The feeling of community at an Ontario Festival of Small Halls show is contagious.
As soon as you walk in the door of the rural halls across Eastern Ontario and along the Rideau Canal, it’s evident from the warm hello that melts into smiles and handshakes, the stage set with simple mics and instruments, that something special is about to happen in this small space that lives and breathes community.
Patrons have said that it hits you suddenly – the knowledge creeping up like the feeling of someone watching you from across the room.
Somewhere during the night, you realize that your face hurts because you’ve been smiling for an hour straight. The palms of your hands’ tingle because you’ve been clapping loud and hard. You take a minute to look around you – really look around – and see neighbours, friends and families sharing in the experience. Everyone bonded by the music, under one historic roof.
And you get it – you understand what Small Halls is all about.
From Sept. 14 to Oct. 1 more than 30 cherished halls across Eastern Ontario are throwing open their doors to welcome internationally renowned musicians, local opening artists – and you.
The Ontario Festival of Small Halls is set to ignite local stages this month with a mix of big-name familiar faces and boundary-pushing roots, folk, pop, soul and bluegrass-inspired musical acts.
Kelly Symes, General Manager of the Festival, said this year’s lineup includes some well-known names in Canadian music, while also showcasing emerging artists who will be new to rural Ontario.
“Small Halls continues to offer a unique concert experience: seeing your favourite artist in a setting which allows you to relish the music and connect with (the) local community,” Symes says, adding that artists were selected based on their captivating live performance, their stage presence and the ability to connect with their audiences.
Artists like Ashley MacIsaac, a household name in Cape Breton fiddling, as well as Halifax’s Jenn Grant, Charlottetown’s Rose Cousins and Montreal’s Leif Vollebekk will grace small stages.
You can also catch Kingston’s own The Abrams, who are returning to enliven the Festival again after an explosive performance last year in Seeley’s Bay. Another festival favourite, Old Man Luedecke, is playing in Lyndhurst and Tatlock after recently taking home the 2017 East Coast Music Award for Album of the Year.
From wooden stages to pews and from beckoning archways to barn board, the halls expertly roll out the red carpet for the Festival doing what they do best – enhancing the experience just by playing host.
Take, for example, the history ingrained in the Delta Old Town Hall built in the 1880s and the site where area soldiers mustered before leaving to fight in the First World War. Further along the Rideau, locally-made cast iron circa 1890 still adorns the ends of the pews in the Merrickville United Church.
Just down the road the Spencerville Mill once served as the feed mill that produced Canada’s first commercial livestock feed. Local history lives and breathes at the venues for the Ontario Festival of Small Halls.
The host communities are also throwing down the welcome mat with family-style dinners, local food celebrations, country markets and even tapas on the schedule preceding Small Halls shows.
“At its heart, the Ontario Festival of Small Halls is about celebrating community,” said Symes, “Attending the community events goes a long way towards achieving that overall rural culture experience that visitors often crave.”
There are also a few insider’s tips to round out the Festival experience. If you’re attending a show in a historic church, Symes says you’re encouraged to bring a funky cushion for comfort. Also, don’t forget to stick around after the show – the musicians might appear when the applause has settled to mingle with guests. Bringing cash for merch is also a great idea.
Click below for the full schedule, as well as info on tickets and community events.