The Ontario Festival of Small Halls Story
In 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.
2017 saw 10 more locations added to the festival circuit. Dunvegan, Alexandria, Merrickville, Kilmaurs, Dacre, Tamworth, Toledo, Balderson, Renfrew and Tatlock all jumped on board to open their doors to Small Halls shows and what a success they were! Artists like Ashley MacIsaac, Jenn Grant, Rose Cousins, Great Lake Swimmers, The Outside Track, Change of Step, The Abrams, Les Poules a Colin, Dave Gunning, Old Man Luedecke, Rosie & the Riveters, Jessica Wedden, Sacha, Julia Finnegan, Ian Sherwood, Jillian Kerr and many more, wowed audiences from all over.
2018 will see an even bigger festival with more artists coming from Canada in even more locations across the eastern part of the province.
The festival began with a vision of bringing big music to small places. Now, five 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.
In the News…
Small Halls, Big Sounds – Ontarios Highlands Tourism Organization
Festival of Small Halls Brings Big Music to Small Towns in Ontario – Life in Pleasantville
Ontario Festival of Small Halls: Fostering Community One Note at a Time – The Great Waterway
A Festival of Small Halls Experience: A Musical and Community Adventure – Ottawa Day Tripper