The Ontario Festival of Small Halls Story

DSC_1187In August 2014, on a super moon weekend, the Ontario Festival of Small Halls story began. Inspired by the spirit of community, hospitality, exceptional music, and fun that has made small halls festivals in PEI and Australia such treasured events, the Ontario festival brought the talented and charming Old Man Luedecke to perform in three intimate, historically rich venues in Perth, Gananoque, and Bloomfield.

The festival expanded to 14 locations in 2015. First-rate performers like The Strumbellas, The Good Lovelies, Corb Lund, The East Pointers, Beòlach, Fortunate Ones, Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys, Kelly Prescott, and Rueben deGroot stepped off the big stage to travel to small towns around Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark County. They were ushered into historic buildings at the heart of some of Ontario’s most vibrant communities and greeted with all the warmth of a small-town welcome. The host organizations threw themselves into the festival. They put on community dinners and country markets. They sold tickets, decorated the halls, offered local openers, and spread the word. Twelve of the festival’s 15 shows sold out, and the musicians delivered intimate, jaw-dropping performances complete with lots of laughter, foot stomping, storytelling, dancing, and downright musical magic.

In 2016, the festival expanded to include 24 communities, welcoming new villages to take part including Maxville, Athens, Burritt’s Rapids, Elgin, Pakenham, Winchester, and more. Canadian favourites like Basia Bulat, Elliott Brood, Shessham & Lotus and ‘Son, Kelly Sloan, Brock Zeman, Harrow Fair, Sherman Downey and Matthew Byrne, Jim Bryson, The Abrams, Miss Emily and many more graced the small stages. International artists like Breabach, Hat Fitz and Cara and Darlingside attended for the first time, playing to sold-out crowds, with many of their new fans hearing them for the first time.

2016 will see 10 more locations added to the festival circuit. Fans of the festival can expect the same high energy, top quality music coming from close to home and around the world.

The festival began with a vision of bringing big music to small places. Now, four years in, the festival is going strong, thriving on the outpouring of enthusiasm from musicians, communities, and audience members who have come together from across the world, across Canada, and across town to make the festival such a success.

The festival’s story is still unfolding, and you will have to stay tuned for the rest. But (spoiler alert) one thing is for sure: there will be many more unforgettable nights of music in well-loved spaces.

The Festival of Small Halls was proudly featured in The Great Waterway in 2015 and again in 2016.