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$Rockin 4 Dollar$ nine lives 

Celebrating nine years and possibly the last night in their longtime location, the popular Monday night open mic is still the best way to start the week.

click to enlarge Hamiln and Bruhm blow out the candles on another year. - ALISHA COBHAM
  • Hamiln and Bruhm blow out the candles on another year.
  • Alisha Cobham

$Rockin 4 Dollar$ has been brightening up Mondays/ruining Tuesdays for an impressive nine years running. Though it always feels like a party when it's your turn to spin the wheel, this week's installment might have a little more oomph as they celebrate nine years and prepare for an upcoming location change when Reflections Cabaret moves to their new space on 5187 Salter Street mid-August.

Craig Hamlin and Adrian Bruhm have been the dynamic hosts behind the popular open mic night: scheduling multitudes of bands in 15-minute intervals; playing great house music; facilitating prizes; punishments and snacks; and doling out the weekly prize money, which ranges from $200 to the grand prize of $1,000. They estimate they've given away over $93,000 in the run.

It's a tantalizingly simple process: The pot starts at $200. If no one wins that week (as determined by a spin of the infamous wheel), the money gets carried over to next week, where the prize is $400, and so on. If you're a regular you'll notice that on the nights when $1,000 is on the wheel the slots fill up quick–you snooze you lose.

For the ninth anniversary, Walrus will host. R4$ regularly features local bands as weekly headliners/hosts and while the music varies depending on who is available, there have been some standouts. Bruhm mentions Contrived doing a two-song set for the 7th anniversary and Rich Aucoin's hosting slot, plus both Bruhm and Hamlin agree that the Hissyfit drag shows (where bands perform in drag with local drag queens) are among their favourite yearly traditions.

Like many open mic nights, R4$ has its own unique micro-scene. Sure, there are one and done bands out to win the big money, but there are regulars that go no matter what, and fans who love the accepting atmosphere. Hamlin hyperbolizes: "It is an eternal anchor that serves as a beacon of light to any musician seeking shelter from the cold world. You have a place to play, drink, meet lots of other musicians and if you are very lucky, catch a Johnny Thunders birthday set," he says. "It seems like people here can get along easy with other people who may not be into the same kind of music. Metalheads chatting with folk musicians who just got high-fived by a punk who was just propositioned by some guy with giant horn rimmed glasses and a tutu."

In the new Reflections space, the times will be a bit earlier too, 9pm to 1am–great news for folks who find 2am on a Monday night a bit difficult to pull off.

But don't worry, other than that change, your favourite R4$ activities will remain on the roster. Not the least of which is the food –R4$ provides free feeds for hungry music fans. "We've had gourmet grilled cheese, 10 kinds of poutine, chicken and waffles, but I think everybody loved the all-day breakfast the best," says Hamlin. "Shoutout to Alfred Remo and Brian Dodge, who have been our drunken gourmets over the years."

Hamlin and Bruhm have always made sure there are sufficient consolation prizes/tokens of appreciation for bands who don't win big, after the "spit beer on Adrian" option was added to the wheel, things got a bit messier. "Adrian has had beer spit on him pretty much every single Monday for the last seven years," says Hamlin. "Probably a tanker full."

"On my birthday I had about 10 people do it at once," says Bruhm.

It's a labour of love, and the drive to keep the night going is based in pure fun and love of music. "There's definitely enough instances where drunken musicians pour their hearts out to us letting us know how much what we do means to them," says Bruhm. "Knowing that we have a responsibility to try to get new bands going and encourage them to keep our music scene going because we care about it so much, it's selfish really."

"It just feels right and it is always fun," says Hamlin. "I think we both feel super lucky to do this every week."


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