The Whitewater Wednesday jam session reaches its 15th anniversary this month.
Since it’s inception, the jam night has graced many venues across Whitehorse, and outlived a few. It’s current home is at Epic Pizza in Riverdale.
“We’ve pretty much covered a lot of bases in this town,” said founder and host Peggy Hanifan.
The weekly gathering helped launch the careers of well-known local acts like Kim Beggs and Gordie Tentrees. Entry to the jam is as simple as showing up.
“I absolutely refuse to work with a cover charge,” she said. “After 15 years, I’m going to stay fast to that rule.”
Hanifan’s partner, Jack Jenkins, came on the scene 12 years ago, when the jam was at the Backwater.
Hanifan noticed him sitting, usually alone, so invited him to the head table. “The fun table,” he said with a smile.
Their mutual attraction was followed quickly by his interest in the technical side of the show. He eventually learnt to run a sound board from Ted Arnold of Unitech.
After 11 years of being the technical guru and the set-up and tear-down guy, the quiet and unobtrusive Jenkins took to the stage one night and began belting out tunes.
“I was ‘relaxed enough’ at that point that I could do it,” said Jenkins with a grin.
Both Hanifan and the Whitewater Wednesday fans were surprised. “I didn’t know he could do it,” said Hanifan.
“So now people come in because they hear Jack’s performing. Really? Jack’s really performing?”
Beggs and Tentrees both cut their teeth on Whitewater Wednesday’s stage. Beggs recalls first getting up on stage 12 years ago, in the summer of 2000.
“I had been going to the open mic for a couple of years before that, supporting other musical friends with shaking legs,” she said. “Peggy is always supportive of whoever gets up, but never puts any pressure on you.”
Beggs has since released four albums and toured in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
“I’ve always encouraged everybody. It’s like come on, if you sing in the shower, if you sing in your living room and you’re too shy, this is the place to do it,” Hanifan said.
“Everybody’s encouraging. Everybody wants you to do your best and you always get a round of applause, no matter what.”
Local musician Roxx Hunter is a stalwart of the Wednesday night sessions, sometimes hosting when Hanifan is away.
Jenkins ensures the evening runs smoothly as the stage manager, coordinating the performances and bringing them on stage.
A wide range of music is on offer. “We have everything from country, jazz, rock, blues, folk, classical and everything in between,” said Hanifan.
Keyboards, guitars, ukuleles and banjos are expected, but there has also been some unusual instruments like a barrel organ, a homemade dulcimer, a didgeridoo, and kazoos.
“One time someone played a saw and on one night even a lamp. You had to see that one to believe it,” said Hanifan.
Drinking alcohol is not a requirement. Regulars include teetotallers who come simply to enjoy the music and meet with friends.
“We have regulars in their 80s who like to come out every Wednesday night and have a few and listen to the music. We have young people and people who are young at heart,” said Hanifan.
“There is something for everyone whether you pull up a chair for an hour or two or plant yourself for the long haul,” she said.
There have been unusual instances as well.
One band, NBD, finished an entertaining set by promptly unsnapping the straps on their overalls and provided the audience with, shall we say, “The Full Monty.”
“Stunned comes to mind, and funny too. But I had to put a quick stop to it,” said Hanifan.
“But it was all good and we laugh about it now.”
Whitewater Wednesday has hosted a number of benefits and fundraisers.
One episode that stands out for Hanifan, a breast cancer survivor of close to five years, is when several of her friends, who had just shaved their heads for cancer, strode into the jam.
“It was moving and humbling, and that’s one night I’ll never forget,” she said.
“You just never know what’s going to happen with the Whitewater Wednesday and I think that’s why it’s still going strong today.”
Recently she asked Epic Pizza owner Josh Paton if he would be interested in hosting the 15th anniversary of Whitewater Wednesday.
He replied that he would like them to come every Wednesday night, making it the new location.
“It’s my favourite night of the week. Everybody loves it. It’s such a hit,” said Paton.
Paton gets into the act as well, setting aside his apron and sitting in at the drums.
The new venue is bright, spacious and gives rise to a family-style show. The hours for the jam are 7 p.m. to midnight.
“There is great energy, happy people and jammers who feels safe and welcome and that goes for the listeners too,” said Hanifan.