This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Last weekend was fantastic. The Orillia Jazz Festival returned and it couldn’t have happened in a nicer way. Well, it could have if it was business as usual and all the venues which usually take part were able to have musicians playing the nights away (and there are more potential venues than ever to do that), but then there was no competition for the main events at the Opera House this time around.

Things began Friday evening with a concert by Laila Biali. The opening act was a company of dancers from Ryerson University who were to perform a new work outside in the courtyard, but rain was threatening and it was moved into the Studio Theatre. I was 5 minutes later than the start time, expecting it to be outside, and did not get to see them because capacity was reached indoors.

This meant I was more than on time for Laila, some of which I killed by going across the street to Cloud Gallery where Miriam Slan was having an opening reception of  show of her artwork. Jazz musicians use all the sonic colours to do their magic and Miriam certainly uses all the colours for her paintings – not all at once in a piece, but across the spectrum of the dozens she had hanging around and I think the cones in my eyes got a sufficient workout. There was a nice group on hand to see the show, and you can too until Sunday. Cloud has a lineup of solo shows through to December and Sarah Carlson’s opens Oct. 29. It doesn’t cost anything to go to the receptions, but you still have to register because some people are dragging this pandemic out.

Laila Biali

So, showtime; Laila opened with Autumn Leaves, which one might think is opportunistic, but Laila is from the left coast and she said the drive to Orillia from Toronto where everything is done in shades of gray inspired her to change her opening piece.

The thing is it morphed into Woodstock. She was well into Joni Mitchell’s tune before I caught on because –it’s jazz – and even though the tune was recognizable and she did a great job of it, what was happening was masked a bit and I wasn’t being too alert.

She mixed her program with covers (Mitchell’s A Case of You, Coldplay’s Yellow, Bowie’s Let’s Dance and others) and her own tunes. I joked, kind of, last week she was a percussionist too and there was a point I realized I was more right than the smartass I am knew. Her left and right hand interplay on chords is very rhythmic in the way a drummer might play the piano – albeit she has a lot more to bring to the music between the chords than a drummer could.

And the singing. She flips from her lower register to her upper register as if it’s Tuesday and why not? It’s effortless, makes absolute sense, and leaves you wondering how anyone can do it so easily.

Speaking of drummers, her husband, Ben Wittman, is a great drummer. He was doing this thing I wanted to ask him about after the concert, but he didn’t come down with Laila to the Green Room to kibitz with the audience.

Then there was George Koller. George doesn’t mind if anyone thinks he’s having fun onstage. He manages to get all kinds of not bass sounds out of his upright bass and he’ll use them. Early on he had a solo and was imitating whales with the bass, an effect he used again in a tune at the other end of the concert.

It was a fun concert and I went away with more than I expected on the enjoyment scale.

Saturday night Brassworks anchored a concert at the Opera House.  They opened with Earth Wind and Fire’s Can’t Hide Love, which to their credit is not the tune most bands would cover from the EWF catalogue. It was a good way to start the gig, then they played Lingus, Snarky Puppy’s career sparking song.

They had three high school students performing – Grace Locker (Orillia Secondary School), Zach Zirger (Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School), Laurel Van Pypen (Twin Lakes Secondary School) who all made it through their chosen tunes without hitches, which is what any high school student hopes to achieve when they are the center of attention and have an instrument in their hands.

The stunner of the night was the quartet of former Jazzamatazz members (Deb Halbot, Christine Bosco, Ian Munday and Brian Pretty) who did three tunes in each half of the concert (if there was an intermission, but the program was still structured that way). I’ve always thought Brian has a tremendous singer and excellent frontman for the bands he was in years ago and I enjoyed see him own the stage again.

They did one tune called Owimoway, which I completely glossed over when reading the program notes because it’s usually called The Lion Sleeps Tonight. When they started it my thought was, “oh no, not that,” reaching into the kitsch bag because they are a quartet. I’ve never heard anyone do it in a non-gimmicky way. These folks however, found a sophisticated arrangement that gave them more stature than the song itself does. And Ian Munday, holy cow. He was the lead and everyone knows he can sing because of all the musicals he’s been in with Mariposa Arts Theatre – but I had no idea he could sing like that.

The girls were pitch perfect when they were carrying the load, and I have to say I was surprised Deb Halbot is such a good a singer. It struck me it’s no wonder she’s such a good photographer because when you are good in one art genre, you’re likely going to be as good in another and she proved my own little rule.

lance anderson
Lance Anderson

Sunday was Lance Anderson’s turn. He and Russ Boswell did Lance’s tribute to Oscar Peterson show. I’ve seen it before, and I’ll see it again. It’s masterful with the personal stories he tells and the utterly fantastic playing. I can’t say for sure Lance covered every single note the way Oscar would have, but if you listen to any one of the tunes Oscar recorded then heard Lance do it you’d say he nailed it. It sure felt like Oscar was doing the playing.

And then I had a thought. You know there isn’t a single drummer on the planet with the gumption to do a Buddy Rich show. No one in their right mind would even try. Yeah sure, some of us can do some of the things Buddy did, but I have yet to hear anyone play who can do a whole show’s worth, or even one song and not leave you thinking, “Not like Buddy.” Yet, there I was sitting at the back of Gord’s Room marveling we have a guy who lives right here in town who has the guts to play Oscar, charge you for it, and make you feel you got every penny’s worth and feel good about it all.

Thanks to the festival organizers for deciding we’ve gone long enough without a jazz festival and I’m looking forward to next year.

The Mariposa Conundrum

What would happen if Mariposa threw a mini festival and scheduled a bunch of concerts at the same time? Not much if it was happening at Tudhope Park, but it’s a bit nippy this time of year to do that. They have 5 venues lined up all over someone’s half acre to put on 6 concerts, so it could be a bit of a dilemma deciding which concert to see because you can’t just walk over there to the others. This is the list of who is playing the 1 p.m. gigs and where – and you’ll note some of the angst of deciding which one to see has been solved by other ticket buyers:

  • Mariposa Inn – Amanda Rheaume, James Gray, Kaia Kater and the Doozies
  • ODAS Park – Danny Michel, Jay Stiles, the Connors Brothers, the Honeyrunners SOLD OUT
  • Opera House – Angelique Francis, Coco Love Alcorn, Lydia Persaud
  • Braestone Farm – Ariko, Mimi O’Bonsawin, Rick Fines, Terra Lightfoot SOLD OUT
  • St. Paul’s Centre – Birds of Bellwoods, Kyla Charter, Suzie Vinnick, Zachary Lucky

Had you not been so slow, you could have been able to say you saw two of the gigs, but Saturday evening’s 7:30 p.m. at the Opera House with Donovan Woods, Evangeline Gentle and Shakura S’Aida is sold out too. You can get tickets at the Opera House box office.

And not a Mariposa event, but he’s played Mariposa before. The Ronnie Douglas Blues Band is having a Culture Days concert, with Alex Rabbitson opening, at St. James’ Anglican Church October 23 at 8 p.m. You need to get a ticket (they’re free).

Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Awards

Nominations are now closed for the 2021 Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Award. All there is left to do is wait for November 24 when the awards night happens at St. Paul’s Centre – it’s going live and it’s going to be live streamed too.

If you go, the doors open at 6 and the awards start at 7 p.m. The committee has been making great strides to raise the profile of the awards from a 50 person in attendance schmoozer four years ago to a 180 persons in attendance party two years ago. The objective is to make it a real awards night just like you’d see on TV (well you can kind of this year on your computer monitor) with people all dressed up, red carpets music, and tearful speeches from recipients.

You don’t need to register, just show up, wear your mask, and keep some space around you.

Short Takes

(photo by Deb Halbot)

Check out the Somniatis Wearable Art Show video and then head over to their fundraising page. The Somniatis folks want to keep the momentum going on the fundraising side of the event. Last time around when it was live they raised over $12,000 and they hope the community will try to at least match that amount this year to support Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital’s mental health programs.

The Orillia Concert Association has a 2021/22 season and it starts October 23. The first two concerts are going to be online and they are with Sinfonia Toronto and with Peter Stoll and Adam Zukiewicz on November 28. They go live February 20 with violinist Maria Millar and Shawn Wyckoff on flute performing as Sonic Escape; followed by the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry band March 27 and the Toronto All-Star Big Band May 1. You can get the very reasonably priced season tickets ($70) at the Opera House box office.

Jacquie Dancyger Arnold and Hugh Coleman are doing a fundraising concert for the Orillia Museum of Art and History at St. Paul’s Centre October 30. Their guest performers are Ross Arnold, Laura Aylan-Parker and Gail Spencer. Most of the music is from the classical realm, with a little Swinging Shepherd Blues and Tico Tico to jazz things up a bit. The concert is at 2 p.m. and you can get tickets online.

3rd place Hippy Van by
Carley McCutcheon and Frank Ripley

If you haven’t been downtown to see the Hippy Vans you better hurry. They are still in place, but they’ will likely be moved out soon. If a little rain is going to make you melt the way it does with some people around here – and I mean specifically mean right here BTCATKB – you can always check out the Orillia District Arts Council’s online tour of the vans, complete with info on the artists, the sponsors and the thoughts behind the art. You’ll even see a link to download a pdf of it you can keep. ODAC is also doing a fundraiser event with the Hippy Vans November 5 at Creative Nomad Studios; Leslie Fournier will be there to tell stories about the ten years of the street art project, the 2021 winners will be there; there will be news about a Christmas project – and there’s a $500 door prize. Tickets are $30 and you can get them online.

The Old Dance Hall Players have a show November 19 at the Opera House. This is Orillia’s best improv comedy company. It’s also the only one, but if there has to be only one, we lucked out because they do a heck of a show. There are only 100 tickets and you can get them at the Opera House box office starting next Tuesday.

The Orillia Youth Center and Derick Lehmann’s The Big Event are teaming up for another Trunk Or Treat at ODAS Park October 30. The concept was born out of necessity last year when kids couldn’t go door to door with their little comedy acts begging for candy. People sign up (they still have room for some vehicles to be on the giving end). You also sign up to be a receiver too, but unfortunately because of the pandemic rules only so many tickets were allowed and they are all gone.

Steven Henry kept many of us sane through most of 2020 through to spring this year playing every Saturday night on Facebook and Friday, October 22 you can see him live at Quayle’s Brewery (12th Line of Oro-Medonte just off Mt. St. Louis Road) from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. It’s a farm, you can sip and watch the young beers growing on the back 40. Jaclyn Sere and Rob Walker play tomorrow, Friday, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jakob Pearce is in this Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. – and he’ll be at Picnic Wednesday, October 27 from 8 to 10 p.m.

Creative Nomad Studios is having a Holiday Market November 27 and 28. Now is the time to apply to be a vendor. You can find the details online. In other Christmas related news – it’s coming, the craft shows. The 10th annual ODAS Park Orillia Holiday Craft Show is November 6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit their website for vendor info. The Westmount United Church is doing their Christmas sale online from November 12 to November 15. You can check out some of the items for sale now, but you have to wait until the 12th to buy.

Glen Robertson has another new tune out to listen to and watch on Youtube. It’s called Breakin’ Down and you can watch his other videos here.

Sustainable Orillia is starting the third in a series of art contests ($75 prize for the winner) on the theme of Housing. Make submissions here by October 31.

At the galleries… Miriam Slan has a solo show at Cloud Gallery until October 24; Cloud also has solos shows and receptions (get tickets online) booked every two weeks through to December; See work (in order) by Sarah Carlson, Gordon Harrison, Julia Veenstra and Kyle Sorenson… Kristine Drummond’s art is at Peter Street Fine Arts for the month… not every piece submitted for the Carmichael Landscape Show at OMAH gets accepted, Hibernation Arts wants to have a show, Call For Carmichael Too, for those pieces; contact Molly Farquharson to get yours included; Hibernation’s guest artist for the month is Natasha Genevieve… keep November 5 free, OMAH is opening the Carmichael Canadian Landscape Exhibition: Tradition Transformed and an exhibit called We Are Still Here, works by D. Ahsén:nase Douglas; the annual Carmichael Lecture is online this year and it’s with Anna Hudson of York University on November 17 and the topic is The Legacy of the Group of Seven and you can register here; you can still see Welcome Home to Orillia and Will McGarvey’s, Sticks and Stones until the end of the month; OMAH also has a Halloween event called Spooky Stroll happening October 29; It’s a walking tour of scary Orillia, you can get tickets online and there are three start times, that’s start as in here we go, not don’t do that to me again; did you know the kids are going to be home from school Oct. 22? At least they thought they were, you are going to pack them off to OMAH’s day camp, you can register them here.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: Laila Biali – photo by Edith Maybin.

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