Friday, July 31, 2015

Holiday weekend happenings in Niagara

Hard to believe we are on the cusp of the August holiday weekend, but here we are.  And already the back-to-school flyers are appearing in the newspaper.  Sigh...

No matter, it is a great weekend to get out and enjoy some of the great things we have to offer here in Niagara, and believe me, there is plenty.  So here are a few ideas to take up part of your long weekend without going that far away.

This evening the 37th annual Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival got underway in downtown Port Colborne.  I was up in Port Colborne this afternoon and things were still being set up, but already people were heading out to take in the fun.

Actually, the Marine Heritage part is more confined to the Port Colborne Museum site, I find, and that celebration is Saturday and Sunday only from 11 to 5 each day.  There will be lots of family-friendly events on the grounds, in the library, and inside the museum proper.  And if you, like me, like to frequent Arabella's Tea Room, it will be operating extended hours on the weekend as well, although it does tend to get rather crowded in there this weekend.

Beyond the museum grounds, the rest of the city celebrates the holiday weekend for three full days plus this evening, and there are live concert events, lots of food and items for sale, and a classic car show at H.H. Knoll Lakeside Park.  Fireworks are also part of the agenda on Sunday evening, I believe.

Port Colborne has long been one of my favourite nearby escapes in the summer months, so if you have the time, make a point to visit over the weekend and see what the South Coast has to offer.

Here in St. Catharines, meantime, the annual Rotary Rib Fest is now underway, as I could hear from our sun room just a couple of blocks away from the action.  I took a walk through Montebello Park this evening before the storm blew in, and it was a very busy, happy place.

Rotary does such great work in our area, and this weekend is certainly one of their marquee fundraising events.  The ribs are always delicious, the entertainment is fun and varied, and there are lots of other activities planned to keep the family entertained throughout the weekend.

Also tied in with Rib Fest is the annual Hospice Niagara Five Car Draw, which wraps up Monday afternoon in the park.  There are five vehicles to be won, and you could theoretically win each and every one of them, as your ticket goes back into the drum for each draw.

This has become probably the most important fundraising event for Hospice Niagara, again people doing great work in our community, so if you can support them by buying a draw ticket, that would be great.  Tickets are $ 25 each or five for $ 100, and your odds are pretty good on this one.

The vehicles are all on site throughout the weekend, and volunteers will be as well selling the tickets for the draw.

Rotary Rib Fest is on until Monday evening at Montebello Park in downtown St. Catharines, so do make a point of visiting if you possibly can.  If nothing else, dinner is taken care of one night this weekend!

If you like your entertainment a little more refined, Music Niagara continues with a busy weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Saturday morning at 11:30, the Young Virtuosos I recital takes place at St. Mark's Church; the Paris Connection Jazz & Classics concert is Saturday evening at 7:30 at the church.  You can go for a trio of events on Saturday with the Jazz on the Patio concert featuring the Mike Field Quintet at The Epicurean Bistro at 9:30 pm.

On Sunday, The Niagara Falls Concert Band entertains in the bandshell at Simcoe Park in the heart of Old Towne Niagara-on-the-Lake at 2 pm, and that concert is free of charge.  The evening sees a Mozart Double Bill Picnic beginning on the grounds of St. Mark's Church at 5:30 pm.  There are two concerts planned, and you can purchase tickets to either one or both concerts with a picnic supper.

Holiday Monday, Music Niagara presents The Toronto All-Star Big Band at Ravines Estates Winery at 7:30 pm.

For more details and to order tickets, go to

Finally, on Monday evening Riverbrink Art Museum presents a fundraising gala entitled "Primarily Porter", a Cole Porter Revue to be held at Konzelmann's Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Headlined by Canadian actress and broadcaster Marilyn Lightstone, the evening gets underway on the grounds with appetizers and a four-course dinner, followed by a two-act cabaret revue.

Accompanying Marilyn Lightstone will be Gabi Epstein, Lawrence Cotton and Musical Director David Warrack, three of Toronto's finest cabaret and musical theatre performers.  Also appearing will be young actor Jeremy Carver James, now in his fourth season at the Shaw Festival.

Riverbrink Art Museum is a jewel on the Niagara Parkway just as you reach the edge of Queenston, and well worth your support with this fundraising concert.  I have been to the museum several times over the years and it is magnificent.

Tickets to the gala are $ 150 with a tax receipt issued for the maximum amount allowed.  For more information or to order tickets, call 905-262-4510 or go to

So you see, lots to do this weekend right in your own backyard - enjoy your weekend!

July 31st, 2015.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nokara Farms in North St. Catharines provides a getaway without actually getting away

Last weekend, my far better half and I were invited to spend a night at one of the lovely cottages overlooking Lake Ontario at Nokara Farms in St. Catharines.  So if you want to get away but just don't have a lot of time, this might just be what you're looking for.

Nokara Farms is owned and operated by Kathryn & Joe Ferretti, who have been farming at the Lakeshore Road location between Third and Seventh Street Louth since 1975.  The name Nokara, incidentally, is made up of the first two letters of Katharine and her two brothers' names.

For many years, the farming operation was a going concern, with truckloads of fresh fruit - especially peaches - being trucked to the Aylmer canning plant in St. Davids.  All that changed in the spring of 2008 when it was announced the canning factory would close its doors.  It was devastating news for not only the Ferrettis but all farmers in the Region who depended on the factory as a ready recipient of their yearly harvest.

I still remember hearing the news and seeing the picture of Joe and Kathryn on the front page of the St. Catharines Standard announcing they would have to rip out acres of peach trees, some of which were newly planted, following the devastating news.  There was simply no longer a market for the tender fruit they and so many other farmers were producing.  Production would shift to China, apparently, even though we had an abundance of locally-grown fruit and produce right here in Niagara.

A number of trees were maintained in order to supply their burgeoning fruit stand business, selling fresh peaches and incredible fruit pies and other baked goods to eager customers.  But beyond that, what do do with a family business that had just taken a body blow of seemingly insurmountable force?

You don't keep resourceful farmers down for long, especially in Niagara, so the Ferrettis took stock of their operation and came up with a plan.  They would continue to farm on the land as before, albeit on a reduced scale, but they would also enter into the new and growing agrotourism business making inroads in Niagara at the time.

On the grounds of the farm resided about five cottages that back in the forties were summer homes rented out to the movers and shakers of industry in Niagara at the time.  They then were used for many years to house the farm workers at the operation.  But after 2008 they underwent a significant transformation.

One by one, beginning in about 2010, the cottages were renovated, upgraded and made beautiful for a new generation of renters.  Now, they are rented out for weekend getaways throughout the summer months for vacationers from both Ontario and New York state and beyond.

The cottage we stayed in was the charming Chardonnay Cottage, which can sleep four people comfortably with a king bed in the bedroom and a fold-out double bed in the living room.  The outside is a combination of siding and faux stone finishings, with modern windows and back deck overlooking Lake Ontario.

Inside, the spacious cottage has just about every amenity you could possibly need for your stay, right down to the flyswatter and first aid kit.  The kitchen is fully equipped with a stove, dishwasher, coffee maker, toaster, kettle and a full-size fridge that is stocked with everything you'll need for an exceptional breakfast the next morning.  Even the plates, cutlery and glassware is provided.

There is free wi-fi provided, as well as a large flat-screen television and DVD player.

The washroom is nicely appointed with a full-size shower stall and all the trimmings like a fine hotel would be, but do keep in mind the cottages are on a septic system so care has to be taken when flushing things down the toilet.

That being said, we experienced no problems during our stay and even if something did arise, there is a cell phone number to call Kathryn for help posted on the fridge.

In spite of threatening skies when we arrived on a recent Sunday afternoon, we enjoyed an evening dining and relaxing on the large deck, which comes with cafe table and chairs, Muskoka chairs and a small BBQ in the corner.

The sky provided our entertainment for the evening, watching the sun going down amid an ever-changing cluster of clouds.  We could also see the twinkling lights of the Toronto skyline directly across the lake, and off to our right, near the mouth of the Welland Canal, a freighter was tied up for the night with lights blazing long into the night.

It was an idyllic setting, and as quiet as you could imagine.  Yet it was only ten minutes from our home in downtown St. Catharines!  We felt we were up in Muskoka on a lake somewhere rather than just a short drive away.  Amazing.

The following morning, I chose to walk the grounds and see some of the other cottages, view Lake Ontario from the waters' edge below the cottage, and walk amidst the orchards that surround the cottages.  Again, it was a peaceful and restful state of mind experienced just minutes from home.

Reluctantly, we packed up late morning after stealing some final moments on the deck watching the activity on Lake Ontario, and left with many great memories of an escape all too brief yet amazingly restful.  Although we didn't on this occasion as it was not open for business yet, you can visit the farm market at the entranceway to pick up a fruit pie or other goodies on your way out.  What better way to take some of the Nokara magic home with you?

We stayed just the one night, but normally stays are a minimum of two nights, or three if it is a holiday weekend.  The cottages are a comfortable and affordable alternative to a resort or hotel vacation, especially if more than two people are sharing the costs.

For more information, view the cottages and to book your stay, go to, or call them at 905-937-0211.

Thanks to Kathryn and Joe for their hospitality and allowing us to create some new and lasting memories from the summer of 2015.

Have a great week!

July 28th, 2015.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

News & Notes on the arts in Niagara this week

There is never a shortage of things to see and do in Niagara when it comes to the arts, and that is especially so in the summer months.  So a few notes on things happening this week to get you up to speed as July speeds along to an end next week.

Yesterday, the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre released its 2015-16 Inaugural HOT TICKET season for the new downtown venue, set to open this fall.  In all, there will be over 75 performances in the four state-of-the-art spaces in the Centre.

Highlights include some tried-and-true favourites from the old Centre For The Arts mix at Brock University, which of course is now replaced by the season downtown at the FirstOntario PAC, and some new acts that should help to bring in some new audiences as well.  Familiar returnees include Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster, singing legend Darlene Love, flamenco guitar virtuoso Jesse Cook and of course, the John McDermott Christmas show in December.

In the new act department, some of the names announced yesterday include Jamaican reggae performers The Wailers, opera soprano Marie-Josee Lord, organist Cameron Carpenter, blues singer and guitarist Ruthie Foster and the comedy team of Tom Green and Stephen Wright.

In addition to the HOT TICKET series announced yesterday, other groups using the new facility include of course the Niagara Symphony, Gallery Players of Niagara and Essential Collective Theatre, among others, which all told will bump the entire PAC performance schedule to about 400 in the first season.  Add the film series expected to be announced in January and that will push the total even higher.

That's good to see, as some in the community were fretting the spanking new venue might be dark far too many nights in the first season, but that appears not to be the case, thankfully.  We want to see people downtown taking it all in, and that is good for the PAC, for downtown merchants, and for the city and Region as a whole.

Tickets are on sale now for Seat Owner Members, those who made a one-time donation of $500 per seat, and that exclusivity runs through to the end of the month.  Renewing Centre for the Arts Members then get their crack at tickets starting August 8th, and New Members on August 22nd.  For the general public, tickets will be available starting September 12th.

For more information on becoming a Seat Owner Member, you can visit the box office at 101 King Street, email them at or call them at 905-688-5601, ext. 3700.  For more detailed information on Membership and the full lineup for the HOT TICKET season, go to

This weekend, the Second Annual Niagara Jazz Festival kicks off at several venues in and around Niagara, running Thursday through Sunday.  Over the four days, over forty bands and hundreds of musicians will perform at about 20 venues at both free and ticketed events.

Thursday evening the Launch Party kicks things off at Stratus Vineyards with the Gord Sheard Quintet; the Flagship Event on Friday evening features headliner Michael Kaeshammer at Jackson-Triggs in Niagara-on-the-Lake; on Saturday the Free Fiesta Stage events happen at Simcoe Park in the heart of the Old Town during the day and at the Mill Street Market Stage in downtown St. Catharines during the evening; on Sunday things kick off with a Dixieland Jazz Brunch at White Oaks and there's the Village Family Stage events at the Niagara Easy Market all day long.

Both Saturday and Sunday there will be informative "Live, Learn Jazz" sessions at the Niagara-on-the-Lake library, and throughout the Niagara Region there will be Dinner Jazz and Club Series events right through the weekend.

Weekend passes and packages are available if you really want to immerse yourself in the Niagara Jazz experience, so check out their website at for all the details.

You can also access complete listings for the entire weekend on the Calendar page of my website at, along with many other summer events.  I've been updating the listings weekly as there is simply so much going on, so be sure to check it out soon.

And I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to let you know of the new Facebook page for A Web of Fine Music.  Yes, I thought it was about time to add Facebook to the Finemusic portfolio, so we had a soft launch of the new page earlier this week, and invitations went out to my Facebook friends to Like the page.  If you have not received an invitation through Facebook, just search for A Web of Fine Music and it should come up.

I hope to add material almost daily to the page, from interesting musical articles from around the globe to local concert updates and the latest classical and jazz CD releases you can order through the website.  By all means, check it out and I hope you will Like my new Facebook page.

Have a great week!

July 22nd, 2015.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Music Festivals in Ontario Round Two

As promised a couple of weeks ago in this space, I'm offering up today another round of the many music festivals either already underway or just about to get underway in Ontario that are worth the drive.  There are many more, of course, some of which are listed on the Calendar page of my website at  But here is a sampling of what's available both far and near this month.

Close to home, I mentioned Music Niagara in my last post on music festivals, but I did want to touch here on a big concert they have coming up this Monday evening at 7:30 pm at the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  They scored a bit of a coup with the Buffalo Philharmonic coming to Shaw, conducted by their Music Director JoAnn Falletta.  The BPO occasionally crosses the Niagara River to perform in Canada, but it has been a few years since their last appearance, as I recall, so here is a great chance to hear a great orchestra in your own backyard.

The BPO performed at the Canalside park area in Buffalo on Thursday evening, a free open-air concert tribute to the music of Stevie Wonder, conducted by the Niagara Symphony Music Director Bradley Thachuk, and from what I heard the concert was a great success.  The Shaw concert will be indoors, of course, and I can imagine how they'll sound in the Shaw Festival Theatre.  Want to go?  Go to to find out more.

Meantime just over the Niagara River, the 2015 season of Artpark concerts is in full swing in Lewiston, New York.  Artpark has had a troubled history the last few years with funding cutbacks and such, but they seem to be on the rebound, and this season appears to be a stellar one for the venerable institution.

The popular Tuesdays in the Park series continues with The Australian Pink Floyd Show this coming Tuesday evening, Grace Potter on July 28th and the "Wheels of Soul" 2015 Summer Tour making an appearance August 4th.  The series continues throughout August with CCR & America, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Doobie Brothers and The J. Geils Band rounding out the season.

Other nights at Artpark will see a production of Peter Pan on the MainStage from July 30th through to August 7th and the Historic Lewiston Jazz Festival running August 28th to 29th.

Lots more coming up at Artpark as well, and you can find out more by going to

Down in Hamilton, the Brott Music Festival is already in full swing as well, with blues singer Rita Chiarelli performing at the Fieldcote Memorial Park & Museum tomorrow evening at 7; a production of Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville comes up July 23rd at the McIntyre Performing Arts Centre at Mohawk College; and on the 26th there will be a Pan Am Closing Fireworks Concert starring Terra Lightfoot on the Hamilton Harbourfront beginning at 9 pm.

In August, Brott Music presents a joint venture with the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, as Boris and the National Academy Orchestra present music by Beethoven at the Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts up in Parry Sound on August 9th.  The Grand Finale Choral Spectacular on August 13th returns to Hamilton with present Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and the ever-popular Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

More information and tickets to the Brott Music Festival can be had by going to

Down in Stratford, the venerable theatre festival is not the only game in town much of the summer.  The annual Stratford Summer Music series runs for six weeks with no less than 100 musical events running from July 20th to August 30th.  There's an opening night fireworks show with music along the Avon River on Monday evening at 9:15 to kick things off.

This is one of the most ambitious music festivals around, with barge concerts many afternoons, park events, waterfront events, and lots of indoor concerts as well.  They also programme the events at rather unusual times in order to fit everything in.  For example, there is a concert of The Sacred Music of R. Murray Schafer at St. James Church beginning at 10 pm on August 7th, and there are even R. Murray Schafer concerts for three consecutive mornings entitled Music for an Avon Morning.  These will be held on Tom Patterson Island down at the Avon River from August 7th to the  9th at 7 am, if you can believe it.

There are brunches, lectures and more throughout the festival, and you can find out more by going to

Finally, I mentioned the Festival of the Sound joint venture with the Brott Music Festival this year; the Festival of the Sound runs from this weekend through to August 9th, with most concerts and events taking place at the beautiful Charles W. Stockey Centre in Parry Sound.  There are also summer music cruises aboard the Island Queen and the Chippewa, and some recitals in St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

Highlights include a full day of music by Brahms on July 22nd, with three concerts entitled The Young Composer, The Middle Years and The Master, all featuring the great music of Brahms.  Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear presents the music of Beethoven on the afternoon of August 7th, and the Toronto All-Star Big Band performs on the evening of August 2nd.

The Parry Sound area is beautiful anytime of year, but with all this great music in the summer months, why not take a break and head up north?  For more information, go to

As mentioned there are lots of other music festivals coming up as well, and all these and many other events are all listed in detail on the Calendar page of my website at for real one-stop shopping.

Have a great weekend!

July 18th, 2015.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The painful truth about social media

My trusty dictionary includes this in the entry under social:

* Marked by pleasant companionship with one's friends.
* Of or relating to human society.

For media, the entry includes the following:

* A means of effecting or conveying something.
* A channel or system of communication, or entertainment.

It has been quite a week in Niagara, with politicians' actions and resulting inactions on social media, and an employee losing his job over comments posted anonymously on an online news media site that were critical of some decisions and actions taken by his employer.

Watching on the sidelines the past week as I have been, I have taken notes on what has - and has not transpired - with this whole situation.  As a media veteran of 40 years who has practiced responsible journalistic practices over that lengthy period of time, I have some thoughts to share on how to conduct yourself on social media.

First of all, we need to remember social media is just that:  social.  That means not private.  You can utilize filters all you want, but if something makes it to the internet, there basically is no turning back.

Social media is also media.  That means a form of communication, most often for public consumption.  Once again, not private.

If you make a statement of any kind on just about any social media or online platform, be it Twitter, Facebook, a blog or whatever, rest assured it will not go unnoticed.  So it is wise to be careful what you put out there to begin with.  Like it or not, what you post is a reflection of you, of who you are and what your value system is.

This is especially important to remember for public figures of any kind, be they politicians, entertainers or high-profile business leaders.  In fact, all of these people are often held to a higher standard than the rest of the public because of their stature, and as a result they should conduct themselves accordingly.

That does not mean, however, the rest of us dunks get off Scott-free.  Consider a party you go to and pictures are taken of you knocking back tequila shots while romping around in a thong bikini (for purposes of clarification I am assuming the person is female in this instance!) and the pictures tag you on Facebook, for example.

That same week, you have an important job interview and as part of the process of candidate selection, the prospective employer checks you out on Facebook and finds those same pictures.  Now, you may have been cavorting innocently enough, but the visual being presented cannot confirm that.  "Hmmm, is this the person I want in the organization?" they may ask.  Don't laugh, this can and does happen, all too often in fact.

Now I'm not suggesting you can't have fun on social media.  Quite the contrary.  But just remember others can see it too.  The old maxim "If you don't think your mother would be happy to see that post, perhaps you shouldn't post it" might sound like a killjoy, but it does apply here.

Or consider this scenario:  you are employed by a level of government and you are posting criticisms about that very level of government that employs you.  But you do so anonymously.  Sound familiar?  What does that say about you?

Aside from the obvious, that you are biting the hand that feeds you in this instance, it suggests to me you would rather hide behind your words rather than stand behind them.  You do not hold the strength of your convictions in high enough regard that you can associate yourself with them publicly.

Look, anyone can post a rant on social media anonymously, and of course, many do.  But it is a cowardly act, in my mind.  You might just as well be skulking around in the shadows, hiding from view for fear you are found out.

Time was, the Letters to the Editor section of the local paper was the sounding board for many of us, but before the comments were published the paper would contact you to verify the comments.  That means you had to include your name and phone number when you made your submission.  Now with online comment sections made up of largely anonymous postings, many news sources both locally and beyond are doing away with them due to that very fact.

Everything I write, everything I post, my name is attached to it, and that is as it should be.  Although my Twitter handle is @finemusicman, my name is clearly stated in the masthead of my Twitter page.

There have been times I have gotten into trouble due to comments I made in my blog postings, for example.  But my name was on it and I stood behind my comments and defended them.  You should do no less yourself.

When did we become a society bent on making hurtful comments just because we think being anonymous we can get away with it?  Is that the kind of society you want to live in?  I don't.

Social media can have many benefits, but only if we utilize it properly.  Just as journalists adhere to certain standards, if you enter that realm via social media and post for whatever reason, you should adhere to certain standards of decency and integrity as well.  A journalist gets a byline for their work and you should, too.

Remember, post responsibly.  And stand behind your posts.  It's only fair.

July 15th, 2015.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Shaw Festival roars out of the gate with lots of fun in 2015

The 2015 Shaw Festival season is now in full swing, and from what I've seen so far this season should be a vintage harvest of great theatre.  So let's get the ball rolling with a particularly light-hearted take on Shaw's classic, You Never Can Tell.

There has been a move at the Shaw Festival in recent years to modernize the great writer's plays and make them more appealing to modern audiences.  Such is the case with You Never Can Tell, dating from 1899 when it received its first London production at a private theatre club known as the Stage Society.

The Shaw Festival has presented this classic play six times previous to this, and I recall seeing the previous three, in 1988, 1995 and in 2005.  But the seventh production, this time at the Royal George Theatre, takes an even more upbeat approach to the play, directed by Jim Mezon.

Mezon, a Shaw veteran of 31 years who has starred in and directed many of the Festival's more memorable productions in the past, has effectively breathed new life and fun into this tale of love gone wrong and gone right.

You Never Can Tell opens in the office of local dentist Valentine, played by Gray Powell.  He's new in town and his practice has not exactly been busy since he opened.  In fact, in six weeks of business we sit in on his very first patient.  Powell plays the part with a youthful exuberance matched only by the young brother and sister pair of Philip and Dolly Clandon.  Dolly and Philip, played by Jennifer Dzialoszynski and Stephen Jackman-Torkoff respectively, are intrigued by the young dentist and promptly invite him to lunch.  Good thing too, since he has not been able to afford much given the fact his practice has not been all that busy.

Dolly and Philip really set the pace for the craziness that follows in the first act, but I found them just a little too over-the-top for my tastes.  In stark contrast to their effervescence, sister Gloria, played by Julia Course. Gloria's a bit of a cold fish, a staunch feminist who nonetheless begins a difficult courtship with the dentist Valentine.  It takes forever for the two of them to actually kiss, after a very long time discussing life and love (it is still a Shaw play, after all) but when they do, you can feel the tension start to ease between the two of them just a little bit.

The Clandon children have been brought up by Mrs. Lanfrey Clandon, going it alone without the help of the children's father.  Mrs. Clandon, played by Tara Rosling has done a pretty good job of raising the three children, but when they all find themselves on a collision course with another visitor at the Marine Hotel, things get pretty tense indeed.

The three Clandon siblings have never known their real father, but he ends up at the hotel as well and Mrs. Clandon is not amused.  Come to think of it, neither is the father, Fergus Crampton.  He is a gruff individual played by Patrick McManus, and the children appear more than a little disillusioned when they finally discover who their real father is.

The difficult relationship between Lanfrey and Fergus is detailed at length, enough so to make the audience wonder if love can indeed conquer all.  Not with those two, but with Gloria and Valentine, in spite of it all, why yes indeed it can!

The second half of the play introduces us to a knowledgeable lawyer with a penchant for showmanship, Bohun, who brings some common sense to the discussions at hand as a costume ball is taking place at the hotel.  He had been invited to intervene by the family solicitor, Finch McComas, and just in time, too.

As Bohun, Jeff Meadows plays the comic aspect to the extreme, and in doing so almost steals the show.  His fellow solicitor Finch, played by Peter Krantz, is a well-meaning soul who just wants things to work out with the family members.

All of the cast members put in strong appearances with Jim Mezon's sure-footed direction, and even some of the smaller roles shine brightly here.  Donna Belleville as Natalie the chef is a prime example of this.

The most trusted member of this group, the one who acts as the glue that keeps it all together, is William the wise old butler.  Played with maximum charm by veteran actor Peter Millard, he gets to repeat the optimistic title of the play, You Never Can Tell, as a way of logically explaining why things are happening as they are.

A nice gesture in the program notes is the fact the production is being dedicated to the late Jack Medley, who was memorable as William in the 1995 production at Shaw.  It proved to be one of his last performances at the Festival.

Overall, this is a production of You Never Can Tell audiences will love, as bright and fun-loving as the younger Clandon siblings Dolly and Philip themselves.

You Never Can Tell runs until October 25th at the Royal George Theatre, and rates a strong three out of four stars.

Have a great week!

July 13th, 2015.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Blast from the past - getting together again with the CKTB alumni today

A couple of years ago when I unexpectedly departed from my long tenure at CKTB Radio, which at that point had reached a remarkable 32 years, I thought to myself at one point "Well, now I can at least go to the CKTB alumni get-together."  Up until that point, although I had been at the station longer than anyone, I wasn't invited to the shindig.

My first time attending came at the annual Christmas get-together in December 2013.  I was working at Brock Radio, CFBU-FM at the time so had to leave early since I had an interview to record in the afternoon, but I had a great time.  I missed last summer and again last December as it is a lunch meeting and I was working during the day at Meridian Credit Union so couldn't attend.

This summer, though, all that changed with my unexpected departure from Meridian early last month, so I was happy to accept the invitation to attend today as the august group of veteran broadcasters from CKTB's glory days met over lunch once again at Cat's Caboose in the Glenridge Plaza.

Not everyone who was invited was able to attend, but I believe we had ten current and former CKTB employees including myself, plus veteran news photographer Kevin Argue, a long-time friend of many at the station back in the day.  All in all, it read like a who's who of CKTB from many years ago to the present day.

Two present-day employees attended:  Chief Engineer Joe Gurney and his right-hand man, Larry Garrington, both of whom have been at the station for a very long time.  From the past, we had Ian Purdy, long-time member of the Lincoln & Welland Regiment who hosted the Job Shop weekly on CKTB; former newsman Kevin Hodges; former mid-day announcer Wayne MacLure; former news director Al van Alstine; Bill Bird and former newsman Jim Martin both of whom went on to successful careers at CBC; and former program director Bob Johnston.

Bob was at the station from about 1955 to 1986, and he is the one you can blame for hiring me back in 1981.  I still remember when Bob called me at my then-home in Belleville and invited me down for an interview at the station on a cool spring Saturday afternoon in April.  After the interview, which went well, as I recall, I asked to use the washroom before making the long trip back home, and he wisely directed me upstairs and across the building to the more respectable facilities, rather than the still-decrepit main-floor washroom steps away from his office.  I remember thinking at the time, I would never be able to get to the washroom upstairs and back before those blasted three-minute songs we used to play would end.

Yes, back in those days, CKTB was all music, all the time, and the control room comprised a very old and ridiculously small board, two old McCurdy turntables and two old Ampex tape decks, one of which dated from about the 40s and I recall being told don't even think of using it unless you absolutely had to.

Anyway, I got a second call back from legendary General Manager Bob Reinhart, whom I had originally written to, and he invited me back to meet with him on the upper floor in his wood-panelled office.  So the next week I returned and was offered the position of CKTB evening announcer at the tender age of 24, hosting the now-iconic show "Niagara By Night."  I would make a modest income, but it was $5,000 more than I was making at the time at the station in Belleville, so I thought I had won the lottery.

I still remember my move down to St. Catharines, on a rainy Mother's Day in 1981.  Mother and I had come down a couple of weeks previously to find an apartment for me to live in, and Mother's Day we moved whatever hand-me-down treasures we could pack into the family station-wagon for the drive down the QEW.  After moving in to the apartment, we drove the short distance to the Fifth Wheel Restaurant at the Parkway on Ontario Street for dinner, and then they dropped me off at the station so I could sit in with Sunday evening host Bruce Smith to learn the ropes.

But it was the next day, my first official day at CKTB, when I met Wayne MacLure and got my first training on the archaic board.  Wayne recalled today I was so nervous that first day, but I managed to make it work and did my maiden voyage on my own that first night, with the show running from 7 pm to 12 midnight.

Wayne was a radio veteran who used phrases on the air such as "suitcase of sounds" to describe his show that day, and he was one of the main commercial voices on the station at the time.  Some months later, Wayne, then local union president, met me over drinks at the old Henley hotel not far from my apartment to pitch me on joining the union at the station, which I did.

It's funny now, thinking back on those simpler times when we played records, commercials were on little cartridges looking like 8-track tapes, and we made a point of being everywhere in the community whenever possible.  We did a lot with a little, and made it sound big.  It was also the most fun I think I have ever had in radio.

Frank Proctor was the morning man back then, and I was hoping to see him at the lunch today but he wasn't able to make it.  We lost afternoon host Gary Hall and sports director Doug Hobbs a couple of years ago.  Bob Reinhart passed away many years ago and was the man I most looked up to in those early years.  He was an imposing presence in the station with his tall stature, white hair and booming voice.  But he was a gentle giant who took me under his wing and I have always been grateful he did.

There were lots of other people from those days I recall, but you lose touch with many of them over time.  Those we can contact for these semi-annual reunions make the journey worthwhile.

The infamous CKTB Bee apparently sent his regrets as well.

Have a great weekend!

July 10, 2015.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer Music Festival season is here!

Now that we're comfortably into the month of July, it won't be long before the annual summer music festivals are in full swing.  Locally and beyond Niagara, there is lots to see and do this summer under the stars or indoors.  Here are three of my favourites...

The second annual Niagara Jazz Festival kicks off July 23rd and runs for three days at various venues around Niagara.  The brainchild of jazz diva Juliet Dunn and her husband Peter Shea, the Festival began last summer in Niagara and promises to be even bigger and better this year.

There are several series you can tap into, the Main Event events, Club Series, Dinner Jazz, Comedic Jazz, After Dinner Jazz, Live & Learn Jazz and House of the Guitar amongst the series available.  Some will be much more intimate affairs than others, but all should have a high entertainment quotient for jazz lovers in the area.

The series launch is Thursday, July 23rd at Stratus Vineyards on Niagara Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, with the Gord Sheard Quintet performing, following an opening by the Warren Stirtzinger Duo and the Laura Secord Drum Line.  That event runs from 6 right through to 11 pm.

Highlights on the Friday evening include pianist Michael Kaeshammer at Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery from 5:30 to 10:30 pm, opening with the Ashley St. Pierre Trio, and our very own Vox Violins strolling the grounds that evening entertaining guests as they come and go.  Also on Friday evening, Jim Casson's Dark Orchard performs at Mahtay Cafe and Lounge in downtown St. Catharines and the Bob Shields Duo perform at Corks Eatery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Saturday, the Fiesta Stage takes pride of place from 11 am to 6 pm at Simcoe Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Performers throughout the day include Niagara String Band, Khea Emmanuel and the Latin Vintage Orchestra, among others, and there will even be free swing and latin dance lessons throughout the day as well.

Some of the many artists performing at various venues Saturday evening include Big Rude Jake, The Barbra Lica Trio, Heillig Manoeuvre, Soul Jam and our own Sarah Jerrom Duo.  Venues range from Market Square in downtown St. Catharines to AG Inspired Cuisine in Niagara Falls to Pier 61 Bar & Grill in north St. Catharines.

On Sunday, the Festival wraps up with a Dixieland Jazz Brunch with Dinny & the Allstars at White Oaks Resort, House of the Guitar at The Garrison House in Niagara-on-the-Lake and The Village/Etsy Family Stage featuring the JAZZFM.91 Youth Big Band, Sarah Jerrom Quartet and The Shuffle Demons, among others.

There are far too many events and artists to mention in this space, so for more on the Niagara Jazz Festival, check out their Facebook page or the website at  It should be a great weekend of jazz in Niagara later this month.

Meantime for the more classically inclined, the annual Music Niagara festival kicks off July 11th at St. Mark's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake with an Opening Gala featuring Stephane Tetreault.  The opening weekend includes The Vienna Piano Trio at St. Mark's Sunday evening and the Thorold Reed Band Sunday afternoon at Simcoe Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Other performances of note over the almost-month-long festival include A Very British Day at Music Niagara on July 13, Studio de Musique Ancient de Montreal July 18, The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at the Shaw Festival Theatre July 20 and the Elora Festival Singers at St. Mark's Church on July 24.  In August, The Toronto All-Star Big Band performs on August 3 and jazz guitarist Lorne Lofsky appears August 7 at Reif Estate Winery.

The Finale Gala features the ever-popular Quartetto Gelato and the Hilario Duran Trio at St. Mark's Church on August 8, followed by The John Sherwood Trio at the Epicurean Bistro starting at 9:30 pm.

Music Niagara has been around for a number of years now, firmly establishing itself as THE summer music festival in Niagara, with literally something for every taste.  It presents quality concerts at reasonable prices at a number of interesting locations, large and small.  It is certainly one of my favourite music festivals each summer.

For more on the Music Niagara schedule, check out their website at

Finally, my favourite music festival outside of Niagara is the annual Elora Festival, running this year from July 10 to the 26 at various locations in and around the lovely town of Elora.  The festival appears to be a week shorter this year at only two weeks, but it is packed with some great performances you won't want to miss if you can make it up that way in July.

The Opening Night Gala features a performance of Handel's Solomon at the Gambrel Barn July 10, featuring the Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra along with featured soloists.  The opening weekend continues with Orphea and the Golden Harp Saturday afternoon at 3 at St. John's Church, and Black Umfolosi at the Gambrel Barn Saturday evening at 7:30.  Sunday will see The Glory of Vivaldi at St. John's Church at 2 featuring the Elora Festival Singers, and Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear with a recital, also at St. John's Church, at 4 pm.

Mid-week events include singer Mark Masri at the Gambrel Barn Wednesday, July 15, and David Baskeyfield, the prize-winning British organist, July 22 at St. John's Church.

The second weekend, July 17 to 19, features a performance of Bach's B Minor Mass at the Gambrel Barn Friday evening, The Next Generationn Leahy on the 18th and pianist David Jalbert Sunday afternoon the 19th at 2 at St. John's Church.

The third and final weekend leads off with the Torq Percussion Quartet at the Gambrel Barn Friday evening, July 24, the Jackie Richardson Trio Saturday evening at the Barn, and a concert I am looking forward to attending, the Nine Lessons and Carols for Summer on Sunday afternoon, July 26 at 2:30 at St. John's Church.

There is a lot of great music packed into three weekends in July in Elora, again with literally something for everyone.  The town itself is one of the nicest to visit, with friendly people wherever you go.  My wife and I always look forward to our summer visits to Elora.

For more on the Elora Festival, call the box office at 1-519-846-0331, or go to

I have the Elora Festival listings on my calendar page of the website at already, and I will be adding the Niagara Jazz Festival and Music Niagara listings this week, so you can always go to my website to get all the latest information on summer music and theatre happenings in Niagara and beyond.

There are plenty of other music festivals around, ranging from Artpark to the Brott Music Festival to Stratford Summer Music among others, so keep an eye on this space for another update on summer music festivals in the near future.

Have a great week!

July 6th, 2015.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Celebrating Canada Day - a different way

I'm taking a bit of a departure from my arts reporting duties for a few words about this interesting part of the world we live in.  With Canada Day now done, I thought I'd write about what we did yesterday on both sides of the border to celebrate this great country we call home.

In past years, my far better half and I have gone to Niagara-on-the-Lake to window shop, relax in Simcoe Park and just hang out until the parade comes along with the annual Canada Day cake created by Willow Cakes & Pastries.  As enjoyable as that experience is every year, we decided to do something a little different this year.

About mid-afternoon we drove down to Fort Erie for a wander around the Niagara Parkway, and stopped at Old Fort Erie to take the tour.  This is the first time either of us had actually taken the time to see what the fort was all about, and it was time well spent.

Once you get past the grand new visitor's centre and gift shop in the lobby, uniformed staff take you on a guided tour of the Fort, restored back in 1937 after lying in ruins for years.  It was both fun and heartbreaking to hear how soldiers lived back during the war of 1812 and just how many never made it to the end of the war.

A lot of this is well-known now, of course, thanks to the fine work of historians and the 1812 Bicentennial Committee, but you really have to see and experience it for yourself to really appreciate what life was like back then.  Life was not easy, let me tell you.

The guided tour takes about an hour and is very informative.  Adult admission is $12 and worth every penny.

Even though the weather was sketchy down in Fort Erie late in the afternoon, we stayed at the Fort for a picnic in the enclosed area near the Niagara River Parkway, enjoying the view across the way with the fascinating Buffalo skyline beckoning.

Buffalo didn't have to beckon for long, though.  We have fallen in love with the Queen City the last few years, and in fact I plan to write about the Buffalo renaissance later this summer in this space.  But for now, let's talk about the reason for our visit yesterday evening.

Worry about the traffic on the Peace Bridge was quickly eradicated with about a 30-second wait to clear customs on the U.S. side, which amazed me for a public holiday in Canada.  Once over, we headed down I-90 South, taking the Smith Street exit and landing in a part of Buffalo that has clearly seen better days.  But there was a reason we were there.

Sophie had heard about a talk being given by Port Colborne historian and former teacher Erno Rossi on the history of Crystal Beach Amusement Park, which everyone in Niagara knows was THE place to be in the summer months until it closed after the 1989 season.

The talk, oddly enough, was at the Buffalo Steel Plant Museum at 100 Lee Street.  To get to Lee Street you take Elk over a long line of railway tracks and drive past the sad remains of the Bethlehem Steel plant, which closed for good in 1982.  The vacant building epitomizes all that went wrong in Buffalo over the many decades of the 20th Century when industrial plants moved out of the Buffalo area.

But once you enter the back entrance at the museum, you are greeted by friendly staff proud to show off their steel and railway heritage.  The museum houses a steel plant exhibition in one half and a railway exhibition in the other.  Also tucked away in the corner is a nod to the Wurlitzer plant that used to operate in Buffalo years ago as well.

We were ushered into the meeting room and there, Erno spoke at length about the long-lamented Crystal Beach Amusement Park, with slides and stories of the iconic playground familiar to generations of Canadians and Americans alike.  We also got to view a film that puts you in the front seat of a car on the Comet rollercoaster.  I don't know if I would have survived a ride on the real thing, though...

Erno worked at the park years ago and had many colourful recollections to offer, as did many of the audience members in attendance.  No matter how much you know about Crystal Beach, someone else has a nugget of information you probably didn't know before.

I never visited the park, sadly.  I moved to Niagara in 1981 and always said I would go down one summer but didn't make it until I was in Ridgeway on a business appointment in the summer of 1989, and decided afterwards to take the drive down through Crystal Beach.  The park was in full swing that afternoon, but I decided I would come back some other time for a proper visit.  That of course never came, as the park was closed for good at the end of the 1989 season.

Now all that's left are the memories, but what great memories they are!

Erno wrote a book on the park and has a DVD available as well, and you can find him on Facebook if you want more information on getting a copy of either.

After the talk, we made the drive back over the Peace Bridge, again encountering not a bit of traffic, and drove around some of the more interesting parts of Fort Erie.  I always marvel at the sight of both countries separated by the Niagara River, and think of the battles waged so many years ago.

The evening ended with a visit to lovely Ridgeway, one of our favourite destinations in south Niagara, and a late-evening dinner at Ridgeways on the main street.  This is one of the best-kept secrets in Niagara:  the food is good and well-priced, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, and you just feel good when you go there.  Give them a try if you have not been yet!

All in all, it was an interesting Canada Day, but one I will long remember.  We live in such a great part of the country here, steeped in history and full of natural beauty everywhere you turn.  It's so nice to stop working for a bit and just take it all in.

Hope you had a great Canada Day!

July 2nd, 2015.