This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

On Saturday it will be three months to Boxing Day. I don’t know about you, but I want to punch somebody now.

This has been a frustrating year for everyone, but particularly those who dabble in the arts. By dabble I mean, make a living, or devote countless out-of-office hours to being good performers. We have endured 6 months of working in caves without ability to show anyone what has been accomplished. What a way to spend my 25th year writing about arts in Orillia and area.

So here’s the thing, October 2nd is the deadline for submitting nominations for this year’s Orillia Regional Arts & Heritage Awards. There were things worth nominating which happened before March and a few things since. This year, maybe more than others, it’s important to take some time (which I think we all have had enough of recently) and do something to recognize the people who make you laugh, cry, dance, or just feel good about the money you spend buying tickets and supporting our arts community.

This is the second year the Orillia Museum of Art and History and ODAC combined their previously separate award programs. You can go here to see the criteria and start assembling your nominating material. 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.

The Orillia Silver Band
The Orillia Silver Band

This year the nominations are open up to people or groups with a track record of sorts, rather than just what occurred since the last awards in November 2019. On that note, may I remind you the Orillia Silver Band has not been nominated for any category in the past. To me this is one of the most grossly overlooked things. It would be like Gord, or Glenn Gould, or Stephen Leacock never being nominated if they were still living in Orillia alive, or alive.

Last October they had a concert at St. Paul’s Centre that contained a tune on the dance card I thought I’d never hear live, especially by a group from Orillia. It’s Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s The Light Fantastic. There are difficult pieces to play, but this is the one I think an ‘amateur’ band would only dream of being capable of tackling. And the OSB played it right off the top of their concert, no warmup tunes, no bracing themselves for what would either be a fantastic triumph, or a spectacular train-wreck. This is what I wrote about it:

“It took the audience a second to respond (when the song concluded). I think they were still processing what they just heard the Silver Band do. You don’t have to be a musician of any great degree to know the band just pulled off an amazing chart and the audience loved it.”

And then in the second half they played the full 1812 Overture, not an abridged version for band or orchestra. That was almost too much for me to take and I had to take Sunday off to recover from the adrenaline rush. They had a similarly exciting concert in December and were set to do a mammoth 70th Anniversary concert the week after the lockdown started. Their rescheduled concert for this November is also pushed off to who knows when. I think it would more than appropriate that in their 70th year they at least get a nomination.

So stepping off my soapbox, I have assembled some notable things we enjoyed since last fall as a reminder, a refresher for you to consider for nomination. You can always use the search box on this page with your performer’s name as the search-term and read what I had to say about them.

From last October, one the things that jumped out at me was the Orillia Jazz Festival. That this thing is still alive is an achievement considering all the trials it endured over the years. This time around they added a Rising Stars concert and had area music students perform as soloists with Brassworks on the Saturday afternoon of the festival. Brassworks and guest soloists John Johnson and Shirantha Beddage did a concert in the evening. Sunday Lance Anderson premiered another of his tribute concerts. This time it was A Tribute to Herbie Hancock and I can say, hearing a band doing a locally produced showcase type of concert like that in a small town like Orillia is unusual.

The Orillia Youth Center could be nominated a number of ways because of their music programs for youth, but their fundraising concerts are nothing to overlook. Last fall they had Danny Michel, Meredith Moon and Billie Pettinger at Fern Resort’s Bergwen Theatre and it was not just a new venue for many to see concert in, but the night just kept getting better and better.  At the same time, Steve Orr of Dapper Depot has been a steadfast sponsor of these concerts (and a lot of other arts events) so you might nominate him as well.

Pause For The Cause

The Orillia Youth Centre teams up with Roots North for the fall concerts, and usually for other fundraising concerts, and Saturday night they have one  at the Sunset Barrie Drive-in (Oro-Medonte Line 4 at Highway 11).  Hawksley Workman is headlining, Terra Lightfoot and The North River (Nick Keays, Kristina Skeries and David Kaye) are opening. Get tickets now. They are $35 each, or a carload of 4 people is $125, which is a discount. The concert is sponsored by Dapper Depot and Harveys, so all the proceeds will go to the youth center.

Back To The Awards

We’re still in October. Reay put out an album last year. Butterfly Tongue Revisited  made some charts, and was recognized by the Tinnitist  website as one of the two best albums of the year for 2019. Reay and VK and the Legends of The Deep also have the distinction of having the last concert in Orillia before the lockdown.

In November the Orillia Centre for Art and Culture had two back to back concerts at St. Paul’s Centre with Brooke Blackburn,  Jane Bunnett & Maqueque and Kune. These folks have been doing innovative events and bringing in performers who are outstanding in dance, music and literature for a few years now. It’s time for a nomination I think.

MAT’s Urinetwon

And then there’s the Mariposa Arts Theatre. I have been saying for a few years now they are the most professional amateur theater company and they proved it in November with a production of Unrinetown.  Director Valerie Thornton put together a great cast and a great crew. I saw opening night and they performed it like it was the last night of the two week run, it was so flawless, even the lighting effects were awesome. A lot of credit goes to choreographer Sheri Nichols as well.

Jamie Lamb wrote a book, Christmas in Mariposa, which made the first cut for the Leacock Medal, but did not get on the shortlist. This is too bad. I thought it was one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. Jamie is a fantastic storyteller. That the stories were about Orillia, the people and places, made it better. He launched it at the museum and read one of the short stories.

January and February are usually light months for events. Lance Anderson had another Gospel and Blues concert in early February, and if anything, the Mariposa Folk Festival should get a nomination just for this series because each of the 8 annual concerts has been outstanding, brought in famous musicians to play, and given us a reason to hold on for March and better weather.

Since March we’ve really only had the internet to keep us entertained for the most part. Joe Huron, Steve Henry, Bleeker, Charlotte and the Dirty Cowboys, Zachary Luck, Mark Boddy, Chuck Swires, Michael Marty and Dave Shaw with their Essential Concert Series at Makers Market, and many others have had regular livestreams on Facebook and Youtube. I don’t know how you nominated all of them for keeping us sane, but they deserve some recognition.

And finally, the City of Orillia needs some consideration. Well, not just the City. They are ending their See You On The Patio program Friday night, which had the main street and the Arts District closed on Friday and Saturday evenings. They hired musicians to play. That alone is noteworthy. The Arts District was out in full force (Molly Farqhuaarson was the architect of the group for that I believe – also look up her Hibernation Gallery on Facebook, she’s been doing a lot to make things happen in the Arts District), Anitta Hamming’s Creative Nomad Studios organized public art events each week, The Somniatis crew made an appearance, and the DOMB folks managed the evenings – and all to give the rest of us something to do other than rake the yard again.

All of our arts people have been doing their part this year and every year. Now it’s time for you to do your part. Make a nomination.

Aaron Davis At The Opera House
Aaron Davis
Aaron Davis

Last Saturday night there was a real, live concert to enjoy. The audience was not as great as it could have been, there was room for another 30 people. Maybe some of you are still wary of going to Opera House events, but with a few more ahead at the Opera House you might think differently knowing a few things.

First there’s a limit of 50 people. I sat all alone in my own little island; I couldn’t have hit anyone with a spitball. You go in to the Opera House and straight to your seats (they will group people together who have a bubble and separate you from others).  The Green Room is closed, no loitering. You can bring your own drinks and munchies.  There’s staff on hand to make sure physical distancing is carried out.

Victoria Yeh
Victoria Yeh

So with all that, it felt a little different until the concert got underway. Producer Victoria Yeh played a couple of tunes solo to start. She looks like she’s having so much fun playing electric violin. That she plays exceptionally well makes her performance better. She did Jean Luc Ponty’s Cosmic Messenger and her own composition, Farewell.

Aaron Davis came out next. He and the band, bassist Ian De Souza (Sisters Euclid, Katherine Wheatley), John Johnson (Manteca, Boss Brass, Orillia Jazz Fest performer) and Kevin Breit on guitar played like a well-oiled machine. The music ranged across styles from a waltz to open, through music he composed for soundtracks, to a nostalgic, maybe 30s or 20s influenced piece called Reconstruction.

Victoria returned to join the band for the final two tunes, and an encore, Calypso Dumpling, which went on and on and I wish it didn’t stop. We, the audience, thought it was over a couple times and they went right back into the song. While the band was fantastic, Victoria’s inclusion at the end brought everything up several notches. I really like her playing. She is definitely a center of attention on stage.

Kevin Breit, Ian De Souza, and John Johnson

You can see the concert online beginning October 18. Its part of a six-concert series Victoria put together called Travel by Sound. It’s pay-per-view, kind of. Once you’re in, you can watch it again and again.  Each concert is $40, or you can get the series for $100. If you hurry, pay half of that until the end of September. I think it will be worth every penny, nickel, toonie or folding bill you can spend.

The Shorts

*  Last week I said I’d dissect another part of the Leacock Museum master plan presented to council last week. However, I am aware of the length of this column, so we’ll resume next week.

Amy Sky

*  The Opera House has some interesting things happening in October. Each night from the 15th to the 18th the Artist Life Stories Seriespresents an evening of interview, music and Q&A from audiences in the same manner as when Rik Emmett was last here. The first night is with Dougie Franklin, I mean Ian Thomas (this is about the music). Ian is a funny guy. Every time I’ve interviewed him has been hilarious. Next evening it’s with Luke McMaster, then Amy Sky and then Murdoch Mystery author Maureen Jennings. Oct. 3 The Fitzgeralds perform. They are from Ottawa, a brother and two sisters, and they do fiddle music and dancing. I’m pretty sure they’ve been here before as an opener for someone else and I liked them, but I can’t find a reference. Tickets are available here.

*  Information Orillia has an online fundraiser happening right now. Part of the objective is to showcase Orillia businesses, so the items are donated from those people. The other is to raise some operating funds. You can see the items in the auction on their website, or their Facebook page. You can bid here. The auction ends Sept. 30.

*  There are two youth center fundraisers happening to establish scholarship funds. One in memory of Jake Beers the Beers family calls hxmesweethxme. Check out their Facebook page for opportunities to contribute. Anitta Hamming also created an online raffle for two of the paintings created for the Metamorphosis project. You can get a ticket here, and you can also see, or buy, other art at that link.

*  Did you go to the Carmichael Lecture this year” Of course you didn’t. There is, however, an online discussion of Carmichael by Wil Kucey of Canadian Fine Arts you can watch online. OMAH has another round of the QuarARTine, 6×6 pieces for auction here and the gallery is open by appointment, 705-326-2159.

*  The Orillia branch of Dress For Success has a progressive, online, raffle called Toonie Tuesday. They’ve had some pretty significant jackpots. Tickets are $2 and you can buy as many as you like. Check their Facebook page frequently for updates on the jackpot and weekly winners.  

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia; Images Supplied)

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