The closing of historic Toronto venues is making it harder for local musicians to thrive. Hugh’s Room, The Hoxton and The Central are just a few of the venues that have closed in 2016 and 2017. But Musicians@Ryerson, a student-run group, is making efforts to keep local talent alive.
“(Hugh’s Room) is home base for the folk community and amazing shows happen there all the time,” said Anita Cazzola, former vice-president for Musicians@Ryerson and singer in the folk duo The Lifers. “For us, it’s a space that we’ve wanted to play in as our music’s progressed. It’s kind of been one of those bucket list items.”
Kieran Ramnarine, vice-president of events for Musicians@Ryerson, said booking events are even harder now because majority of the venues closing were student friendly and affordable.
Ryerson has been improving its music scene on campus with festivals and a new music and culture minor which was implemented this school year, but it’s still not up to Musicians@Ryerson’s standards.
Over the past couple of years, Musicians@Ryerson has become more active to provide students an opportunity to showcase their talent. It offers weekly open mics at Ram in the Rye, free music lessons and community jam sessions.
“Musicians@Ryerson was a huge part of my life when I was here,” said Cazzola. “It was really helpful for us at the beginning because our first show was Ryerson’s battle of the bands in 2014. It was at the Imperial Pub and that was kind of our first step into the water of playing in Toronto.”
Last year, the group looked to the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) to get more space for equipment and jam space. Currently, the members store instruments in the group’s office, leaving no room to sit and get work done.
“To put it frank, no, Ryerson doesn’t provide enough space for Musicians@Ryerson,” said Ramnarine. “We often get shafted on the rooms we do book, by reschedules, double bookings, room changes.”
Yet, Ryerson’s president, Mohamed Lachemi, says space is always available on campus.
“There is not a single week where I am not addressing an issue about space,” said Lachemi. “There is always a process here at Ryerson where … there is a committee that will look at how best to make that space for the community, students and faculty. I can tell you that there is always a long list of needs, and I can tell you that we are not short of ideas of the need of space.”
Ramnarine has a vision for the future of Musicians@Ryerson and it includes a dedicated room and more staff. “We’re working hard to make venues easier to access for students, but it’s an uphill battle.”
No matter what space Musicians@Ryerson is given, keeping the community thriving is important for local bands. Juan Udarbe and Zack Henderson met each other through Musicians@Ryerson and later started their band, Little Boxer.
“People are always going to be resourceful. I remember practicing on stairwells and empty classrooms,” said Udarbe, Little Boxer’s bassist.