Tag Archives: The Great Canadian Songbook

Rockin’ The Hall Raised the Roof on Saturday Night

Review by Bill Monahan of Rockin’ The Hall Vol. 2 at Meaford Hall, May 6, 2017

Photo courtesy of Marissa Dolotallis

Saturday night’s concert, Rockin’ The Hall, Vol. 2, was the centrepiece of the Grand Re-Opening Event that took place at Meaford Hall on the weekend to celebrate the balcony renovations.  And it was fitting that it should be.  It could be said that without Meaford Hall the great band that rocked the hall on Saturday night might not exist at all.  And what a band!  Each member of the ten piece company had moments of outstanding performance as they worked their way through a number of familiar songs that were given new energy by the quality of the interpretations.  The performers ranged in age from thirteen to somewhere north of 60, from relative newcomers to award-winning industry veterans, but you would have been hard pressed to distinguish which was which as each seemed to vie with the others to take the audience higher.  All through both sets, audience members were jumping up like Whack-a-Mole in spontaneous appreciation of great moments.  It was clear that each performer loved being there and gave their all.  And a big part of that was the hall itself.

Meaford Hall is truly a gem that puts our little town on a cultural level that punches far above its weight.  As the mayor said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony that preceded the concert, this is the best venue of its size in Southern Ontario.  With the completion of the balcony renovations the long journey to create a world-class venue his reached a sort of culmination, something truly worthy of celebration.

It’s worth remembering that this wonderful achievement is primarily the result of the efforts of dedicated and hard-working volunteers as well as the generosity of citizens who stepped up to cover the lion’s share of the cost.  The Balcony Renovation Project came in on time and on budget.  It was shepherded through that process by talented individuals who brought specific talents to bear for the sake of the community.

While the building and the Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation are essential elements in the success of Meaford Hall, a lot of credit goes to the excellent staff.  This is particularly true in regard to concerts.  Local music fans are very well served by booking policies that put the emphasis on quality Canadian talent.  To attend regular concert offerings at Meaford Hall is to become an educated connoisseur of Canadian talent.  Often the performers are not well-known names (although many are) but because of such judicious booking policies it is pretty much guaranteed that any show booked there will be outstanding.  The hall also has a top-notch technical crew.  It has become commonplace for touring performers to heap praise on the staff and enthuse from the stage about what an exceptional place this is for them to play.  That enthusiasm from the performers is a big part of what makes the shows as good as they are.

The entire show was a flow of unstoppable energy that  gained momentum throughout.

Which brings me back to the idea that this great band that performed on Saturday night would not exist without Meaford Hall.  If you have followed the other articles about Chris Scerri bringing his friends from Port Credit to Meaford, you already know that they have fallen in love with our town and we with them.  And it all began with Chris’s inspiration to bring a show called The Great Canadian Songbook to the Opera House.  Having these talents become part of our local culture has made a permanent change that is putting Meaford on the map as a centre for live music, live original music that radiates primarily from the great programming at Meaford Hall but also provides exposure for exceptional local talent.

Chris Scerri’s Vision For Meaford Culminates In “Rockin’ the Hall”

This Saturday night’s show at Meaford Hall is, in addition to being a celebration of The Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation’s accomplishments through the past decade, a celebration of live music in Meaford and Chris Scerri’s vision.  Most of the cast is composed of people that he introduced to our town, or made our town more aware of.  There is the great honkytonk piano player Tyler Yarema as musical director, the veteran soul singer Virgil Scott, Canadian Idol finalist Drew Wright, virtuoso violinist Victoria Yeh, and fast rising vocal talents Gracie and Emma Wright.  And of course Chris himself.

In the past year Chris Scerri has had quite an impact on Meaford and the town has had an impact on him.  This weekend’s Rockin’ The Hall show is in many ways the culmination of his efforts over the past year.  The Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation puts on a show every year as a fundraiser in conjunction with their Silent Auction and this year they asked Chris to put it together for them.  Their association with Chris began with their sponsorship (with others) of the Meaford Summer Concert Series which was conceived and produced by him.  Like others who were involved, as sponsors, participants or audience, when they saw how that project evolved they were impressed with his organization and effort.

Like so many people in Meaford who have made big contributions to the town, Chris was inspired by his love of his new home to bring something special to it.  He has always been a music lover, particularly live music, and he had a vision that would enhance tourism and night life in the town.

"The Great Canadian Songbook" at Meaford Hall

“The Great Canadian Songbook” rocked Meaford Hall this spring, including locals Chris Scerri and Drew McIvor

His initial effort was to suggest to several musical friends from his former home in Port Credit that they put together a special show.  With talents like Tom Barlow, Johnny Max and Tyler Yarema on board, he sold them on the idea of bringing their show to the Opera House, knowing that not only would they love the venue, but the local audiences would love them.  The result, called “The Great Canadian Songbook” was a rousing success, creating a memorable evening for everyone who was there and, for a few of the participants, introducing them to the beauty of Meaford, which they have come to regard as a second home.

Tuesday Nights at The Leeky (photo by Marissa Dollotallis)

Tuesday Nights at The Leeky (photo by Marissa Dollotallis)

Next he wanted to start an open mic night at The Leeky Canoe.  The Leeky had been booking local bands for some time, rotating well-known local talents on Saturday nights.  Chris saw the open mic as an opportunity to bring some new talent to the fore.  He had the ingenious idea of bringing along a different co-host each week, which had the effect of creating a new vibe for each open mic night.  There has been a steady stream of great accompanists at his Tuesday night jams, attracting a good audience as well as a variety of talented performers.

Carrie Stoffers at Captains Corner caught the spirit and added an open mic night to her outside patio during the summer, along with Friday night concerts.

Gracie

When Gracie performed last spring as part of The Great Canadian Songbook at Meaford Hall the audience was charmed by her poise and stage presence as well as her vocal prowess.  She has a certain star quality that radiated from her enthusiasm on stage.  We didn’t realize at the time that her career as a singer has just very recently lifted off the runway, and that her performance that evening meant as much to her as it did to us.

“People here really do appreciate talent,” she says delightedly.

This confident and compelling vocalist whose delivery is a blend of early influences Amy Winehouse and Celine Dion began as a head banger.  “I wanted to be just like Randy Rhodes, except not die in a plane crash,” she says, referring to the legendary Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot guitarist who was being acclaimed for his unique heavy metal style at the time of his premature death. “I wanted to play guitar like him.”  She had already had piano lessons and, having discovered heavy metal, she borrowed her father’s cheap electric guitar and took lessons for two years with a sympathetic teacher who would prepare charts for the songs she preferred to learn.

At first her main goal in life was to become a soccer player, to reach the Olympic level, but music gradually elbowed that ambition aside. She wanted to be in the school jazz band, playing guitar, but her teacher Mr. Harkin, while encouraging her talent, wanted better players than she was at the time, players who could read notation.  Finally near the end of high school she achieved a place in the band, as the main guitar player.

After school she jammed with friends and,with her boyfriend, a heavy metal drummer, wrote some songs with metal riffs.  “He also loved funk and jazz,” she says, “so we would get into that.  I realized I liked playing blues scales.  I changed my style up along the way.”

Now focused on music as a career, she applied to the music program at York University and, as a strategic move, auditioned for jazz vocals rather than guitar.  “I didn’t think I’d get in if I played guitar, but I knew I had vocal ability.  I wanted to be a musician.  For the auditions, you have to pick a few songs that are in contrast to each other.  I just didn’t have the chops, so I thought I would just sing.”

Through university her rebellious nature gradually gave way to an appreciation of what her profs were saying and her world expanded under the tutelage of Sasha Williamson, for two years her vocal teacher,  “amazing person and friend”.

Anxious to get out into the real world of music, she heard from a friend about Tom Barlow’s Monday night jam at The Shore Grille and Grotto in Port Credit, so she made the pilgrimage down the road from her home in Oakville.  She sang “Walking On The Moon”, the Police song.  “The band was amazing and the people were nice. Tom introduced me to a community of people.”  It opened the doors.  “I quit school to perform, thought I could be successful in that area.” She performed under her full name, Mary Grace Marino.  Opportunities have blossomed since and she has become simply Gracie.

Chris Scerri, when he lived in Port Credit, was also in regular attendance at Tom Barlow’s jam.  When he worked up the courage he would join the band on stage.  As things evolved, Tom and members of his band became the core of the band that played The Great Canadian Songbook at Meaford Hall.  And musical director Tyler Yarema has provided accompaniment for Gracie with several visits to Meaford since.

Now Tom Barlow has a new record out that is garnering critical acclaim, and Gracie adds backing vocals.  She hints at some surprises for the upcoming Rockin’ The Hall show on Dec. 3rd(see sidebar for link to tickets). “I’m excited to see the reactions of the people,” she says.

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Tyler Yarema and Gracie Rock Market Square

Tyler Yarema
"The Great Canadian Songbook" at Meaford Hall

“The Great Canadian Songbook” rocked Meaford Hall this spring, including locals Chris Scerri and Drew McIvor

When Tyler Yarema and His Rhythm played at the Market Square to help us celebrate Canada Day 2016, he was clearly happy to be here.  “This is my new favourite place,” he told the audience, “Whenever I have a few days off I come to visit Meaford.”

About a month earlier there had been a big party in The Opera House at Meaford Hall.  It was a show called “The Great Canadian Songbook”.  A varied group of musicians from the Toronto area ran through two scintillating sets of Canadian classics that, by the end of the evening had the audience up and dancing.  Tyler Yarema, at the piano, was the heart of the performance and only member of the group to do a solo, with a heart rendering performance of Neil Young’s “Helpless”.  But it was the several interludes when Gracie came on stage that really warmed up the audience.  A young vibrant performer with a passionate delivery, she brought the audience to their feet.

Tyler and Gracie performing for Meaford Hall Foundation

Tyler and Gracie played jazz for wine-sipping schmoozers at Meaford Hall last fall

The two of them had been in Meaford before, providing light jazz for a Meaford Hall Foundation soiree last November.  When they returned to rock the Market Square on Canada Day the crowd gave them a warm welcome.

Tyler Yarema brought his piano talents originally from Thunder Bay to play the Toronto clubs with the likes of Jeff Healey, The Downchild Blues Band, and the late legendary Doug Riley.  He’s played, produced, arranged and sung on over 40 albums and won at least three awards for his piano playing, including NOW magazine’s piano player of the year in 2002.

Tyler Yarema at the keyboard

Tyler Yarema

His influences run into deep roots, from the rocking boogie-woogie of Willie (The Lion) Smith to the sophistication of Duke Ellington.

Gracie

Gracie

Gracie is making a name for herself, stretching her wings and expanding her talent.  Already she has a lot to show for it, and can make a song or style her own with passion and verve that hovers between Broadway and a smoky club.  Whether she is singing jazz or soul or rock and roll, she brings her special personality and an ebullient energy to the stage and audiences love it.

Their show was the kick-off event for the Meaford Summer Concert Series of Friday night concerts put together by Chris Scerri to bring the sound of live music to downtown Meaford and heat up the harbour right through July and August.  Every show of the series will include a local young talent and this one featured the remarkable vocalist Emma Wright.

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