Small Halls, Big Love: The Ontario Festival of Small Halls

Photo courtesy of The Festival of Small Halls

Over the years, Ottawa has built a solid reputation as a music festival city. It’s true – the minute the snow melts as early as April, festival season starts! Let me tell you about a unique festival called, The Festival of Small Halls. It’s all about big music in small places and it’s taking place right now all over the Ottawa Valley in small town churches, town halls and other unusual locations.

Photo credit: Anne-Marie Brugger

On Thursday night, William Prince performed at the Almonte Old Town Hall. You may not know him yet, but I guarantee you, that may well be the last chance anyone will have to see him express his angelic vocals in such a small intimate venue.

Friday night, I had the great pleasure of seeing Stephen Fearing present his brand new album at the St. Andrew’s United Church in Pakenham.  With its unusual inside dome-shaped architecture, the venue offered a surreal sound experience (kudos to Noah Sullivan who added to the magic on the sound board for the evening.) 

The venue provided the perfect intimate experience where Stephen, armed only with his favorite guitar (hand made by Linda Manzer, who was also in attendance) told us stories about his song writing adventures. He also told us about his new album, recorded live-off-the-floor without any use of technology or post-editing. It was done in the UK with veteran engineer, Roy Gandy (of Rega Research). Stephen admitted that the raw purity made him feel somewhat naked. The audience in this sold out show experienced that purity first hand in Pakenham Friday night. 

Kelly Sloan opened the show and was called upon quite spontaneously by Stephen to help out on harmonies on a Tom Waits cover of Time, which appears on Stephen’s new album, The Secret of Climbing. What a great way to cap off the evening.

The Festival of Small Halls in Ontario is now five years old and has grown from just a few locations to 33 this year. The festival began in Australia and later in Prince Edward Island with a vision of bringing big music to small places. The Ontario Festival of Small Halls has grown exponentially in popularity with an outpouring of enthusiasm equally from musicians and the host communities. Audience members come from around the world, across Canada and across the region.

The 2018 Ontario Festival of Small Halls, which showcases internationally-renowned musicians in cherished community spaces across Eastern Ontario began on September 13 and continues through to September 30th.  Many shows are already sold-out. 

This year's line-up celebrates some of Canada’s most cherished singer-songwriters and storytellers, many of whom live right here in our region. The festival continues to offer a unique concert experience: seeing your favourite artist in a setting which allows you to relish the music in an intimate hall while connecting with local community.

Here are some shows taking place next week: 

Thursday September 20 at 7:30PM

Jim Bryson with Meaghan Blanchard – Spencerville Mill

SATURDAY SEPT 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Mike Plume Band with Lucky Ron and the Rockabilly Reds – DACA Community Centre, Dacre

Friday September 21 at 7:30PM

We Walk the Line (A Tribute to Johnny Cash) – Rankin Culture and Recreation Centre

We Walk The Line is a true Johnny Cash Experience that celebrates the music and life of ‘The Man In Black’.With almost 100 professional shows to its credit, We Walk The Line has solidly established itself as one of the best Johnny Cash tribute shows in the country

Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Cassie & Maggie w Gabrielle & Rachel Campbell at the Dunvegan Recreation Hall

Saturday September 29 at 7:30PM

Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys with Jessica Pearson & The East Wind – Westmeath Recreation Centre

Saturday September 29 at 7:30PM

Kelly Prescott with Kathleen Sauve –St. James Catholic Church, Maxville