John Forrest of Qualicum Beach performs in the open stage portion of the recent Qualicum Acoustic Cafe event at Rotary House in downtown Qualicum Beach.

Amateurs get a night in the spotlight

Qualicum Acoustic Cafe uses open stage format to provide opening acts for monthly concerts

Like many in the audience at the most recent Qualicum Acoustic Cafe event, John Forrest came to see singer-songwriter Beth Marie Anderson perform.

But it was Forrest who coaxed the first spontaneous sing-along of the evening when he stepped to the microphone and launched into a rendition of the Ian Tyson country classic Four Strong Winds.

“That was fine,” Forrest said of the crowd’s unscripted participation as he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. “That’s what it’s all about. To get the audience into the music.”

Forrest was one of four performers who graced the open stage portion of the Jan. 29 Qualicum Acoustic Cafe, a hybrid evening of music that allows anyone willing to “open” for a paid, feature performer.

The series, which features events the first Friday of each month through spring, is held at Rotary House in Qualicum Beach, a cozy venue that seats just 80 people. Founders John and Joyce Beaton and Dave Barta configured QUAC on the folk club model, but wanted to open it up to performers across a spectrum of entertainment styles.

It has become a popular destination for both performers and the audience, with tickets typically selling out within a day or two of going on sale.

“The audience is not only friendly, but they come here ready to hear what you have to say,” said Bill Wilson of Qualicum Beach, a retired commercial fisherman who pens and performs parody songs to the tune of popular classics. “The applause itself is reason enough, but it also gives you a chance to practise your art and get feedback.”

Forrest, who began writing music 12 years ago, said he has been performing in jam sessions and open mic events on the mid-Island for about 15 years.

He has busked at Coombs Saturday Market and in Nanaimo and has jammed at the McMillan Arts Centre, the Soundgarden in Coombs and at the now-defunct Lazy Mike’s in Whiskey Creek.

This was his first appearance at QUAC, and he gave the evening rave reviews.

“I saw they were going to have Beth Marie coming and I looked it up online and saw they have an open stage,” Forrest said.

“The only other place you can do this is in bars and pubs, and that’s not my scene.”

Australian and part-time Vancouver Islander Ian Symons weaves a humorous and improbably tale involving characters Alice in Wonderland, Oz and more during the open stage portion of the recent Qualicum Acoustic Cafe at Rotary House in downtown Qualicum Beach. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

Unlike the bar scene, performers in the QUAC series are not competing with table conversation or clattering dishes and glasses. Other than an intermission between the open stage and the feature act, which boasts organic apple crumble made by kitchen volunteers, the attention of the audience is given to the performers standing just a few feet away.

“For this type of audience and venue, I equate it to playing a house concert,” Anderson said prior to her performance.

Ian Tyson, an Australian storyteller who is on his third extended visit to Canada, regaled the crowd with a humorous tale involving characters from both Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, along with at least one Aussie and one Irishman. And drinking. And food.

“I love entertaining, and Canadians I’ve come to find to be a wonderful people,” said Tyson, currently living in Bowser after previous stays in Ontario and Parksville. “Also, it’s inspirational when you see the response of the audience.”

Don’t expect to see Tyson in the next QUAC event, though.

“I know they like to mix it up and show a lot of different things,” he said of the organizers. “I’ll give other people a chance.”

The next Qualicum Acoustic Cafe will feature Ontario folk singer-songwriter Shawna Caspi on Mar. 4. Tickets usually go on sale at Diva Vintage Kandy and Kakes the Saturday prior to the show, and requests to perform in the open stage may be addressed to John or Joyce Beaton at

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