A welcoming and exciting new home. A Canadian icon coming here to perform. Outstanding musicians consistently winning audience kudos throughout the year.
For the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, the 2015-16 season has been a banner one.
And the volunteer board, president Sandra Whitworth, Eric Pietersma, Tony McCadden and Derek Hunter, is already planning a dynamic new concert series in 2016-17: among the confirmed featured artists is renowned finger style guitarist, Andy McKee, coming to the Stage November 5.
This May’s Sweet Alibi concert wrapped up the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage’s first season in its new home at Upper Canada Playhouse.
“There were some growing pains, of course, with the move to a new venue,” said Tony McCadden, “but it’s been wonderful. We felt so at home at the Playhouse. Donnie (Bowes) and his staff are a pleasure to work with.
We have a larger space at the Playhouse, and we are currently developing some new ways to co-ordinate show starts, or handle possible delays: but any time we have a problem, the Playhouse helps us find a solution. There’s a great audience reception area at the Playhouse, too.”
Tony and Derek Hunter both agreed that “the artists love the acoustics at the Playhouse. They are really comfortable with the sound. And yet the performance space remains intimate. The singers still feel deeply connected to the audience.”
Audiences for the St. Lawrence Stage are growing.
“Comparing on a fiscal year basis, which gives a slightly better comparison, (the Stage) had an increase of almost 31 per cent of paying audience members in 2015/16 as compared to 2014/15,” said Sandra Whitworth. “And we’re generally seeing higher audience numbers. Overall, we’re in good shape.”
The performance of Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn in February packed the Playhouse. Women in Blues in March with Suzie Vinnick, Irish Mythen and Danielle Miraglia, was a near sold out show. Performances like Don Ross, Calum Graham, Kellylee Evans, Jaron Freeman-Fox, Jordie Lane, Annie Sumi, Sweet Alibi and Mike Celia drew increasing numbers of appreciative audience members to the Stage.
“Year to year our shows just seem to get better,” said Tony McCadden. “There is a wide variety of musicians and musical genres at the SLAS. Blues, jazz, fingerstyle, country, roots, pop, and even an artist like Jaron Freeman-Fox who refuses to be ‘genred’,” McCadden laughed. “We try to bring in different performers.
I also think audiences feel they can trust our judgement. Even if they’ve never heard of a particular artist, they know they will enjoy a great show when they come to the Stage.
We’ve also done some experimenting with ‘in the round’ performing,” he added. “Bringing three quite different musicians together on the stage. We’ve found that there can be real magic when these artists click. Audiences seem to love it.”
“The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage is growing a reputation at Showcases and Folk Festivals as a place to perform,” said Derek Hunter. “Musicians are hearing the buzz about the Stage. They know our audiences are there to listen and enjoy.”
The Playhouse’s Intimate Acoustics showcases have remained hugely popular with audiences and also with up and coming artists. Intimate Acoustics offers young performers, many at the start of their careers, a professional and welcoming venue in which to perform.
“We are in the second year of our two year Heritage Grant ($13,000),” said Sandra Whitworth. “The Township of South Dundas supported us again this year with $1,000. We have an application in to the Ontario Arts Council and we will hear about that in later July or early August.
Depending on the artists we bring in, we may also approach the Five B Family Foundation again.”
The annual general meeting of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage will take pace on Thursday, June 23, at 5 p.m. with the location to be confirmed on the Stage website. The 2016/17 season of performers and performance dates at the Stage will be announced later this summer.
“This year’s singers presented really outstanding vocal productions for our audiences,” said Tony McCadden. “Next season at the Stage looks even better.”