A Christmas Gift From Meaford Hall

Review by Bill Monahan of Rockin’ The Hall, Dec. 3, 2016

Photos by Marissa Dolotallas

There was a big party on Saturday night in Meaford, one that is likely to be long remembered, not only because it was a triple celebration but because it represents the dawning of a new era for our town.

The Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation arranged this Gala Concert at Meaford Hall as a fundraiser and to celebrate their 10th anniversary.  Foundation president Rod MacAlpine said that not only was the show a great success but the Silent Auction exceeded all expectations.

The Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation has contributed so much to our local culture in the past decade, with its community outreach and sponsorship of special programming. Under the inspired management of Susan Lake, Meaford Hall has become one of the most impressive concert halls in Southern Ontario.

The silent auction and gala performance has been a Christmas tradition throughout the history of the Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation.  In previous years they have brought in big ticket acts that would usually play much larger halls.  This year, inspired by Chris Scerri’s efforts to build a local music scene, they decided to take a different approach and they asked him to put together a musical variety show.  The result was an energetic and joyous celebration of Christmas, of Meaford Hall, and of the state of the local music scene.

The show had a very loose, casual but fun feel to it that made it seem more like a party than a performance, although every cast member brought something special to their part of the program.  The show consisted entirely of familiar Christmas songs but each came with a unique flavour.

Tyler Yarema is the latest addition to a long list of people (including Christopher Thomas,  Paul Osborne, Marilyn Morris, Patrick Delaney, Chris Scerri and many others) who have brought their talents to Meaford and after falling in love with the town have made significant contributions to our local culture.  Tyler put together this program of talents assembled by Chris Scerri and contributed the talents of his own band, to create a fun evening that made the audience feel a special part of it.

There was a real sense of dynamics to the show, surging at times with energy then laying back for more reflective moments.  The cast included stellar vocalists who moved around to take the lead or provide background harmonies, and a series of instrumental solos were like glittering diamonds in the mix.

Consistently inspired sax solos from Scott Neilson enhanced each song.  Drew Wright contributed a blistering lead guitar solo, Victoria Yeh provided moving and inspired violin solos and Tyler, in addition to setting the pace with some great percussive piano playing, cut loose with an outstanding solo break on “It’s a Marshmallow World”.

To use an old cliché, Emma Wright could sing the phone book and deeply move you.  Her emotive phrasing and perfect pitch is always evocative, no matter what she sings.   She did two Christmas standards and the audience loved it.  There were many other vocal highlights as well; in fact, to list them all would be to itemize the entire show.

Gracie charmed with every song she performed

Gracie charmed with every song she performed

Gracie, in addition to having a vocal talent that is capable of many styles, brings such joy and charm to her performances that all of her contributions were outstanding.  The most engaging was her entrance from the back of the hall at the beginning of the second set, with a cute and sexy rendition of the cute and sexy song, “Santa Baby”.  She brought the same quality to her duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” early in the show with Virgil Scott.

Virgil Scott is a great musical veteran who has been performing a long time.  He took a few moments to tell the audience an anecdote about the last time he was at Meaford Hall, way back in 1968 when he was seventeen, playing with a band called Virgil Scott and The Innocents.  He had performed at the legion in Meaford that night but ended up spending the night in one of the jail cells in the basement of Meaford Hall, thanks to his bandmate who couldn’t resist a convertible with the keys left in it.  Before Saturday’s show, he asked to be taken again into the basement and there had a nostalgic moment looking again at the cell where he had once been briefly incarcerated.

Virgil Scott and Victoria Yeh brought out the longing in Joni Mitchell's "River"

Virgil Scott and Victoria Yeh brought out the longing in Joni Mitchell’s “River”

He followed this story with a moving version of Joni Mitchell’s “River”, a simple duet with Victoria Yeh.  She played off his soulful vocals with violin lines that were full of longing and sadness (with just a sprinkling of “Jingle Bells”).  He did another duo with Drew Wright, reprising the 1977 David Bowie/Bing Crosby duet of “Little Drummer Boy”

One of the most impressive vocal performances (if you don’t count Emma Wright, who is in a class all her own) was Chris Scerri’s rendition of “Blue Christmas”, from the front of the stage without amplification, backed by beautiful harmonies from the rest of the cast.  It takes some courage to sing Elvis songs at any time but even more to do it in a context like this without a PA (and so close to Collingwood, the Elvis capital of Canada!).  To his credit, Chris not only pulled it off but made the song his own.

It was Tyler and Chris who started, earlier this year, the tradition of having an after party at The Leeky Canoe to follow performances at Meaford Hall.  Tyler had announced from the stage that “we’ll all be going across the street for a drink afterward.”

A few minutes after the show ended a man walked in to The Leeky Canoe, where Luke Martin was playing, with two ladies on his arm.

“Party of three?” he was asked.  He replied “Party of forty.  I’m not kidding!”

Soon afterward people from the Hall streamed in and the pub became elbow to elbow.  It included all of the performers from the show and that special cohort of live music fans that are always at The Leeky when there is live music playing.


Meaford concert venueIt was interesting to note that although these fans had seen all of the performers that were part of tonight’s show various times for free at The Leeky they had still been willing to buy tickets to see the big show in a concert setting.  It showed that the two venues, large and small, can coexist in a mutually beneficial relationship because each offers a different experience to the music fan.

There was a palpable sense of celebration at The Leeky on Saturday night.  Everyone was talking about a new era in Meaford with so much live music and local talent.  This show at Meaford Hall had been a great showcase of that.

But if it seems like something new, it is really just the next phase in a cultural reality in Meaford.  There is something very special about this town in a cultural sense, something that thrives on an appreciative audience and is nurtured by the quality of programming at Meaford Hall and by special events like the Meaford Film Festival, for which we can thank Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation.  The efforts of Chris Scerri this past year have enhanced and expanded on that.

It takes special people to make a special place and on Saturday night that was what we celebrated.

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