By John Swartz
On this day in any other year I would be organizing myself for my annual vacation (working of course) at home. By ‘at home’ I mean in Orillia, not as it’s currently working out being confined to home.
At 4 p.m. this afternoon I should be gathering with others who should be hosting performances on the many stages of the Mariposa Folk Festival. There should be hours of fun and great musical performances before I head home at about midnight. I should be debating with myself about writing right away or in the morning, but I’ll probably only get as far as loading all the photos into the computer and at least looking at them once.
I have one Mariposa Folk Festival Sun beer left of a four-pack. On hindsight I should have just let them all stay in the fridge and have them all this weekend, but I’ll crack the one I have at 5 p.m. to maintain a 21 year tradition of having the first beer of the festival; it happened by accident and circumstance the first couple years and I’ve been quite happy to keep it going all these years.
I hope we get to have the festival next year. If there isn’t a vaccine, or if enough people don’t get one in time (or if enough bonehead anti-vaxxers don’t get one), it’s entirely possible we won’t be going to any festivals or concerts next summer. That’s not including the consequences of what the rulers of our southern friends are bungling and how that might affect us.
Yes, it’s a sad day, a sad weekend. Kids look forward to Christmas each year, I look forward to Mariposa. Our neighbours here in town put on a very good show, a very professional show. They prove to us each year you can dream big, you can comfortably ignore the usual naysayers, you can do something on the same scale as anywhere else in the world and you can be successful. Can we get some of you folks on council?
Withdrawal should be peaking around Sunday evening and that’s when we all get a reprieve. Last weekend the MFF people started an online concert series with Gordon Lightfoot and Dala performing.
This weekend they are expanding it somewhat with an online event at 7 p.m. Sunday. The program starts with a workshop. The performers are Small Glories, OKAN, and Mimi O’Bonsawin. For those who have never been to the festival, or don’t go during the day, the workshops often turn out to have some amazing things happen I’ll bet organizers would like for the main stage at night.
Following the work shop Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and the Australian band This Way North will be performing. BARK (Tom Wilson, Stephen Fearing and Colin Linden) are no strangers to Orillia and quite frankly, you won’t find a better live act to enjoy – even if their music isn’t exactly your thing.
This Way North is Leisha Jungalwalla and Cat Leahy and home is in Yackandandah, Australia. I don’t know much about them, but here’s the thing, if Mariposa is having them, they must be worthwhile. I can’t think of a single act which has performed at Mariposa which was not above average (except for that one just a few years ago who should have been sober, but wasn’t).
And, the annual compilation CD is out. Call the office, 705-326-3655, and you can buy one, they’ll mail it. It has tunes by many of the artists who would have been playing this weekend.
Hurray, Sort Of
Council’s short notice meeting on a cultural issue is why this column is a day late.
The emergency recovery task force came through ahead of schedule with a plan to make downtown more inviting for us this summer. On Thursday they passed a motion to close Mississaga and Peter Streets and eventually put some live music in there just like the Downtown Orillia Management Board does periodically each summer – but every weekend until Labour Day.
But, like any good idea (disclosure – and disclaimer – I wrote to the task force chair, Ted Emond, and the mayor outlining the idea), the concept was too big for some to grasp and naysayers watered it down significantly.
Instead of closing for the entire weekend, which had advantages for merchants and restaurateurs by not having to set up and tear down each evening, and doing through to Thanksgiving because September also has warm days to take advantage of, it will only be Friday night from 4 to 11 p.m. to start, and if it works Saturday night will be added.
I’m trying to wrap my head around why 11 p.m. when the bars and restaurants usually stay open until 1 a.m.
The problem is there are some merchants who simply cannot figure out how to cope without parking in front of their stores for the one day of the week (Saturday) the street would be closed during their normal operating hours. In another life I owned a retail store and would have loved to have the street closed on weekends because it means more people and more people means the potential for sales is higher, but not everybody is blessed with an imagination how to capitalize on a gift.
The point was twofold. It would allow the restaurants and bars to expand onto the street. Right now they can’t have indoor service to full capacity and for many it’s not worth the effort to open if you are going to lose money. It also allows other merchants to accommodate more customers than they could indoors. It gives Arts District galleries more gallery room and therefore the ability to show more work to more people than they could indoors.
It would also give musicians an opportunity to work and this is where the idea germinated. It will be late next year before musicians (and actors) will be able to earn a living again. I thought by creating a pedestrian mall the City could hire musicians to perform just like any sidewalk sale. It would be a way for the community to help some working stiffs who are often not thought of when it comes to aid packages.
They set aside $12,500 to hire what they call street animation. I don’t know who came up with that term, but you know, musicians, or entertainers would have worked and got the point across without a long winded explanation. The amount may seem generous, until you factor that’s for two months as conceived. The province is prohibiting live music at the moment, busking is OK, and it will likely be late July or August before it will be permitted, so objectively the money will cover August.
I want to quote Laura Thompson. She is the City’s manager of real estate and commercial development and she was the staffer outlining the plan to council on Thursday
“The 12,500 is the upward budget,” said Thompson explaining why council should approve now rather than later because when the go-ahead is announced they want to be ready to act. “We are looking at ways that we can implement free, or low cost animation on the street, but we are also cognizant the arts and culture sector has also taken a hit and we want to make sure we do support those entertainers and arts and culture professionals if we can do so.”
Can we stop this?
Why is it a consultant can quote a 5 or 6 figure fee, a lawyer, accountant, or any specialist can quote a fee for service and no one bats an eye, but talk about hiring a musician, or any artist, and everyone at City Hall wants to figure out how to get them to work for free or chisel them down to breadcrumbs.
Let’s do the math. Assume we’re talking about two nights for 5 weeks, so 10 occasions. That’s $1,250 per night available to hire musicians. In a 4 block stretch plus the arts district there should be a minimum of 5 musicians or bands working over a 6 hour period each time. How can anyone think that’s enough money to hire a musician (forget about a band) and not pay them properly?
I also have trouble with the word free. This council term alone I have heard the notion some thing would be great to implement if enough volunteers step forward to do the work which should be paid so often I can’t come up with a number unless I devote the weekend to reviewing all the notes I have, but it’s a lot.
Is it fair to devalue the years of learning how to play an instrument, the additional years of learning hours of music to play back from memory, plus all the time learning songs a musician wouldn’t otherwise choose to play just so they can whip out Freebird or Mustang Sally for some insistent patron? There is also the cost of getting to gigs, equipment, replacing guitar strings, broken picks and drumsticks and mic cables gone bad. No it isn’t. The time alone equals what a doctor has to do to be just a good doctor and be ready for the routine and the unexpected malady.
The amount being ‘the upward budget’ suggests there is hope not to spend it all. I’ll give Laura credit for injecting ‘professional’ into the discussion as a token to get council to approve the amount rather than rely on ‘volunteers’ fighting with each other for the opportunity. She shouldn’t have to.
I expected some version of this outcome compared to the vision proposed. I have been through this wringer a few times and, for example, if I held out for everything I thought was necessary for a modern efficient and serviceable library building we’d still be using the old Carnegie Building. You win some, you lose some.
What council did is better than nothing and I am happy they did do something. I just wish sometimes they would not let the tail wag the dog on good, well thought out ideas people often propose and not opt for watered down versions. The thought of what the Sistine Chapel, or the Louvre would look like with any of our council’s mitts involved is cringe inducing. I also hope they end the practice of looking for free labour, or monkeys which subsist on peanuts, when it comes to paying the freight for artists.
One more thing, a few councilors worried about doing something which would attract people to town at a time when we really don’t want to do so. This concept was thought of solely for us and no one else. We have spent months organizing closets, staring at walls, wondering who the other people in our households are, and eating meals prepared by the one person on hand who can’t cook, we need to get out and at least wave at our friends and eat something different. Even right now there is only one option, to go to one of our parks for a change of pace and little else (and then we get there and there’s no room, see this story about that).
This does not have to be advertised far and wide, and shouldn’t be. The idea is to have hundreds, not thousands find their way back to a spacious downtown, have a little joy and rediscover the merchants who desperately need your business.
* Nick Keays and The North River (Kristina Skeries (fiddle), David Kaye (bass)) have been working on new music. They unveiled Above The Smoke, this week. You can see the video, and others here. There’s another song to listen to on their Youtube channel.
* Molly Farquharson is all settled into her new gallery, Hibernation Arts, in the Arts District, we think. She’s having her first show, Cautious Opening, art on the theme Covid Creations and it opens Saturday at noon. MJ Pollack is the guest artist and the Orillia Fine Arts Association has wall space in the gallery. Also see work by Tammy Henry, Marie Jose van de Langerijt, Cheryl Sartor, Barbara Schmidt, Catherine Cadieux, Gayle Schofield, and Patti Agapi.
* ODAC and the Orillia Museum of Art and History opened nominations for this year’s Orillia Regional Arts & Heritage Awards. The categories are Education in Arts, Culture and Heritage; Emerging Artist; Heritage: Restoration, Renovation and Publication; Event in Arts, Culture and Heritage; and Qennefer Browne Achievement Award. Nomination information and forms are online.
* OMAH has the second lot of their online fundraiser QuarARTtine going online. It’s an auction of 6×6 inch art. Most of the first lot of 20 pieces sold and you can view the art and participate here.
* Live music on the web –
- Essential Concert Series Thursdays, 8 p.m. from Makers Market.
- Steven Henry, Saturday’s, 8 p.m.
- Bleeker, Facebook, Sundays, 6 p.m.
- Bleeker, Instagram, Thursdays, 8 p.m.
- Charlotte and The Dirty Cowboys, Friday’s from 8 to 9 p.m.
- Joe Huron, Sundays at noon
* Nate Mills went stir crazy and created some new material you can see here.
* Creative Nomad Studios 2020 Unlimited art exhibit at their Mississaga Street location (across from the Orillia Public Library) can be seen as you wander the pedestrian mall next Friday, or any time – it’s in the windows. If you see something you like, you can buy it online.
* The Orillia Public Library has a number of things you can do online through their website. They have games and programs to participate in as individuals or in groups. You can download music, movies and audiobooks. You can also take online courses.