Artist Profile: Ryan Ayukawa

I've had the honor of playing the legendary Free Times Cafe on many occasions. Starting, like most people, at the weekly jams. I've played with some great performers, on some great nights. One of my personal favorites was the Bob Dylan tribute night held on my birthday this year, it was a packed house, off beat performances, and cake! The one constant since I've been coming to the FTC, is promoter Ryan Ayukawa. On this saturday (the 2nd of August), he'll be hosting his 1000 show with performances by Shira G, Liam Kearney, Alysse Rich, Lisa Silverman & Marianne Baker (More info here). He plans on sharing a lot of funny stories Saturday, and I asked him to give us a taste here.

How long have you been booking at the Free Times Cafe, how'd it start?

- I started out in March '99 at Free Times. I was still at York U and one of the grad students I was in a class with had a poetry series going at FT. His wife just landed a job and he was still committed to running the poetry thing, but couldn't. I guess I had lots of free time (no pun) on my hands and agreed to take it over. The first show I emceed was great. The second, less than great. I have a tendency to take things personally when I'm involved, so I turned the less than great thing around and made the third show better. The owner was really happy with the turnout and money coming in. Though I don't recall her ever actually attending one of the shows.... We had a meeting or two or three and I agreed to extend the series. I grammatically changed/corrected the name to "Poetic Licence". I don't remember how long the series went. But it was monthly for a while. Tuesdays were traditionally the "Graveyard Shift" at FT and I'm quoting one of the former staff when I say that. Along with some good poets and guest musicians, we made the Tuesday show better. From there things just built on themselves and I was running a bunch of monthly shows and one-timers. (This answer was probably longer than you expected....)

You must have faced a bit of a learning curve, what kind of knowledge did you gain in the early stages?

- I admit I started with next to nothing. I had some basic emcee experience. Paul Humphrey, who work there, taught me a lot (see his Blue Peter Band stuff). Basic sound levels and tech/gear stuff to start with. He gave me a good sense of how to treat the musicians (right). Other stuff like how to look at a room and see who is a customer and who isn't just sort of happened. Respecting bar sales came from lots of successful nights and head to heads with different bar owners. More and more shows just built on those experiences. Sat Aug 2 is my 1000th booking.

What were some of your highlights?

- The last "Poetic Licence" show was great. A ton of people who had been to previous shows came out. Friends came out. Performers came out and were honoured to have been a part of it. The music room was packed. It felt good to end it while it was still popular.

Our first Bob Dylan tribute was crazy. We sat there at 8pm and the room was completely empty except for the performers. At about 9pm the whole room was packed. People who had never been to FT showed up to listen to performers they didn't know. We had over 70 people in the room. Capacity is only 50! There was an almost blissful moment where Tom Glenne and Josie brought Freya on stage with them. Freya was less than 4 months old.

The last Bob Dylan tribute was crazy in a different way. Over 100 people in and out of the music room. Great performers (you sounded great Shawn!). One man cried while Noah Zacharin played, he was so moved.

I have to also say that the year or so at Jeff Healey's old location was great. How many times do you get to book a place that's capacity 350?

You told me before to ask you about the stage lights story, can you tell me about that?

There are three main lights/lamps directed at the stage. Two overhead directly lighting the stage. One rear. In the almost 10 yrs I've been at FT, it was the first time I had to change them (this yr). [We used to have colour filters... don't know what happened] One of the direct ones went out and the stage was a little dark without it. So went to the hardware store on the next block, climbed a bar stool and tried replacing it (it's a white light). The replacement didn't work. So I climbed down and tried it in the other direct one. It didn't work. So I climbed down and tried it in the rear lamp. It worked. Now all three lights look identical and the bulb is made by the same company as the others... so wtf? I tried the other direct working bulb in all three and it worked. I tried the back light (a red one) in all three and it worked in all three. It took about six hours of climbing and trying all the possible combinations to find out that ultimately the replacement bulb only worked in the rear lamp and not the one that needed replacing. The red bulb worked in all three and the one good worked in all three. And the rear lamp is somehow 10% smaller than the other two. I compromised and the rear light is now white, the mains are red and white. After all that a photographer came in and complained the stage wasn't bright enough and I should go to the hardware store and buy a new bulb and replace the red one.

I've also heard you mention something about a cross-dresser?

-I was asked to guest host one of the other poetry series that was running at FT. Syntactic Sunday. It was a completely diff't group of poets than I had faced in my previous shows. There was one girl there whose stage name was Trouble. She was there for the open mic part. I introduced her as "Her Christian name isn't..." I had the intent of being a good host and at the halfway mark I told folks they were welcome to come talk to me at the break. My mistake right there. I went to sit at the bar and have a good rest (emceeing gets my energy up). I don't think I was there for more than a few minutes when I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders. They started rubbing me. They were MAN HANDS!!!!!!! I turned around and there was a crossdresser rubbing me!!!!!!! I calmy asked "what do you think you're doing?" he/she replied "you look tense." Without kicking his/her ass I said "I like my tension. go away". The evening got weirder as Trouble started telling the waitress about her suicidal tendencies and then proceeded to ask me out - three times. NEVER EVER invited people up to talk to you at an open mic poetry series.

What other Stories do you plan on Sharing?

Some of the other good stories are the Robert St. Fire fundraiser, The Friendless Youngsters (and air conditionless) CD release party at Clinton's, the Jehovahs, and the week of the blackout.

Thanks to Ryan for his time! I'll have another interview up next monday, with Birdsacrosswater and Hunt Chant front man Nic Lefebvre.

No comments: