The Yukon holds a certain charm in the eye of an artist. It could be the simple beauty of the place, or perhaps the opportunities it provides. Whatever the case, the arts community is strong here, and the music scene is perhaps the biggest of all.
Get involved with the local music crowd, or just strike up a conversation with someone who is, and you will eventually hear the name Ben Mahony. He’s been singing the cold away for the last decade or so, and has played just about every festival and every bar in the territory.
Before travelling North, Mahony lived just about everywhere else in Canada, and though music always accompanied him, it wasn’t until he found the Yukon that his life as a musician began to truly take form.
“I’ve been in the Yukon for 11 years,” he says. “Before that, music was more of a sideline for me, but up here I’ve got a lot more opportunity to do shows and recordings, and to play festivals.”
Mahony has released two albums since moving here, Action Reaction (2003) and Yukon Love Ghosts (2010).
In an effort to spread opportunities around — for experienced and inexperienced musicians alike — Mahony now hosts two different open mic nights in Whitehorse: Tuesdays at the Jarvis Street Saloon and Saturdays at the Roadhouse.
“I started the open mic nights to encourage everyone at every level to come out and play,” says Mahony. “There is very little risk or judgement or anything like that. They’re really just about fun.”
Those interested in performing need only show up with a song.
“It’s a way to interact with other musicians, too,” Mahony says. “I’m a solo musician and it gives me an opportunity to play my own music as well as play with other people. And for people that are in a band, or just rehearsing with a band — you can come out and play a whole set if you want.”
The two venues provide different atmospheres.
The Jarvis Street Saloon has a larger PA system that lends itself well to rock styles, while the Roadhouse is a little more unplugged and invites a folkly approach. However, it all really depends on who’s on stage and who’s in the audience, and both tend to vary.
“There have been some really busy, absolutely magical nights, and there have been some quiet winter nights as well,” says Mahony.
It’s free and it’s live, so anyone interested can stop by and have a listen. And even if it’s one of those quiet winter nights and Mahony’s the only one on stage, he’ll still put on a show.
“You never know. You just keep going, and sometimes by midnight the place fills up. And you know what —and I’ve heard other people say this too — you never know who’s listening. They could be your biggest fan, or someone with a great contact — you just never know.”
Tuesday open mic nights at the Jarvis Street Saloon start at 9 p.m., and Saturday open mic nights at the Roadhouse Bar and Grill begin at 8 p.m.