Saturday, November 18, 2017

The continuing transformation of downtown St. Catharines

So this past week Sir Elton John paid us a visit in our humble city to play to a sold-out crowd at the Meridian Centre, and suffice it to say, downtown was alive with the sound of Elton's music.  With those musical memories still fresh in our collective minds, I thought it would be an opportune time to revisit the continuing revitalization of downtown St. Catharines.

First of all, full disclosure here:  I did not attend the concert.  I suspect I was one of the few who didn't, although the Meridian Centre only houses 6,000 fans for a concert such as this.  Nothing against Sir Elton; he seems like a heck of a guy and hey, who can argue his massive string of hits dating back about 3 decades now.

But for me, staying up past about 8:30 on a weeknight now with the early hours I keep is an effort in futility, frankly.  And besides, even though I respect his consummate talents as both composer and performer, I just didn't grow up with Elton as part of my youthful soundtrack.  My mind was elsewhere, and don't ask where.

I know I am in the minority here, but I didn't feel the need to spend enormous sums of money to see an artist - as good as he obviously is - who didn't influence me during my formative years.  But no knock against the guy; heck he's married to a Canadian so who can argue with that, eh?

Okay, with that out of the way, let's get to the gist of my argument here.

Anyone who balked at spending the money needed to build the Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines, finally utilizing a gaping hole in our city core known as the lower-level parking lot, must be feeling a little sheepish now.  Granted, it is ironic that on nights like this we could actually have used the extra spaces the old lower-level lot would have provided, but hey, no Elton John concert means no extra crowds downtown.

Yes I know, people of a certain generation lament the lack of reasons to come downtown anymore, even to this day.  But like anything else in life, change has to take place and that includes how we utilize our downtown core.

Just think back about 10 years ago and imagine what transpired Wednesday night happening then.  Not bloody likely, right?  Oh we might have gotten an Elton John tribute show up at Brock Centre for the Arts, but that was about it.  This was the real deal, and right in our own majestic playpen downtown.

Nice to see, isn't it?

Granted, we can't have acts of that calibre every night or even every month here.  But look who has performed at the Meridian Centre since it opened just a couple of years ago:  City & Light, David Seinfeld, and of course, the Tragically Hip before we got the news of Gordon's terminal cancer diagnosis.  Oh and throw in the Scott Tournament of Hearts, the Niagara Ice Dogs, the regular Brock sports teams events and on and on it goes.

See what's happened here?  It is the proverbial "If we build it they will come" scenario coming true in downtown St. Catharines.  And it's not just the Meridian Centre that is generating the crowds.  The new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre and adjacent Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts do their considerable part in bringing people downtown on a regular basis as well.

Consider the fact the Niagara Symphony is filling the 800-odd seats on a regular basis in Partridge Hall when they often couldn't fill all of the 500 available seats up the hill at Brock Centre for the Arts.  Or the fact The Film House, the first real movie theatre in downtown St. Catharines in years regularly programs more challenging material and fills the joint on a regular basis.

Once again, build it and they will come.

Consider also the fact many new and trendy eating establishments have opened their doors downtown to join long-standing stalwarts such as The Sunset, Blue Mermaid and Wellington Court.  A check on the St. Catharines Downtown Association website reveals over 70 eateries of various types are open and ready to serve you downtown throughout the year, ranging from simple to simply elegant and beyond.

Would they all be here if we hadn't invested in our downtown?  Don't be silly.

They can only survive if people come downtown to patronize them, and even with the reconstruction of St. Paul Street outside the PAC over the past year, those business in the immediate vicinity managed to weather the storm and apparently keep their loyal clientele.  In short, they are developing staying power in our downtown.  Imagine that!

There was a time you would drive along St. Paul Street and just not stop at all unless you hit a stoplight.  One-way traffic has a way of promoting that.  But with two-way traffic now the norm in much of the downtown and plenty of reasons to stop and get out of your vehicle, we are becoming a destination once again.

True, the days of walking downtown shoulder-to-shoulder with like-minded souls to shop at Coy Bros., Levitt's or even Wally Wemnants may be gone, but look what has replaced them:  nice boutique shops, great eating places, and events on a regular basis you actually want to attend.  Add in the essential services any downtown worthy of the name should provide and you can see things are indeed looking up for our city core.

We are not done yet, and I am sure our learned politicians at City Hall are very well aware of that fact.  They still have work to do on bringing a long-awaited Civic Square to the core (check out examples in downtown Guelph and Stratford for inspiration, ladies and gentlemen of Council) and completing the transformation of one-way to two-way traffic on some of the remaining streets among other things on their to-do list.

But considering where we were say 20 years ago when everyone got excited about a proposal to recreate the old Welland Canal where the lower-level lot was to where we are now, I think most would agree the investments in our downtown are finally paying off.

Want more proof?  I hosted friends in town during the annual Niagara Wine Festival who moved away several years ago and they were awe-struck at the transformation here.  Sometimes it takes the eyes of someone who had not been here a long while to see what we cannot see ourselves.

Hey, we're a happening place at the moment, and the likes of Sir Elton and his ilk are not alone in noticing the fact.  If I can borrow a favourite phrase from my esteemed colleague Doug Herod here, we're a groovy kinda place again.

Feels kinda nice, doesn't it?

Enjoy your weekend!

November 18th, 2017.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Lest we forget...

Today is the day we remember and honour those who served so bravely during wartime, defending the freedoms we enjoy to this day, yet seemingly take for granted at times.  That is why Remembrance Day is so very important; we are reminded of the freedom we enjoy and have a wonderful opportunity to say thanks to service men, women and animals who went before us, as well as those who still walk amongst us today.

So it was on this sunny but cold day I joined what seemed like hundreds of others at the Cenotaph at Memorial Park on St. Paul Street West to mark the 11th hour of the 11th month when peace was achieved so many years ago.  I was heartened by the number of people who attended and especially so the number of young people who were there.  Some may worry the importance of the day will eventually be lost on the younger generation; from what I see each year at the services we should have nothing to worry about.  They seem to know how important this day is, too, and for that we can all be grateful.

So too those who seemingly are too busy the rest of the year to notice the proliferation of poppies for sale around the city; they also seem to grasp the importance of the day and pause to reflect at 11 am.  It is a small sacrifice to make for those who sacrificed so much for us years ago.

I always become reflective on this day, thinking of my father who was stationed in England during the Second World War, serving in the navy.  When he passed away years ago and I was going through his belongings I finally found his discharge papers.  It was the first I had known of his service beyond the little he said when he was alive.  He, like so many others, chose not to talk in great detail about the whole affair, as clearly it was too painful to do so for many.

I also thought today in musical terms about Remembrance Day.  I just finished listening to a treasured CD reissue from earlier this year of Dame Vera Lynn's classic 1961 MGM re-recordings of her popular songs, lavishly arranged for orchestra by Geoff Love.  The CD, entitled Yours:  The MGM Years, is on Sepia Records and readily available through my website at or email me directly at

The world of classical music did not escape the ravages of war over the years either.  French composer Maurice Ravel famously spent time during the First World War driving an ambulance, for example.  And another composer died in France during the conflict, cutting short a promising career as a brilliant composer.

George Butterworth was born in London, England in July of 1885 and in his early years as a composer became close friends with Ralph Vaughan Williams, even helping to reconstruct the elder composer's full score to A London Symphony from assembled orchestral parts.  Butterworth also wrote the program notes for the work's premiere in 1914, and Vaughan Williams later dedicated his work to Butterworth's memory.

It was during the First World War that George Butterworth found a sense of purpose found lacking in his life up until that point, quickly rising to the rank of lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall's Durham Light Infantry.  He was posthumously awarded the Military Cross for his defence of a strategically important trench network; the network was later named after him.  Despite his heroics on the battlefield he was killed at Pozieres, France in August of 1916 while leading a raid during the Battle of the Somme.

These are but two examples of the world of the arts clashing and ultimately intermingling with the grim reality of the real world during wartime.  Many more stories are out there waiting to be discovered.

In short, let us never forget the bravery and valour of those who defended our country and our allies in time of war.  Even today so many years later, we owe them all a huge debt of gratitude, payable with our solemn promise to not repeat the errors of the past.  On this day and every day throughout the year, we remember them and owe them so very much.

Lest we forget...

Take care and have a peaceful weekend.

November 11th, 2017.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

November in the Arts in Niagara

Now that cooler, grey November days are upon us, many choose to start hibernating for the season and ignore the great outdoors.  If you number yourself amongst that crowd, take heart, as better days are to come.

But until then, you can always venture out to catch some great music and theatre right in your own backyard, so let's take a look at a few of the events coming up in the next week that might pique your interest.

Starting right now, in fact...

The Niagara Symphony Orchestra is celebrating their 70th anniversary season this year and the festivities are well underway with several concerts already in the books.  This weekend in fact, the NSO is presenting their Masterworks 2 concert, subtitled Wish List.  The first performance was last evening at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines; the second will be this afternoon at 2:30 in the Cairns Recital Hall at the PAC.

Principal Guest Conductor Aisslinn Nosky, until last year a member of the famed Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in Toronto, returns to the podium with violin at the ready to perform and conduct the ever-popular Vivaldi Four Seasons.  Also on the programme is the equally popular Symphony No. 7 by Beethoven, long one of my favourite Beethoven symphonies.  I was listening to a classic recording just a few days ago conducted by the venerable Sir Thomas Beecham and the rousing finale still stirs my senses after many listenings.

Sure, the forces onstage at the PAC will be a little more modest than the Big Band Beecham recordings from the 50s, but the performance will certainly be worth catching if you can.  I say if you can as the performance this afternoon is officially sold out, so at this point I would suggest staking out the box office closer to the performance time to try and snag a ticket or two that might go unclaimed.  Hey, it happens...

Speaking of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, they have another busy week of their own on tap, beginning at 4 this afternoon when Cree storyteller, playwright, novelist, pianist and Order of Canada recipient Tomson Highway presents his Words and Music in collaboration with The Festival of Readers.  This is all part of the current Celebration of Nations season at the PAC.  The performance takes place in Partridge Hall.

Meantime, Canadian icon Gordon Lightfoot makes a rare local appearance this Wednesday evening at 8 in Partridge Hall, singing many of the classic songs that have made him justly famous and a worthy inductee into both the Canadian and American Songwriters Halls of Fame.

Thursday and Friday evenings at Robertson Hall award-winning journalist and broadcaster Alanna Mitchell will be presenting Sea Sick.  The evenings will feature Mitchell discussing her 13 journeys to the bottom of the ocean in only three years.  Initially afraid of water when she started, she is now more concerned about the future of the ocean and will outline her concerns during the presentations each evening at 8 pm.

For more information and tickets to these and other PAC presentations, go to or call the box office at 905-688-0722.

Still with the PAC, the weekly RBC Foundation Music@Noon recitals continue Tuesdays at noon in the Cairns Recital Hall, and they are absolutely free to attend.  Comprised primarily of performances by faculty and students at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts next door, the recitals usually run about 45 minutes or so in length, so you can easily catch one over your lunch hour if you so choose.

This Tuesday, the Momentum Choir will be performing, conducted by Mendelt Hoekstra.

The popular Encore! Professional Concert Series presented by the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts returns to Partridge Hall Friday evening at 7:30 with a performance by The Walker Quartet with faculty pianist Karin Di Bella.  The Walker Quartet is now into its second season as the Department of Music's resident quartet, and together with Di Bella they will perform both the Schumann and Shostakovich quintets.

In the Cairns Recital Hall this Saturday evening at 7:30, Guitar Extravaganza III takes place.  This will be Remembrance Day, don't forget.  The Guitar Extravaganza concerts have quickly become well-attended crowd-pleasers since the PAC opened in the fall of 2015 and this year's edition promises to be just as popular.  If you like guitar music, this will be the place to be.

Tickets can be ordered through the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office by calling 905-688-0722 or by going online to

Finally, a week today the first concert of the new season for Gallery Players of Niagara takes place Sunday afternoon at 2 at Silver Spire United Church in downtown St. Catharines.  The concert, entitled Concertos Inc., features several of the Gallery Players musicians in revolving solo roles, performing works by J.S. Bach, Giuliani, Quantz and James Rolfe.  Soloists include guitarist Timothy Phelan; Douglas Miller on flute; Julie Baumgartel, Anita Walsh and Rona Goldensher on violins; oboist James Mason; vocalist Laura Pudwell; Judith Davenport on viola and cellist Margaret Gay.

Gallery Players are based in Niagara-on-the-Lake but perform throughout the Region, and this new season promises to be their most ambitious yet.  To order tickets to the concert or better still the entire season, go to or call 905-468-1525.

So that should be more than enough to keep you occupied in the week ahead.

Have a great weekend!

November 5th, 2017.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Revisiting Stratford to see what's new and not-so-new this season

My far better half and I don't get to Stratford, Ontario as regularly as we once did, although we did manage two weekend getaways this year.  I wrote of the most recent visit two weeks ago when I reviewed the Stratford Festival's wonderful production of Guys and Dolls, which closes at the Festival Theatre November 5th.

But I promised at the time to write further about the changes we've seen this season and are on the horizon for the city, and there are several.

Perhaps it is the fact I don't get to Stratford as much as I used to when I regularly reviewed productions over the entire season - a perk I enjoyed in my previous career for about 32 years - but visiting the city now becomes more of an event anticipated by us both than it used to.  Visiting Stratford now has become, well, more special due to the increased infrequency of our visits.  And I say that with much reluctance as we both love immersing ourselves in the culture, dining and shopping experiences in abundance in the city.

We stay at the same B&B each year, Dusk to Dawn on Brunswick Street, which is perfectly situated to walk easily to all four theatres.  Hosts David and Tessa make you feel like royalty and the breakfast is exceptional.  Chrissy the dog, though not allowed in guest quarters, greets guests at the door upon arrival and is a treat.

My wife, who is vegan, is very particular where we eat while away, and now has three exceptional restaurants catering to her particular tastes without sacrificing mine.  There are others, of course, but the three she loves to visit are Stratford Thai Cuisine on Wellington Street in the heart of the city, and Fellini's and Mercer Beer Hall & Inn, both on Ontario Streets.  Though not entirely vegan, they have a wide variety of choices that can be easily adapted to a vegan lifestyle or are dedicated to it already.

For shopping, there is rarely time enough in the schedule to allow for enough browsing at Bradshaw's and Watson's Bazaar on Ontario Street, and several smaller shops in the city centre.  Watson's, incidentally, is still home to one resident cat, down from about three or four a few years ago, and I always come packed with kitty treats when I visit the store.

So those are the constants from year to year, more or less.  Each new season brings change, and this one is no different.  Let's look at a few of those now, as some will impact your next visit if you plan to go to Stratford in the future.

The first thing we noticed when strolling the city centre this past August was the reconfiguration of the venerable Market Square adjacent to City Hall.  For years the home of downtown angle parking and the city bus terminal, it was always a busy place.  Add in Ken's French Fries truck on the corner and the spot was usually teeming with people all day long.

Now the parking has been reduced and the centre section has been reconfigured to accommodate a true city square for public gatherings such as the Sunday Slow Food Market.  I like the look, especially when we visited in the summer when a giant bell collection was on display for use during the Stratford Summer Music performances in the space.

Not sure where Ken's French Fries has relocated to, but the bus terminal is now located outside the city core entirely, which is not too popular with the locals, I hear.

I am sure many have also grumbled about the lost parking spaces but really, there is still plenty of parking on most days in the city core, all of it unbelievably well-priced compared to other cities we have visited.  The Civic Square concept is one that is catching on in many cities and I hope soon it will take root again here in St. Catharines.

In the summer I also read with great interest the plans for the proposed Grand Trunk Community Hub.  Located at the Cooper site within the city, I am assuming the space would provide a larger and better-equipped community space available for use year-round.  Yet there is currently a lot of lobbying going on by local arts and cultural organizations for the inclusion of a dedicated Arts and Culture Centre within the hub, able to accommodate performances and events planned by the nearly 30 arts and cultural groups within the city.

Those groups, including Stratford Summer Music, Stratford Symphony Orchestra, Perth County Players, the Kiwanis Music Festival and a host of others, have formed collectively under the banner of the Stratford Arts & Culture Collective.  Co-chairs Ron Dodson and Chris Leberg say they are trying to create a more liveable city incorporating the arts and culture community to a greater degree.

Ideally, they would like to see the space include a new art gallery and perhaps even a 600-seat theatre space all members of the collective could make use of.  Sound familiar?  For years here in St. Catharines our local arts and culture groups lobbied hard for a dedicated space downtown and look what happened:  with forward-thinking city council members and the heft of all levels of government providing seed money, we now have both the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock University and the adjacent FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.

From humble beginnings great things can happen.  Not overnight but certainly over time, so I applaud members of SACC for pushing the envelope in Stratford and I wish you luck in the future.  Good things will happen when you present a clear vision and dedicate yourselves to seeing it through.

For more information on the SACC and the group's proposed Stratford Arts and Culture Centre, visit their website at

Finally, we cannot talk about events in Stratford without discussing the big news this year, the proposed replacement for the aging Tom Patterson Theatre.  The current theatre space, rented by the Stratford Festival from the city annually for over 40 years now, is well past its best-before date.  It includes the Kiwanis Community Centre and adjacent Stratford Lawn Bowling Club.

The Festival has secured a promise of $20-million in provincial government funding for the new theatre, and just this week announced Board Chair Dan Bernstein and his wife Claire Foerster are supporting the initiative with a whopping $10-million pledge.  Bernstein is Senior Strategist and Director of Bridgewater Associates in Westport, Connecticut, where they live.

Still, the Festival will have to launch a $100-million campaign to provide the capital for the new theatre and to establish a fund for future operations.  So if things go ahead as planned, expect to hear plenty about the fundraising initiative in the future.

The proposed new theatre will be designed by acclaimed Canadian architect Siamak Hariri and, according to a press release issued by the Festival, "envisions a theatre of warm stone wrapped in a glass curtain that both reflects and reveals the picturesque Avon River, which the theatre overlooks."  Warm stone?  Most of the stone I have encountered in my time is pretty cold, but hey, who am I to throw a damper on the fundraising party?

If the plan goes ahead, and it is still a big IF at this point, the old theatre would be torn down this winter and work would start immediately on the new venue, I'm told.  It would not be ready for next season, of course, to the new season would be scaled back just a bit to accommodate the reduced theatre space available.

Predictably, community groups are divided on the proposed new theatre, although most acknowledge the old one is due for replacement.  But many want to relocate the new theatre to a new space and leave the current community space for the community to use.  That would still necessitate considerable upkeep on the old structure and there have been no promises as to how that would be paid for, from what I can see.

The only logical choice is to build on the current spot and I am sure that is what will happen, but it would be nice to include a green space within the plan for the Stratford Lawn Bowling Club rather than move them out after all these years.

At two public meetings held at the Rotary Complex recently, it was learned the Festival could potentially purchase the land from the city rather than continue to rent.  That would save the Festival about $80-thousand a year in rental fees alone.  But there are still considerable costs to be incurred going forward on the project, so it is by no means a done deal yet, as I understand it.

Hey, the only constant is change.  I spent many an intermission in the summer months watching the lawn bowlers next door do their thing, and years earlier at the downtown Avon Theatre I recall going next door to Pounder Brothers Hardware for a browse during intermission at that theatre.  That changed and people survived, so hopefully the changes at the Patterson Theatre will result in positive change and few hurt feelings as well.

So, lots happening in Stratford this season.  I think I'll have to get back more often to keep up on what's happening in the future.  It could be an interesting off season to be sure.

Have a great weekend!

October 28th, 2017.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Stratford Festival's Guys & Dolls a hit!

Since I no longer work full time in the radio industry, I no longer have the privilege of attending and reviewing live theatre events on an ongoing basis as I did in the past, so nowadays it is a hit and miss proposition for me.  But when I do attend I feel the need to wear my reviewer's hat as in days of old and give my take on a particular theatre or music event.

Such was the case last weekend as my far better half and I travelled to Stratford for an overnight stay at our favourite B&B and catch a couple of rush seats for the big musical this season, Guys and Dolls.

First off, let me say rush seats are not what they used to be.  I know we are supporting the arts and all that, but there didn't appear to be much of a rush for rush seats for the Sunday afternoon performance, from what I could see.  Even at that, the theatre was just over 65 per cent full at showtime, from my best guess.

It is interesting to note we attended both festivals this past month, the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, each time catching their big musical for the season.  Maybe it is just me, but with the acrimonious atmosphere we appear to be living in today as far as the world is concerned, something light and escapist seemed to fit the bill just fine, thanks.

While I don't mean to pit both major festivals against each other here, it is hard not to draw comparisons between the two big musicals being offered this season.  While the Shaw Festival revived a nicely updated version of a 1937 musical poking fun at the British aristocracy, the Stratford Festival decided to bank on a tried-and-true Broadway classic by Frank Loesser, Guys and Dolls, harkening back to the 1940s when New York City was a hotbed of gamblers, gangsters and particularly unsavoury characters.

Described as a "musical fable of Broadway", Guys and Dolls dates from 1950 and is based on a story and colourful characters dreamed up by the one and only Damon Runyon.  Music and lyrics are by Frank Loesser with a book by Jo Sterling and Abe Burrows.

The story is well-known by now:  a bunch of gangers and gamblers are trying to stay one step ahead of the law as they try to find new and creative places to hold their all-night crap games, wagering whatever and whenever they can.  Into this less-than-ideal atmosphere march the local unit of the Salvation Army, trying to save souls from the evils of gambling and such.

The Sally Ann brigade is led by a winsome young lady named Sarah Brown, played with great charm here by Alexis Gordon.  Somewhat naive and of good moral character, she cannot see the forest for the trees at times as she and her band of dedicated soul-savers work tirelessly on a thankless task.

Sarah meets up with the sorry lot of gamblers and finds herself strangely attracted to Sky Masterson, one of the gambling kingpins who wagers a bet he can whisk her off to Cuba for a quick dinner getaway.  She accepts and gets more than she bargains for when the drinks take effect.  So, too does Sky, played nicely by Evan Buliung, who falls hard for Sarah and starts thinking maybe it's time to turn over a new leaf.

Into this mix of good and not-so-good characters add Sean Arbuckle's convincing take on Nathan Detroit and his long suffering girlfriend cum fiancee Miss Adelaide, played with great style and sexiness by Blythe Wilson.  Nathan gets roped into marrying showgirl Miss Adelaide after stalling for fourteen long years in order to help secure a gambling spot for the guys.

Supporting cast members that stand out are numerous in this first-rate cast, including Steve Ross' snack-eating Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Mark Uhre's ultra athletic Benny Southstreet.

But as good as this cast is, and they are collectively very, very good, the real star of the show is director and choreographer Donna Feore, who just seems to go from strength to strength at Stratford, proving to be the director/choreographer of choice now for the ultra-important big-scale musical on the Festival Theatre's thrust stage.

Her work here is simply breathtaking, with many moments when you sit watching the cast and wonder just how they do what they do without colliding on stage.  She's that good.  Feore has the cast to back up her ambitious steps, of course, but her vision is what drives this show from start to finish.

Sure, the storyline is somewhat dated to be sure, and gender equality is not really part of the mix here.  But you check your logic at the door here as you do with Shaw's slick Me and My Girl and just enjoy the show.  There simply is no better way to spend a fall afternoon at either festival than to catch either musical before they close.

The run for Guys and Dolls has been extended to November 5th as have several other shows at Stratford this season, so you still have plenty of time to see the show before it closes.  For this fan of great musicals, Guys and Dolls rates a solid 3 out of 4 stars.

For tickets and more information, call the box office or go to

Next week, more on our trips to Stratford this season and things to see outside of the theatre at any season.

Have a great weekend!

October 14th, 2017.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Remembering Thanksgivings past & present...

It's been a little while since I was regularly posting in this space again, and for that I apologize.  Busy work schedule with very early mornings lately have meant little or no brain power left when I finally sit down to write.  But a holiday weekend seems the perfect time to revisit some thoughts I have had lately while working around the house.

I'll dispense with the arts reporting for this weekend since Thanksgiving weekend is here, and many of us find ourselves in a somewhat more reflective mood than usual.  The crisp fall days and cooler nights tend to do that as we realize the winter is not that far off.

After living in our present home for about 16 years now, we've accumulated a lot of stuff.  Much of it, as many others discover too, they can certainly do without.  So I have been spending a lot of time in the basement lately sorting through boxes and seeing what we can discard and what we should keep.  It is a tedious process as anyone who has done the same can attest to.

Much of the stuff I've sorted through lately has been related to my late parents, as many of their personal things ended up in our basement since I'm the only family member living in Niagara with them.  That means wading through boxes and boxes of photographs of all of us growing up, none of them ever digitized.  That will be a tedious project I might leave for retirement, if I get to it even then!

My Dad was an amateur photographer of some renown, having won more than a few awards over the years including one in a Toronto Star photo contest back in the 80s for a picture he took of two cats on a roof in England many years ago.  That framed photograph will soon have a place of honour in my home office.

You can imagine the number of photo albums I have to go through after a life lived behind the camera lens, shooting pictures of the family on vacation for many years as well as photographic evidence of their many retirement trips.  How many?  Well, they drove not once, not twice, but FIVE times to Alaska for example, taking breathtaking pictures along the way.  In fact, the only state, province or territory they did not visit during their lives was, uh, New Jersey.  Could never quite figure that one out...

When Mom passed away in 2000, Dad kept going, albeit at a slower pace.  He also travelled further afield, since Mom was not too fond of airplanes.  So Dad in his final years joined travel groups going to such far-flung places as China and Iceland.  His camera was never not around his neck.

Dad never got into digital photography, preferring instead traditional black & white shots since he was largely colour-blind.  He had to rely on Mom's expertise when developing colour photographs so he could get the shadings just right.  Yes, Dad developed his pictures himself.  Years ago while growing up in Toronto, if you could not find Dad he was usually holed up in his downstairs darkroom developing photographs of the family trips we had taken.

At the time of his death in 2009 Dad still had about five 35mm cameras of various quality, all of them well-used.  When I was clearing out his things after he died I discovered there was still a half-used role of film in one of the cameras and I was curious to see what final thoughts he had in his final months.  Were there more stunning nature shots to marvel at?  I took the camera to my local Black's camera store to see what could be done.

I was given instructions on how to extricate the film from the camera without exposing it to the daylight and upon doing so, took the film in to Black's for developing.  I waited to see what would come back.  Sadly, they were all mundane shots even I could have taken, such as cars parked in the Pen Centre parking lot, for example.

I guess even Dad had run out of inspiration for his photographic art by the end of his life.  I was crushed.  But still, these were his final pictures, so they will always have a special place in the archives.

All of which brings us to this reflective time of year, Thanksgiving weekend.  Traditionally we gathered as a family to celebrate not only Thanksgiving but Dad's birthday that landed on the 10th of October and Mom & Dad's wedding anniversary, which was October 15th.  Dad would be turning 93 this year had he lived; if both Mom and Dad were alive they would be celebrating their 68th wedding anniversary.

It's a funny thing, but I find I miss them more as the years go by rather than less.  With each passing Thanksgiving I wish we could still be together celebrating as in the past, knowing it simply isn't possible.  But this weekend neither of them will be far from my thoughts as this weekend continues.

Meantime in the basement, I took great care with the wedding album still in good shape after all these years, admiring how young they looked back in 1949.  Oh Dad, you were a handsome devil back then!  Mom looked stunning.  I stopped momentarily and my heart jumped when I realized buried in a box were the credit cards Dad still had when he died.  I thought I had destroyed them years ago, although I know I cancelled them right away.  But these were physical evidence of a life well lived, there in my hands at that very moment.  I came close to shedding a tear, as it really never gets any easier to do this.

Growing up I remember Mom doing the ironing while dampening the clothes with a vintage Coke bottle with a sprinkler head attached to it.  She would vigorously shake the water out before ironing the section to perfection.  I found that very bottle in one of the boxes and I almost lost it.  God, this was getting painful...

I was both fascinated and intrigued when I found Dad's war records, as he never really discussed that part of his life much, and I noted the date of his discharge and the day of his passing were identical, separated by over half a century.  Yes, I sniffled while discovering the fact.

So at the end of this rambling reminiscence I just wanted to take a moment and remind you to cherish what you have and those around you who matter most.  It is not wise to carry grudges for years at a stretch, and if you have any this is as good a time as ever to resolve the outstanding issues and get on with living your lives.

We are all put on this earth for a purpose and for only a finite period of time.  Why waste it on anger and acrimony?  You never, ever want to regret not telling someone you love how you feel until after they are gone.  Do it now.  This weekend is ideal.

Have a great Thanksgiving weekend.  Celebrate however and with whomever you see fit.  But be thankful.  We have much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

October 7th, 2017.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Shaw Festival production of Me & My Girl well worth the wait

It seems unusual to be writing about a Shaw Festival show this late in the season, but for unforeseen reasons this past weekend was the first opportunity to attend a Shaw performance this year.  I am happy to report the wait was well worth it!

Although the so-called 'flagship musical' Me And My Girl opened in late May, seeing it this late in the season actually has some advantages:  firstly, the show runs like a finely tuned Maserati.  Nothing goes wrong and not a single bad note to be found anywhere.  Secondly, there was not an empty seat to be found in the house at the large Festival Theatre at last Sunday's matinee.  That cannot always be said early in the season as shows are staking out their territory for audience's affections.

Me And My Girl is a 1937 musical all the rage in pre-wartime England that faded from the spotlight somewhat until Stephen Fry revised the book for a 1985 revival of the show, updating things quite nicely.  The original book and lyrics were by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, with music by Noel Gay, a popular composer of the light-music genre back in the day.

Oh sure, some of the gag lines are just as bad as they were in 1937 - you can't change tradition too much, you know - but other than that, this is a vintage musical wearing a snappy new suit and freshly shined shoes.  And wearing a hat, as in the Act II opening number "The Sun Has Got His Hat On."

That's one of the popular songs not in the original show, and the production makes the most of the moment with comic star Kyle Blair as Gerald Bolingbroke leading the ensemble in full cricket gear to kick off the second half.

Two other popular numbers added also make you wonder why they were not in the show from the very beginning:  Noel Gay's ever-popular The Lambeth Walk closing out Act One and the sentimental ballad Leaning On a Lamp Post, sung by star Michael Therriault as cockney bumpkin Bill.

What's that, you say?  Michael Therriault from the Stratford Festival?  Yes it is, and without a doubt Michael was the first big "get" for new Shaw Festival Artistic Director Timothy Carroll.  We met up with Michael at one of the Foster Festival performances at the PAC this summer and he genuinely seemed to be happy to be down in Niagara for a change this year.

Therriault is both charming and exceedingly funny as the cockney Bill, a long-lost son of a wealthy British lord who is set to assume duties as the head of the Hereford Estate, providing he meets with the approval of executors of the estate, played with great hilarity by Shaw stalwarts Sharry Flett and Ric Reid.

There is little more to the thin plot here:  just enter the obligatory cockney girl-friend of Bill played with great charm and warmth by Kristi Frank who threatens to throw an ill-timed wrench into the proceedings by wanting to marry her man no matter what.  But alas, they might be able to smooth over one cockney to fill a need; Bill is told he will have to marry 'up' in order to keep up appearances.

Enter complication number two:  Elodie Gillett as the gold-digging Lady Jacqueline Carstone who has her eye on the prize and wants Bill, warts and all, for herself.

That's about all you need to know about the story here.  Basically it's boy has girl, boy risks losing girl as he moves up in the world, boy struggles to keep said girl while all around him work against him, boy finally winds up with a new and improved version of his girl after all.  What more do you need to know?

Sure it is well-trodden ground here, but hey, you are not expecting Saint Joan when you enter the theatre this time and as such, it would be hard to find fault with this show.

Indeed, the last two seasons have seen the big musical not hit the bullseye when it comes to ticket sales, so perhaps playing it safe this time around was as much a sound financial decision as an artistic one.  Carroll and Company need not worry though.  The full house on Sunday is proof they scored a winner with this show and that gives them some breathing room for next season.

The other notes on the show involve the exceptional work of Ashlie Corcoran, making her directorial debut at Shaw with this show, and the tasteful yet evocative sets and costumes designed by Drew Facey and Sue LePage, respectfully.

There was a sad note during the run, as the Festival had to announce the untimely passing of ensemble member Jonah McIntosh not long after the opening.  He was replaced by Stewart Adam McKensy who stepped into the role on short notice and never looked back.

You won't leave the theatre with any more answers to life's questions than when you entered.  But you will leave with the melody of The Lambeth Walk dancing in your head for days to come, and that is not a bad thing, really.

Me And My Girl rates a strong 4 out of 4 stars, and continues at the Festival Theatre until October 15th.  For tickets, call the Shaw box office or go to to order yours.

Have a great week!

September 27th, 2017.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Foster Festival finale a fun, fitting way to end Season Two

So Wednesday afternoon of this week my far better half and I took shelter from the heat and the sun at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre as we caught the third and final Norm Foster play in the festival that bears his name.  The play, Lunenburg, is a world premiere and well worth your time before it closes next week.

Norm as you probably know is arguably Canada's most successful playwright ever, having produced oh, about 150 plays or so since the whole thing started with The Melville Boys back in 1984.  But until last year there was not a festival devoted to his creative genius.

That all changed when Emily Oriold, Executive Director and Patricia Vanstone, Artistic Director, decided the brand-spanking new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines would be the perfect venue for the new venture.  They approached Norm Foster and he agreed, no doubt feeling humbled at the prospect of a festival devoted to his works.

It's true what they say that "All good things come to those who wait" as those who have waited for just such a festival are being rewarded with some exceptional theatre for their summertime pleasure.

There were two world premieres this season, the first opening the second season back in June.  Screwball Comedy was a hit out of the gate, although I wrote at the time I didn't really think it was his best work.  Following a presentation of an older Foster play, Old Love in July, the second world premiere opened last week and it is vintage Norm Foster.  Like a rose wine with a fresh bouquet...

Okay maybe that's a bit much but hey, I was in a good mood after the performance this week.  And with good reason.

Lunenburg is set, of course, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and offers up a tale of love both old and new, betrayal, mystery and of course, plenty of comedy.  It involves two American visitors, Natalie and Iris, with Yankee drawl in full flight, coming to visit the Maritime home of Iris's late husband.

Iris is in mourning, of course, at the loss of her husband of four years but nothing could prepare her for what she discovers upon her arrival.  Thanks to talkative next-door neighbour Charlie Butler, Iris discovers she has been "the other woman" in a relationship that saw her late husband sharing his bed and life with not one but two wives.

The fact he would spend half the month with Iris and the other half of the month outside the country in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia never seemed to bother her; she just assumed he had business dealings outside the country every month.  Oh he had business all right...but let's not let get too far ahead of the story here...

You see, Iris's dear, departed husband was in fact leading a double life.  The news courtesy of neighbour Charlie leaves Iris thunderstruck.

While all that is going on, things start 'going on' between Iris' friend Natalie and neighbour Charlie.  A recurring gag sees them in a passionate embrace just as poor old Iris happens on the scene trying to deal with her situation.  Darned if you can't fall in love while trying to help your best friend through an emotional crisis.

There are but three roles in this play, and all three characters are created for the first time by the exceptional cast assembled by director Vanstone.  Melanie Janzen, returning after a great debut last season in Here Along the Flight Path, plays supportive friend Natalie Whitaker.  The dumbstruck wife is played by Shaw Festival alumnus Catherine McGregor, while another Shaw stalwart Peter Krantz appears as the neighbour Charlie Butler.

Janzen is the madcap sidekick everyone loves to watch.  Following in the footsteps of such great television second bananas as Valerie Harper and Vivian Vance, Janzen has impeccable comic timing and knows just when to stop before going too far.  In every respect she is a joy to watch.

As the wife Iris, Catherine McGregor is both funny and sad, dealing with such tremendous loss and with shock at the revelations awaiting her arrival.  Although the central character in the play, McGregor wisely allows the two budding lovers to steal the spotlight more than once and run with it. She needs the support, sure, but isn't insecure enough to remain on her own during the day while the two 'lovebirds' go sight-seeing together.

The real pleasure in this production is seeing Shaw veteran Peter Krantz create the role of Charlie.  He has an innocent streak in him, but deep down inside all he really wants is another chance to "charm the ass off" a woman.  He darn near succeeds in that regard early on, but we are left hanging until the end to see if the charm wears off or not.

I have lamented in the past Krantz interpretations of characters at Shaw, but here he seems much more at ease in the role.  He spoke with my esteemed colleague John Law recently and explained it was a new experience for him to create a new role rather than offer up his interpretation of a role many before him have already made their mark on.

He hits the perfect balance here, so Peter has nothing to worry about.  He is both charming and a little devilish at the same time as Charlie.  No wonder Natalie is swept off her feet!

Lunenburg is far and away the strongest play of the season and a great way to end the season, too.  It sets the scene for an even better Foster Festival next year, when once again there will be two world premieres.

You still have time to catch Lunenburg.  It plays through this weekend as well as Wednesday through Friday of next week at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  For tickets and information, go to or call the box office at 905-688-0722.

The Foster Festival is now firmly entrenched in our summertime entertainment schedules.  If you have yet to determine if it should be included in yours, this production is the strongest argument in the affirmative yet.

Have a great weekend!

August 11th, 2017.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Irish star Mary Black coming to Midland, Ontario this coming Monday night

I can't say I have written much in this space about Midland, Ontario, although I do have a connection to the city.  Back in the 60s I remember going to visit relatives who lived in Midland at the time; I can't remember just where in the city they were, but I still vividly remember a rainy day we all gathered at the house for a family affair and my aunt fell going down the steps when leaving and broke her hip.  She ended up going to the hospital in an ambulance that day, which I will never forget.

Okay, not the greatest memory to have of Midland, I admit, and as such I am probably due for a return visit if for no other reason than to come and go without the aid of an ambulance in either direction.  But it won't be this weekend as plans have already been made, unfortunately.

But if you still have time on your hands and feel the urge to hit the open road for a trip up north, Midland is as good a place as any to visit this weekend, or any other weekend for that matter.  Besides, celebrating all we have to enjoy in Ontario during the country's 150th anniversary celebrations is not such a bad idea, is it?

This Monday evening, being the holiday Monday or Simcoe Day if you want to be more formal about it, Irish singing star Mary Black makes her only Canadian appearance on her final North American tour.  The concert will be at the Midland Cultural Centre beginning at 8 pm.

Mary Black has tried to retire from touring before, but the offers to continue performing keep coming in, so what's an established working musical legend to do?  Keep going, at least for a little while longer.  The tour coincides with the 30th anniversary re-issue of the album By The Time It Gets Dark in 1987.

Black herself says it is hard to believe it has been 30 years since that album was first released, especially since it always was one of her favourites.  To celebrate the anniversary Black and her producers took the old 24-track tapes to be "baked", a process to preserve them, which allowed the team to then do a complete remix and remaster of the original album.

The original release of that album along with her first solo album, the largely pop-oriented Without the Fanfare resulted in Black being named Best Female Artist in the Irish Rock Music Awards Poll for two consecutive years in 1987 and '88.

It was a scant two years later her groundbreaking album No Frontiers took the international music scene by storm, establishing Black as a major concert draw in North America as well as elsewhere in the world.  The recording climbed to the Top 20 of the New Adult Contemporary chart in the United States and also became a top seller back home in Ireland.  In all Black has recorded and released 11 studio albums, the last being back in 2012.

Prior to releasing her self-titled debut album in 1982, which made it to the Top Five on the Irish album charts and won the Irish Independent Arts Award for Music, Black spent many years performing with her brother and sister in nightclubs in and around Dublin.  She also spent time performing with a folk group named General Humbert.

So Mary Black is by no means an overnight sensation.  She has long since established herself as a top-calibre international artist equally at home singing traditional Irish folk tunes as well as more contemporary blues, rock, jazz and even country music.  And she will bring all of that and more to Midland's Cultural Centre this coming Monday evening.

Opening for Mary Black this Monday will be rising young artist Roisin O, one of Irelands more promising young up and coming artists.

The doors open at 7:30 and the show starts at 8; for tickets go to or call 1-705-527-4420.

Have a great holiday weekend!

August 3rd, 2017.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Second Foster Festival production of the second season a winner

Last evening my far better half and I walked downtown to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre for the second production of year two for The Foster Festival, Norm Foster's Old Love.  Bookended by a couple of world premieres this season, the middle production did not disappoint.

Old Love is what you might call an "oldie but goodie" in the Foster canon, and an easy choice for almost any summer theatre company as it usually employs just two actors portraying a number of roles.  That being said, if you go with the two-actor option you had best be sure you have a formidable duo making up the cast or else the whole thing could fall flat.

Director Patricia Vanstone chose this riskier route rather than employ several actors to fill the roles, and without question it was a wise decision.  The theatrical high-wire act for this production utilizes the considerable talents of real-life husband-and-wife team of Booth Savage and Janet-Laine Green.

Savage and Green are comfortable enough with each other after all these years they can easily and fluidly move from role to role without much effort at all.  With few props to add to the characterizations, they bring many nuances to their various roles that add important definition to each part so as not to confuse the audience.

The simple yet effective set by Peter Hartwell and sympathetic lighting by David Tkach combine to further provide the fluid movement from character to character on stage.  Together the whole makes for a satisfying evening of quality theatre.

The story revolves around Bud, a hard-working newbie at a company owned by Molly's husband Frank.  At least he was a newbie 25 years ago when he first set eyes on Molly at the company Christmas party.  The impression Molly made on Bud was obviously significant because he thought of her off and on for many years thereafter, even during his lengthy marriage to master-promoter Kitty.

Fast-forward those 25 years and we find now-divorced Molly grieving at the graveside for ex-husband Frank, when who should also appear but Bud.  She didn't remember him, but oh did he remember her.  So much so he made a special effort to be there that day for the funeral and in his own clumsy way, try to put the move on Molly while Frank was barely cold in the box underground.

Therein lies the plot for Old Love.  Bud tries so very hard to get Molly to take a chance on love again after all these years and Molly not wanting any part of it, at least for now.  The witty repartee between the two is classic Norm Foster, combining the perfect balance of seriousness and frivolity according to the situation.

As mentioned earlier, it takes a special couple to pull off the multiple roles and with but a few verbal mis-steps by Green last evening, the chemistry between the two worked flawlessly.  They appear at times acerbic, sentimental, funny and even brutally honest with each other as the scene allows.

Old Love wraps up its run at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre tomorrow evening, so there is still time to snag some tickets if you have not already done so.  Go online to or call the box office at 905-688-0722.

Next week, the final production of the season opens, and it is the second world premiere for the season, Lunenburg, running from August 2nd to the 18th.  It should be a great way to end an already successful season for The Foster Festival.

Have a great weekend!

July 27th, 2017.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Tale of Two Music Festivals - Part 2

Last week I wrote about the start of the two music festivals in Ontario I have had the pleasure of attending over the years, and given the fact I have enjoyed both on the weekend, I thought a recap and update of each festival might be in order this week.

On Friday evening I attended the Opening Gala for Music Niagara at the acoustically lovely St. Mark's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the concert title A Musical Kaleidoscope proved to be quite accurate.

The performance opened with a wonderfully creative reading of Vivaldi's ever-popular Four Seasons, although the lead instrument was not the violin in this case but rather the harp.  It brought an interesting bit of colour and renewed interest in this very familiar work, making it sound fresh all over again.  The harpist, Floraleda, commanded attention throughout the performance for her fine playing.

The world premiere of Composer-in-Residence Barbara Croall's Bimaawadaaso was next, and the piece was certainly intriguing.  Subtitled "They travel along in a group", the piece was scored for violin, the Anishinaabe cedar flute known as the pipigwan, the Syrian national instrument known as the bozoq, voice and string quartet.  The work featured two young Syrian performers who in fact were Syrian refugees who came to Canada just last year, Esmaeel Sharafadin and Rahaf Alakbani; they also performed a traditional Syrian folk song together prior to intermission.

The second half of the program was truly a stunner with a spirited performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in D minor, with the Canadian Chamber Academy Orchestra accompanying young violin soloist Emma Meinrenken.  Emma, all of 18 years of age, was a commanding stage presence in her own right, taking control of the youthful Mendelssohn concerto from the start.  A student of Artistic Director Atis Bankas, she is a graduate of the Music Niagara Performance Academy.

There is still lots of music left before the Music Niagara season wraps up August 13th with the Closing Gala at St. Mark's Church.  This weekend for example, Scotch Mary perform Friday evening at 6, part of the Market in The Village event, and on Saturday there is a wine and music event scheduled for Hare Wine Co. on Highway 55 starting at 11:30 in the morning.  The rest of the weekend will feature the Swiss Piano Trio Saturday evening at 7:30 at St. Mark's and Jeffrey Arthur and the Trio late Saturday evening at The Epicurean.  On Sunday, Two Row Dancers & Singers perform in Simcoe Park at 12 noon and a concert entitled Get Ready to Tuba (!) happens Sunday afternoon at 3 at St. Mark's.

For full concert season details and more information on tickets, go to or call 905-468-2172.

Meantime up in Elora, the 38th season of the Elora Festival kicked off Friday night with an Opening Gala at the Gambrel Barn recreating the popular Last Night of the Proms from England with conductor Bramwell Tovey leading The Elora Singers, Elora Festival Orchestra and The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.  Since I was up at Music Niagara's Opening Gala I was not able to make it up to Elora for Friday evening, but we did make it on Sunday afternoon.

One thing about the Elora Festival, they don't waste any time or space when it comes to scheduling concerts over the two-week festival.  We attended the first concert of the day on Sunday at St. John's Church in the heart of town where Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin performed a 70-minute concert of mostly French and English songs, with some Spanish thrown in for good measure.

Gauvin is a spectacular vocalist and appears to be a very nice person, too.  She strikes me as the type of person you would love to invite over for a family dinner and have her regale you with stories of her varied musical career.  If there was a fault in the performance it was that it was simply too short.

But with scheduling being what it was, the space was needed for the next performance, the Britten Saint Nicholas Cantata scheduled for the same space at 4 pm.  Indeed, we were barely out of the church before musicians started coming in to prepare for the 4 pm performance.  In the evening young Canadian cellist Cameron Crozman performed at the Wellington County Museum Exhibit Hall.

Still to come, Emily D'Angelo will be heard in recital this evening at St. John's Church; tomorrow afternoon the Elora Festival Kids Camp is in full swing at 4 and a concert of Bach Magnificats is scheduled for the evening in the Gambrel Barn featuring The Elora Singers and the Trinity College Choir.  Saturday Mary-Lou Falls and Peter Tiefenbach pair up for Primadonna Choralis at St. John's Church at 1 pm; the Penderecki Quartet team up with the Dave Young Trio in the same space at 3:30 pm, and Canadian musical icon Gordon Lightfoot takes to the Gambrel Barn stage at 8 pm Saturday night.

On Sunday there are three concerts scheduled, the first of which we will be attending at 2 pm at Knox Church, featuring the Bach Brandenburg Concerto Nos. 1 & 5 and the Cantata No. 140.  Performers include The Elora Singers, the Elora Festival Orchestra and Artistic Director Noel Edison conducting.  At 4 pm the Trinity College Choir from England performs in the Gambrel Barn featuring works by Part, Byrd, Tallis and many others, and in the evening the Wellington County Museum Exhibit Hall will be hosting the Bach Goldberg Variations scored for String Trio, featuring the Berard-Janzen Trio at 7 pm.

More performances will follow before the Elora Festival wraps up on July 30th with something called a Hymn Tasting at 4 pm at St. John's Church.

For more information on the balance of the schedule or to order tickets, go to or call 1-519-846-0331.

Both festivals offer up a wealth of great musical entertainment to appeal to many musical tastes, and I can't think of a better way to spend a summer afternoon or evening in either town enjoying some great music-making.

Have a great weekend!

July 20th, 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A tale of two Ontario music festivals

It's July and for many that means the summer music festival season is in full swing in Ontario.  We are lucky in these parts to have so many great music festivals to choose from, most less than a day's drive away for a quick summertime getaway.

Whether you choose Parry Sound, Ottawa, Hamilton or Stratford, for example, you are guaranteed some great classical and jazz music for several weeks at a stretch.  I have had the pleasure of visiting several of the summer music festivals in the province over the years, but two of my favourites are not far away and both start their music-making this very weekend.

Right in our own backyards, Music Niagara has quietly build a solid reputation as the go-to music destination in Niagara during July and August.  Based almost entirely in the old town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Music Niagara hosts a five-week festival ranging from classical to choral, jazz to even some country from now to August 13th.

The Opening Gala concert tomorrow evening at St. Mark's Anglican Church is billed as a Musical Kaleidoscope, starting with an opening reception at 6:30 and the concert at 7:30 pm.  Among the artists performing tomorrow evening will be Music Niagara Performance Academy graduate violinist Emma Meinrenken and the Canadian Chamber Academy Orchestra performing the ever-popular Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in D Minor.  Also on the programme is the world premiere of Music Niagara's Composer-in-Residence Barbara Croall's new work for violin, pipigwan, bozoq, voice and string quartet, entitled "Bimaawadaaso".

The two unusual-sounding and perhaps unheard-of instruments in that performance are of course the pipigwan, an Anishinaabe cedar flute, and the bozoq, a Syrian national instrument.  Canadian newcomers Esmaeel Sharafadin is featured on the bozoq and Rahaf Alakbani is the featured vocalist.

Performances continue almost daily throughout the Festival with performances by artists as diverse as  The Thorold Reed Band, clarinet virtuoso James Campbell, the Gould String Quartet, contrabassist Joel Quarrington and pianist Andre Laplante, among others.

On Sunday, August 6th a special Confederation Celebration to mark our country's Sesquicentennial will feature music from the Founding Fathers along with Canada's own Healey Willan.  Performers are Jonathan Crow and Philip Chiu.

The Closing Gala on August 13th also features an all-Canadian celebration with a concert entitled All Canadian Flavours featuring crowd favourites Quartetto Gelato.  The opening act will feature Quartetto Gelato accordionist Alexander Sebastian with the Gould String Quartet presenting the world premiere of a work by Canadian composer Dmitriy Varelas and his father Anatolyi Varelas entitled Taste of Freedom from String Quartet and Accordion.  The new world celebrates the 225th anniversary of the first Parliament of Upper Canada and first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, who helped to abolish slavery in Canada in 1793.

There is plenty more to enjoy as Artistic Director Atis Bankas pulls out all the stops to make Music Niagara's 19th season an extra-special affair to mark our country's 150th anniversary as a nation.  The quality of the music-making is top-notch and the programmes are as varied as you could possibly wish for.

Sound intriguing?  Find out more by going online to or by phone at 905-468-2172.

Meantime a short drive away will take you to another lovely small Ontario town with a big musical profile for many years, Elora just north-west of Guelph.  The Elora Festival has been around exactly twice as long as Music Niagara at 38 years and all of those years have been programmed by Artistic Director Noel Edison.

I fell in love with Elora many years ago when I visited to attend a performance at the old Elora Mill Inn as part of the Guelph Spring Festival back in 1985.  The Guelph Spring Festival is now history, unfortunately but the town made quite an impression on me that has lasted all these years.

When my wife and I began attending Elora Festival events about a dozen years or so ago, the love affair with the town was rekindled yet again and grown so much we can't bear to not visit the town at least once each season if not more.

This year to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary since Confederaton, Noel has programmed a spectacular multimedia show by Hugh Brewster entitled With Glowing Hearts which will feature a host of special guest artists.   The performance will be on Saturday, July 29th at 7 pm in the Gambrel Barn.

But there is much to enjoy sooner than that as the Festival gets underway tomorrow night with the Opening Night Gala, Night of the Proms featuring The Elora Singers and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir joining forces with full orchestra for an unforgettable night of British classics like Rule Britannia and Elgar's First Pomp & Circumstance March.  Bramwell Tovey of the Vancouver Symphony conducts the performance tomorrow night in the Gambrel Barn.

Other Festival highlights include a sold-out performance by Canada's most-acclaimed Bach interpreter since Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt on July 15th at 1 pm at St. John's Church.  I first met Angela when she won the International Bach Competition back in the 80s and I have followed her career ever since.

It was a nice bit of serendipity when, during the United States Presidential Election coverage last November I Tweeted I chose to listen to her grand recordings of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Books One & Two instead.  To my surprise she "Liked" my Tweet!  How's that for social media?!

Also featured this season is Canadian singer Susan Aglukark on July 15th in the Gambrel Barn at 7 pm; soprano Karina Gauvin at St. John's Church at 2 pm on July 16th, and the Trinity College Choir in Concert at the Gambrel Barn at 4 pm on July 23rd.  A real highlight for many will be a performance by Canada's iconic singer Gordon Lightfoot on July 22nd at the Gambrel Barn at 8 pm.

The Elora Festival runs only two weeks encompassing three weekends, but they always pack a lot of entertainment into the calendar.  There is literally something for everyone this year to celebrate the country's Sesquicentennial.  And the fact the town itself is supremely liveable and walkable is an added bonus.

For more on the Elora Festival this year, go online to or call 1-519-846-0331.

Have a great weekend and we'll see you at a Festival this month!

July 13th, 2017.

Friday, July 7, 2017

First show of the season at The Foster Festival closes tonight

Tonight is your last chance to catch the opening show of the second season of The Foster Festival in downtown St. Catharines, and if you have not already done so, you really should go.  My far better half and I did just that on Wednesday night, so I thought I would offer up a few thoughts on the production before it closes.

As you no doubt know by now, The Foster Festival celebrates Canada's greatest living playwright, Norm Foster, who rarely goes through a summer without several of his plays in production somewhere in Canada on the summer theatre circuit.  But until last season there was not an entire festival dedicated to his theatrical genius.

Festival co-founders Patricia Vanstone and Emily Oriold changed all that when they announced in June of 2015 they were starting The Foster Festival, set to launch last season at the brand new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  It was a gamble of course, hoping locals would come downtown on a summer afternoon or evening for a performance of a funny play and maybe spend a few bucks while down there on dinner before or after the show.

Last year got off to a bit of a slow start, I think, as people had to warm to the notion of not going to Niagara-on-the-Lake for their summer theatre fix, but at least the novelty of the brand spanking new theatre space would work in their favour during the first season.

This year, expectations are raised after the successful first year and the novelty of the new space has now worn off.  So, are we in a better position than we were this time last year?

The answer is an unequivocal vote in the affirmative.

Hey, we may not have Shaw, but we have Foster.  And if I had a choice for who I would want to see at an after-theatre party, I think Foster would be way more fun.

Norm Foster has a way of taking everyday situations and making them funnier.  He knows human nature better than most and translates that into plays in which we often see ourselves and in so doing, allows us to discover that in fact, we as Canadians can be a pretty funny lot.

Having said all that, the first of two World Premieres this season is vintage Norm Foster sure, but left this reporter a little disappointed at the end.  Oh sure, Screwball Comedy is funny all right, but I don't think it's his best work, really.

Not taking anything away from the production, which is magnificent, but this comedy doesn't hold a mirror up to us quite as much as past successes do, and as such I found the comedy quotient not quite as high as we are accustomed to.

Screwball Comedy is set in 1938, an era when jobs were hard to come by for many and even more so for women, especially in the male-dominated world of journalism.  Back then the so-called 'ink-stained wretches' were almost always hard-nosed, hard-drinking males and adding a woman to the mix would simply cramp their style.

That is exactly what Foster set out to do by introducing Mary Hayes to us:  she is the grand-daughter of legendary newspaperman Charlie Hayes, we're told, so her journalistic background is solid even if her work experience is sparse.  Hayes applies for a job at the local newspaper and comes face-to-face with crusty newspaperman Bosco, who after initial reticence decides to give Mary a chance.

Bosco decides to pit young Mary up against the paper's star reporter, the aforementioned hard-nosed newspaper reporter Jeff Kincaid.  They would both cover an important society event involving the female owner of the paper and may the best story teller win.

From there we are introduced to a host of characters as both Mary and Jeff uncover more details about the society wedding that is planned, and they discover a lot about themselves, too.  For one thing, they discover Kincaid may not be quite as hard-nosed as he makes himself out to be.

In the end, one of them will win and either get the job or get to keep his job.  I won't give away the ending here, but suffice it to say both players in this exercise get some good lines and have a lot of fun bringing the story home, as it were.

The cast assembled by director Vanstone could not be better.  Cosette Derome as Mary is winsome, a little bit sexy (this is 1938, after all) and street smart.  Her adversary cum love interest Jeff Kincaid is played by Darren Keay, who returns from a successful run last season at the Festival.  Kincaid is full of himself, sure, but has a vulnerability young Mary mines for all its worth.

The rest of the cast, all two of them, play the remainder of the seven characters.  If nothing else, that tells you something about the quality of the cast assembled here.  Kevin Hare displays exceptional comic timing as Bosco, Reginald, Peter and Chauncey, and Eliza-Jane Scott gets lots of mileage out of her comic turns as Jones, Delores and Gloria.  From four actors we have nine finely defined and very funny characters.

Peter Hartwell's set is an evocative art deco marvel of economy and the lighting of Chris Malkowski is just right.

Based on the quality of the first season, my wife and I decided to become season subscribers this year and we are very happy to be so.  This is exactly the quality of theatre we need to bring people downtown in the summertime.  Not just theatre-goers per se, but those who have never experienced live theatre on this level before.

The Shaw Festival has nothing to worry about here:  they will still be a destination in Niagara for quality theatre as they have been for years.  But The Foster Festival is the new upstart in town, into a second season and doing just fine, thank you very much.

Last performance of Screwball Comedy is tonight at 8 pm at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  If you have plans, change them.  If you don't have plans, you owe it to yourself to go.  It will be time well spent laughing with like-minded souls.

Call the box office for tickets or go online to

Have a great weekend!

July 7th, 2017.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Shaw Festival in full swing with Tim Carroll as new Artistic Director

Last week I wrote of the impending opening of the second season of the Foster Festival at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines, and how that fledgling festival is making believers out of those who might have doubted the wisdom of starting a live theatre festival in the city during the summer months.

In a way, it is history repeating itself as many will recall the heady days of 1962 in once-sleepy Niagara-on-the-Lake when local lawyer and playwright Brian Doherty along with Buffalo's Calvin G. Rand persuaded influential locals to support a "Salute to Shaw'.  The inaugural season of the fledgling Shaw Festival began on June 29th in the Assembly Room of the historic Court House, featuring four performances each of Don Juan in Hell and Candida.

For season two, the Shaw Festival Theatre Foundation was established as a non-profit organization with Calvin Rand becoming the first Chair of the Board of Governors, and the Festival acquiring their first Artistic Director in the person of Andrew Allen.

Over the years there have been ups and downs with the Festival, and for the past 35 years or so I have been fortunate to document many of those either on the air during my radio days or in this space for the past several seasons.  Happily there have been far more ups than downs at the Festival, and the current season appears to provide many more of the former and very few of the latter.

The 2017 edition of the Shaw Festival is the first with new Artistic Director Timothy Carroll at the helm, succeeding Jackie Maxwell who did an admirable job since taking over for long-time Artistic Director Christopher Newton back in 2003.

Each incoming Artistic Director pays homage to the building blocks added by their predecessor in building the Festival, yet imprints the first season with their own particular vision and where they plan to take the Festival in the future.  Mr. Carroll is no different.

Timothy has stated he wants to introduce Shaw patrons to what he calls "two-way theatre", an experience where the audience's engagement begins before they even arrive in Niagara-on-the-Lake and continues throughout many of the plays with a certain degree of "interativeness" built in to some of the offerings.

Still and all, some things you simply cannot change and that is certainly the case with the flagship musical at the large Festival Theatre.  It has to be a crowd-pleaser and fill theatre seats in order to ensure a profitable theatre season, and from what I've heard Me and My Girl is doing just that.  Featuring a book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber with revisions by Stephen Fry and contributions by Mike Ockrent, the musical is a comic romp harkening back to the 30s.

Music is by Noel Gay with musical direction by Paul Sportelli and choreography by Parker Esse.  Director Ashlie Corcoran has assembled an all-star cast including long-time Stratford Festival star Michael Therriault joined by Kristi Frank, Neil Barclay, Donna Belleville, Julia Course and a host of others.

Me and My Girl runs at the Festival Theatre until October 15th.

A more problematic Shaw play also appears at the Festival Theatre until October 15th:  Saint Joan is directed by Tim Carroll and stars Sara Topham in the title role, along with Gray Powell, Wade Bogert-O'Brien, Benedict Campbell and Tom McCamus among others.

Saint Joan is arguably Shaw's greatest play and has been produced at the Festival at least a couple of times before that I can recall, and provides a calling-card of sorts for Carroll in his first directorial role at the Festival.

Rounding out the offerings at the Festival Theatre is Bram Stoker's Dracula, adapted for the stage by Liz Lochhead.  Eda Holmes directs this Gothic classic with a cast that includes Allan Louis, Marla McLean, Ben Sanders, Martin Happer and several other Shaw regulars.

Dracula previews begin July 8th and it opens officially July 29th, running until October 14th.

Over at the Court House Theatre, Philip Akin directs Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Muraille's 1837:  The Farmers' Revolt.  This modern Canadian classic dates from 1973 and traces the trials and tribulations of immigrant farmers struggling to turn Upper Canada's forests into farmland.

The play, appropriate for our 150th anniversary year, stars Shaw stalwarts Donna Belleville, Sherry Flett, Rick Reid, Marla McLean and a host of others.  It runs to October 8th.

The second Shaw offering of the season is also one that takes audience participation and interaction to a new level.  Androcles and the Lion is the second play this season to be directed by Tim Carroll, who promises every performance will be a little different thanks to the audience involvement.  Just warning you, if you are the more reserved type...

Androcles and the Lion looks at a group of early Christians in ancient Rome, waiting to be thrown to the lions in the Colosseum.  The show stars Neil Barclay, Kyle Blair, Julia Course, Patrick Galligan, Patty Jamieson and a host of others and it is the depth of this strong cast that pulls off this theatrical high-wire act with aplomb.  It runs to October 7th.

The final offering at the Court House Theatre is the Lunchtime One-Act offerings, this time four Oscar Wilde stories collectively billed as Wilde Tales.  The stories, The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose, The Remarkable Rocket and The Selfish Giant are all geared towards a younger audience, but adults will not be bored by the offerings either.  Christine Brubaker is the director and the stories are adapted for the stage by Kate Hennig.

Children are being invited to attend a pre-show one-hour workshop with actors for an additional fee, and it will appeal to those in the 6 to 12 age group.  Wilde Tales continues at the Court House Theatre until October 7th as well.

Over at the Royal George Theatre, the must-see show appears to be Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III, directed by Kevin Bennett and starring another fabulous 'get' from the Stratford Festival, Tom McCamus.  It's been several years since Tom last appeared at Shaw, and this time he is joined by the likes of Lisa Berry, Rebecca Gibian, Martin Happer, Patrick McManus and Jim Mezon, among others.

For all performances of The Madness of George III, there is limited on-stage seating available, by the way, where you will be encouraged to be part of the show.  Madness runs through to October 15th.

Another Brian Friel play is being staged at Shaw this year:  Dancing at Lughnasa is directed by Krista Jackson and in spite of the title, it is nothing like the carefree dancing movies of Astaire and Rogers we grew up with.  Rather, the play is set in 1930s Ireland, and traces the lives of five women trying to eke out an existence in a land where no tears are without laughter and no laughter is without tears.

The Tony Award-winner for Best Play, Dancing at Lughnasa continues at the Royal George until October 15th as well.

The final offering at the Royal George is An Octoroon by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by the always challenging Peter Hinton.  The original play by Dion Boucicault dates from 1859 when it was considered a masterpiece.  It's a story of a plantation owner who falls for a woman of mixed race; at the time it was seen as a plea for racial tolerance but today modern theatre-goers have a different take on the subject matter.  Still, this modern telling of the tale by Jacobs-Jenkins won an Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2014.

Be forewarned, though, the play is full of strong language and challenging ideas.  Previews start July 16th and the play opens July 28th and closes October 14th.  Cast members include Andre Sills, Lisa Berry, Ryan Cunningham and Diana Donnelly, among others.

The Studio Theatre has been renamed the Maxwell Studio Theatre in honour of former Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell, of course, and there are two offerings in the smaller space this season.  The first is Will Eno's Middletown, directed by Meg Roe and starring Moya O'Connell and Gray Powell, along with Fiona Byrne, Benedict Campbell, Jeff Meadows and several others.  Middletown looks at average people in an average town in North America living average lives, yet all looking for love in their own way.

Middletown previews begin July 13th and it opens July 30th, running until September 10th.

The second offering at the Maxwell Studio Theatre is Michael Healey's play 1979, a co-production with the Great Canadian Theatre Company.  Directed by Eric Coates, 1979 tells the story of  Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, whose inability to bend the rules resulted in his time in office being incredibly short.  I lived during those days and remember the furor over the gas-price hike that ultimately resulted in his government's downfall, and I remember vividly working the election night when he lost the office to the returning Pierre Trudeau.

1979 stars Sanjay Talwar with support from Marion Day and Kelly Wong and runs from October 1st to the 14th.

There is lots to see and do at Shaw this season, including so-called 'Secret Theatre' performances scattered throughout the season, and lots of pre-theatre discussions and such as well.

Intrigued?  You should be.  More information on the entire season can be had by going to, and you can also order tickets online or by calling the box office at 1-800-511-SHAW.

Enjoy the rest of your Canada Day weekend!

July 2nd, 2017.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Second Season of The Foster Festival set to get underway in St. Catharines

Hard to believe, but the second season of The Foster Festival is now underway at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  Previews are underway now and the new season officially kicks off tomorrow night, so let's take a few moments and look at what's on tap this year and why you should go...

I noted last season, the Festival's first in St. Catharines, things were a little slow getting off the mark in June, due likely to the fact we simply were not accustomed to live theatre downtown, especially during the summer months.  Oh sure, we had Carousel Players and Essential Collective Theatre working out of the theatre space in the old courthouse next to the market during the winter months, but even with all their hard work and quality productions, crowds were often still small and infrequent.

So it was logical to ask if the city would/could support a live theatre festival during the heat of the summer months in downtown St. Catharines, given the right ingredients.  The answer now, of course, is a resounding 'yes'.

The right ingredients include a proper and exceptional theatre space in the Cairns Recital Hall at the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, and a festival devoted to the plays of arguably Canada's greatest living playwright, Norm Foster.  After all, most if not all Ontario summer theatre festivals feature at least one Norm Foster play per season, simply because they are considered 'guaranteed win' nights for summer theatre.

Norm began his playwriting career with The Melville Boys in 1984 and has not looked back since, producing now an average of one new play per year.  Yet amazingly, no theatre festival has ever been devised to celebrate his large catalogue of works like say, the Shaw Festival has built up around the works of George Bernard Shaw.

Until now.

I remember two summers ago attending the media launch of The Foster Festival downtown, when plans were announced for the new festival the following summer - 2016 - at the new PAC downtown.  Hopes and spirits were high the festival would take off and I think as the summer season wore on last year, the somewhat slow start turned into a gallop towards the end as the festival became one of the most talked-about summer events of the season.

That optimism certainly will spill over into this year as the maiden voyage has proven there is indeed an audience out there ready to come downtown and take in some quality theatre on a summer night or  one of the matinee performances.

Artistic Director Patricia Vanstone and Executive Director Emily Oriold read the theatrical tea-leaves at the end of the season last year and found some things they could tweak this year, including less early-week performances when audiences were rather thin last year.  Their adjustments should ensure more bums are in the seats for performances that remain and everyone will be happy theatrical campers, one would assume.

So, what's on tap for this season, you ask?  Not one but two world premieres this year sandwiched between a Foster classic.

Previews are already underway for the first new play of the season, Screwball Comedy, which officially opens tomorrow night at 8 and from what I hear is completely sold out.  Set in 1938, the story centres around Mary Hayes, a young wannabe newspaper reporter trying to break into a very male-dominated world.  Given a chance to report on a society wedding pits Mary against veteran reporter Jeff Kincaid, in the editor's bad books for his less than sparkling performances as of late.

The dialogue reflects the time period reminiscent of The Front Page, which filled seats at the Shaw Festival several years ago.  Screwball Comedy will likely be a perfect start to the season.  It runs until July 7th and stars Cosette Derome, Kevin Hare, Darren Keay and Eliza-Jane Scott.

Next up from July 12th to the 28th is Foster's classic Old Love, about a recently divorced Bud meeting newly-widowed Molly.  They meet at her husband's funeral, no less, and the story traces their courtship, rekindled romance and the importance of hope.  Real-life husband & wife team of Janet Laine-Green and Booth Savage star in the second show of the season.

The second world premiere and final offering of the season is Lunenburg, involving an American widow, Iris, who along with good friend Natalie arrive in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia to a house Iris has inherited from her recently deceased husband.  This was all news to Iris, but she meets up with neighbour Charlie who happily brings the girls up to speed on what they need to know.  Lunenberg stars Shaw Festival regulars Melanie Janzen, Peter Krantz and Catherine McGregor.

Patricia Vanstone will be busy this summer as she directs all three productions, I'm told.  And yes, Norm Foster himself, who starred in the opening show last year opposite Vanstone, will be attending the season launch tomorrow night.

Want tickets?  Log on to for more information and ordering online, or call the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office at 905-688-0722, or stop by the box office downtown to pick up your tickets in advance.

This promises to be a great festival and a wonderful way to spend some time downtown this summer, perhaps catching dinner and a show right in your own backyard.  What could be better than that?

Have a great week!

June 22nd, 2017

Thursday, June 15, 2017

TD Niagara Jazz Festival set to heat up your summer of 2017

There has been a flurry of activity lately regarding the TD Niagara Jazz Festival, founded just four years ago by local jazz performers and impresarios Peter Shea and Juliet Dunn.  Just last week, in fact, they announced the musical lineup for the main summer festival, scheduled for the last weekend of July, so let's look at some of that activity and why you should consider spending some time cooling off on those hot summer nights with some cool jazz...

One of the nice aspects of the festival that actually runs all year long is the Twilight Jazz series, featuring both local performers and those from further afield at intimate settings in Niagara.  Just over a week ago we attended the performance featuring Guelph-area jazz singer Brenda Lewis, whom I have known for several years now through Facebook and regular email contact, yet we had never met.

This was a chance to finally catch Brenda in action along with her musical partner, guitarist Margaret Stowe, in the cosy confines of the Mahtay Cafe & Lounge downtown.  They didn't disappoint, as the Great American Songbook was well represented through three sets of lovely easy-going jazz.  It's typical of what you can expect throughout the year at the Twilight Jazz series and I was happy to be a part of the audience that night.

Juliet Dunn, the indefatigable Co-Creator and Executive Director of the TD Niagara Jazz Festival was there of course, and invited me to the media launch of the 2017 season a couple of days later at the Hare Winery Company in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  I was more than happy to take her up on the offer!

Part of the announcement included a contribution of $50,000 for the festival from title sponsors TD Canada Trust, presented by District Vice-President Coby Hawkins.  Further funding is provided by the Province of Ontario's Media Development Corporation, Celebrate Ontario, Ontario 150 as well as a number of other supporters both local and provincial.

The TD NJF received the prestigious award of Best New Festival in Ontario for 2017 and considering it is barely four years old now, that is indeed something to celebrate.  It has come from a tremendous amount of work on the part of Juliet, Peter and their legion of volunteers and supporters; the community support shown for the not-for-profit festival is a direct result of this dedication and the quality of the product they are putting out there throughout the season.

One of the highlights of the new season is their Canada 150 initiative:  Live Learn Jazz:  A Canadiana Suite.  This ongoing series saw legendary saxophonist Pat LaBarbera performing at Henry of Pelham Winery last Thursday evening, in fact.  Still to come in the series on July 6th, Vibes in the Vines will be presented at Stratus Vineyards featuring Randy Stirtzinger and Graham Lear.  The event is almost sold-out but if you act fast you should still be able to get tickets to that event.

The main event weekend from July 28th to the 30th will cover a lot of ground and several venues throughout Niagara.  The flagship event will take place at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on the Friday evening beginning at 8, with a concert entitled Jazz and Funk in the City.  Featured artists include the Andrean Farrugia Trio and Chops n' Soul with Joel Parisien.  That same night beginning at 10:30 across the street at Mahtay Cafe and Lounge, Jam in the City will present the TD Niagara Jazz Festival House Band led by local legend Randy Stirtzinger.

On the Saturday events run all day long, beginning at 11:30 am with the first of the Jazz on the River cruises aboard the Niagara Belle, featuring Dr. Jazz and the Jazzbugs performing classic Dixieland jazz.  Jazz in the Park, meantime, takes over the stage at Simcoe Park in Niagara on the Lake from 11 am to 7 pm with performances by the likes of the Jazz.FM 91 Youth Big Band, the Jimmy Stahl Big Band and Zach Preston's Latin Ensemble, among others at the Fallsview Fiesta Stage.

There are performances as well on the Henley Honda Stage including the Melissa-Marie Shriner Jazz Trio, the Barbra Lica Quartet and the Robert Fekete Quintet; on the Long and McQuade Live Learn Jazz Stage meantime, several more performances will take place including choral singing with Cinnamon Jones and Choir Nation with Sophia Perlman.  Many of these stage performances are free of charge, by the way.

On the final day, Sunday July 30th, the Jazz on the River cruise is presently sold out, but the free stage events continue in Simcoe Park with more performances by the likes of Turbo Street Funk, the Juliann Kuchocki & Dave Restivo Duo and the Stu MacDonald Quartet, among others.

I'm happy to see a tribute to the celebrated Canadian jazz musician Moe Koffman scheduled for 2 pm on Sunday featuring Bernie Senensky's Moe Koffman Legacy Band with Bill McBirnie.  At 7 pm in the evening a concert celebrating the one and only Oscar Peterson will feature local jazz giant John Sherwood along with Dave Young and Terry Clarke.

As if all that isn't enough, there are Tent Talks events scheduled for Saturday in Simcoe Park, and leading up to the big weekend you can catch a free jazz art exhibit on July 27th from 7 to 9 pm at the Niagara Artists Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  It's a free event, by the way.

If all this gets your senses reeling and you need to be a part of it, weekend passes are available in various forms to catch as much or as little as you want.  Just visit for more details, pricing and availability.

I will be updating my website calendar page shortly with the events as well, at

There is simply no excuse to be bored in Niagara ever, and this summer especially so with events such as the TD Niagara Jazz Festival happening.  Why not get out and enjoy some great jazz right here in Niagara?

Have a great week!

June 15th, 2017.