Fat clumps of falling slush and rain made for a damp trip to the Free Times Café for its 42nd anniversary last Thursday. Owner Judy Pearly hosted the event, showcasing a video about the café and presenting an open mic night with performances by both “civilians” and staff.
Forty-two may not sound like a significant anniversary, but when you consider that many live music venues failed to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that the Free Times did makes for a great reason to celebrate.
In honour of the milestone, Free Times gave out a free drink and latke to all customers and offered up a small buffet.
The casual atmosphere was helped by the open seating to facilitate easy conversation. Customers were chatty and quick to share their musical preferences and history, whether they were planning on performing or not.
Most performers played songs that had a bluesy, folksy or jazzy feel, fitting with the roots theme of the café.
Myke Mazzei, an employee at Free Times, usually runs the open mic nights.
He said that he loves seeing people return to the stage week after week.
“You can see them getting better,” he said.
“You can tell when the crowd liked a performance. Some people are better at reading the audience than others.”
It’s inspiring to see people get back onstage week after week, even if they didn’t have a great performance the week before, he added.
After the performances, staff offered karaoke but customers seemed content to chat with each other.
Staff were quick to humour, and the customers fed off their energy, reproducing it. The decibel level shot up as Judy and her friends caught up, laughter and snippets of conversation ricocheting across the room. Free Times Café is a place where you can show up alone and leave with friends.
There are always more performances to attend at the café; this month alone there are 31 events on the calendar.
Check out what’s happening at the Free Times Café here: ENTERTAINMENT (freetimescafe.com)