There’s a sign hanging behind the bar at The Cameron House that says ‘This Is Paradise’. I don’t know what the story is behind the sign…who put it there and when…but I do know, for many (us included) the words ring true. All kinds of people…artists, techies, retirees, tradespeople, suits…become regulars at The Cameron House. It’s the kind of place you can go to by yourself and feel completely comfortable. Cindy, who manages the club, goes that extra distance to create a warm, inviting environment. Whether it be decorating for special events, celebrating the birthday of one of the regulars, or just keeping things clean and safe. On the odd occasion we’ve been there and a potential troublemaker has shown up, she swiftly takes charge and resolves the issue without most people in the room being aware anything was happening.
We first stumbled upon The Cameron House while exploring Queen West when we moved to Toronto in the early 90’s. It was a Saturday afternoon and we poked our heads in to have a look. It was a quiet day and the patrons were mainly oldtimers nursing their pints in the front room. Soon after, we found ourselves drawn there regularly to see performers like Bitch Diva and The Nancy Sinatra’s who drew a very different crowd from what we saw that first afternoon.
Then, two former members The Leslie Spit Treeo began hosting a weekly Open Stage called ‘Spit Fridays’. It attracted a variety of performers…singer-songwriters, spoken word artists, even the odd dancer…each with 10 minutes to share their talent! Sometimes, well-known artists like Bob Snider and Holly Cole would even drop by to do a few songs. At first we sat quietly watching on the sidelines. Then one week we brought a guitar and put our names on the sign up sheet. And from then on we performed a few songs every week. For fun, Pat who emceed the open stage, used to make up band names to introduce Dwight and I. The one we remember most fondly was ‘Darlings Of The Open Stage’, which is not coincidentally the title song on our first CD. The song is a tribute to that magical time and place.
Around the time when Spit Fridays ended, over 10 years ago, another regular event started up. The Cameron Family Singers began performing “real country music” every Sunday afternoon. Since then it has switched to Saturdays at 6pm and draws a full house every week. The band is made up of a group of “cousins”, all amazingly talented professional musicians who put on a great show. Sometimes when I’m sitting there during the show I’ll look around in amazement at the joy in the room. And I get that warm fuzzy feeling when I recognize so many people who’ve all been going to The Cameron House for years.
Over the years we’ve seen so many memorable musical performances in both the front and back rooms of The Cameron House…Blue Rodeo, Kevin Quain and The Mad Bastards, Courage Of Lassie, The Backstabbers, to name just a few. And now, for the past 14 months, we have our own weekly show! It may sound kind of corny but it is an amazing feeling to be performing in a club that has such a musical legacy. As the old spiritual says “I’m singin’ in paradise, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
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