Open Mic Surgery gets a new host
By Kevin Blondin
Local musicians and independent music enthusiasts are already familiar with the Phog Lounge. The little red building downtown has become a staple in the Windsor arts and music scene.
In 2009, the small alternative bar reached national notoriety when CBC Radio 3 listeners voted for it as Canada’s Best Live Music Venue, a title that the club still proudly boasts today.
Since opening in 2004, Phog Lounge has been the go-to spot for local bands to debut their latest projects. Every Monday night is Open Mic Surgery night, and each past and present host has added their own flavour.
This popular event was created in 2005 by Toronto musician Ray Whimsey.
Past hosts of the event include such talent as Ron Leary, Tara Watts and George Bozanich.
James Oltean-Lepp began his residency over five and a half years ago and has kept it for the longest run yet. On Monday Oct. 31, at a very packed Halloween party, Oltean-Lepp hosted his final open mic and passed the tradition on to Tony Lorenzo Coates after five and half memorable years.
“It’s an open-minded space,” said Oltean-Lepp. “You are more likely to be accepted there than a place that’s not Phog.”
Coates says the scene keeps people coming back.
“Phog has a good following of musicians who come out and support the open mic and show their talent there,” said Coates. “I think the crowd is dedicated to Phog.”
On Monday nights the hosts try to create an environment that welcomes all different styles of music.
“I wanted everybody to feel comfortable playing whatever kind of music that they wanted,” said Oltean-Lepp.
Oltean-Lepp is planning to release a solo album of instrumental works and Coates is also currently working on a solo album. The two live on the same block and have been good friends since meeting at an open mic night years ago.
Oltean-Lepp has fond memories of past guests such as Jeff Martin from The Tea Party. In order to keep track and learn people’s names he implemented a sign up list, a feature that Coates says he will soon be displaying on the window using chalk.
Both Coates and Oltean-Lepp agree the greatest benefit to hosting open mics at Phog Lounge is the networking opportunities and connecting with so many great musicians.
The free beer seems to be a popular incentive too.
“Anybody with any talent, the whole gamut of artistry, if you want to tell a five-minute short story than go up there and do that! It’s an open mic,” said Coates. “Phog’s awesome, everybody should go there. Put that in the paper.”