other modern venues, Mahtay Cafe is extremely accessible. No matter your means, the cafe welcomes you to take the stage, allows you to borrow a Mic and guitar if you’d like, and practice whatever you want to work on in front of an incredibly positive crowd.

Performance at Mahtay Cafe's Open Mic Night / Rounaq Chabra

Performance at Mahtay Cafe’s Open Mic Night / Rounaq Chabra

Price stressed the depth of respect he has for the management at Mahtay, as well as for his fellow employees and the environment itself; he loves his job, and feels that the space he works in is a truly positive one. The alienation between employee and customer is lessened, and the space is comfortable and easy to spend time in. Mahtay becomes a space where people run into each other and end up catching up; it’s a great place to study as well.

Another example apart from the inclusivity of Open Mic Night lay, or rather hung, across the wall directly behind where we sat speaking in the space for the Open Mic Night; the interview took place in the “Community Room”. Along the walls hung pieces of art, and Price was unsure of where exactly they came from. There exists a freedom of expression in the Community Room beyond music and spoken word, but in these pieces of art as well; they were clear examples of the welcoming nature of the space for people to hold meet ups of all kinds, including what Price guessed as an art therapy course that allowed its members to place their work upon the walls of the space itself.

In the conjoining main space of Mahtay Cafe — where the coffee is brewed, the food made, and the cash exchanged — there is always art hung along the walls. Price noted that the artists are all local, and each month there is a change of gallery that is kicked off by an evening event of art showing and music playing, where the artists who have just displayed their work welcome people to view their personal showcase.

As I settled in later to seats a few rows back from the stage the atmosphere was relaxed and everyone extremely amicable, just as I had been told by Price. I was able to speak with a couple of the performers, between performances and after their sets.

“I feel like you go up and every single person in the audience is cheering you on,” Chris Brown, a musician performing on the night,  said of the venue.

Brown said he had played for a long time now, but was just getting back into the music scene. Open Mic Night appeared to him as a great starting point and he agreed that the environment was incredible.

“I’ve been coming every single week since this past April,” nodded musician Robert Gillespie, who played a few songs by Andrew Jackson Jihad, Modern Baseball, and Neutral Milk Hotel. “I started to learn the songs that I was listening to, and that’s what first made me pick up a guitar. I’m now trying to write my own lyrics.”

Gillespie is a local artist on the music scene, but he is excited to grow and develop into writing his own lyrics and pieces. Above all else, the word stressed by everyone I encountered at Mahtay Cafe’s Open Mic was “positivity”. The performers I was able to speak to off stage, the crowd members that I sat with, and the employees running the show were all excited and enthusiastic about what Open Mic Night has become for the arts community in downtown St. Catharines; a positive space and a platform for everyone to participate in and enjoy music.

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