Review: M. Wells Steakhouse (Queens, New York)

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If you are looking for a neat culinary experience in a unique space that was once a mechanic shop – M. Wells Steakhouse will make you swoon right down to your woolly socks. I was whispered the name, M. Wells Steakhouse, by a waitress at Russ & Daughters in Manhattan a few years ago as the off the beaten path spot to check out. As luck would have it, I simply buried their name in a stack of receipts inside my Passport and forgot about it.
Upon my recent visit to Queens, New York in the Fall of 2017 – I pulled out that note and I promptly made a reservation at M. Wells Steakhouse as it was just a few blocks from where I always choose to stay In Queen’s.
M. Wells Steakhouse is tucked into a corner off a street surrounded immense windowed condos, little shops and people walking their dogs in the heart of Queens. You may miss it if you blink.

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The space that greets you emanates warmth, a genuine care from staff, smiles and a rustic vibe that meets a sophisticated nod without the attitude is a perfect match for the solo traveller or a family gathering.
Etienne was my guide for the night. Also Canadian he was sure to provide me with the inside nod of what was indeed ‘good’ at M. Wells Steakhouse. The menu although not huge, does a wonderful job of speaking to what they do best and curated as such upon delivery.
I started off with a beautiful glass of La Pepie 2016 Muscadet. It was a perfect lure as I let go of the cold that was still sitting in my shoulders soaked in the November chill and let the warmth of the wine fill me up.
A delicious plate of fresh bread and butter quickly made its way in front of me. I was sat alone at the bar with a couple to the right of me indulging in their Pig’s Head entrée. I surveyed the small M. Wells Steakhouse space. Busy, intimate, dark but oozing a friendly ambiance. I quietly ate my bread and butter – fully content.

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To start, I encourage you to dwell upon the Solomon Grundy. Think a potato waffle, pickled smelts, crème fraiche, roe and dill. It was fresh, delightful and Instagram worthy. Also, zesty and easy to digest with wine in tow. If you order any starter at M. Wells Steakhouse the Solomon Grundy has to be it.
The Chenas, 2016 wine from Christophe Pacalet followed. The layers of the wine versus food is a must. You may feel like a trifle dessert but the soothing element of the wine as it lacquers your stomach between bites is what makes a vacation meal or a night out meal great. Lean into it.
What followed was the Bone Marrow Escargots. Simply bone marrow escargots that were easily scooped onto the shell of a bone with a red wine jus. Light, exquisite and could be eaten on a Sunday afternoon at home in bed with a stack of novels on the go. This is what M. Wells Steakhouse does well – simple meals transformed into moments to dwell upon, have conversations about and to let one’s hard working body to rest in for a few hours on their watch.
The Pommes Alligot was the most eloquent mashed potato and cheese I have ever tasted. Not like your mother’s, not like your grandmother’s. If you are not a fan of mashed potatoes, the Pommes Alligot from M. Wells Steakhouse will convert you in a heartbeat. Ever so thankful to Etienne at M. Wells Steakhouse for encouraging me to give it a go. It was surely one of the many stars of the night.

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The Venison T-Bone was the All Star Player of the night. Cooked supremely and accompanied by wild berries and brown butter – it had all the makings of a comfort meat that on a cold night in November could mend and replenish all the aches, pains and heart aches from the past year in one sitting. Pricey but worth every penny.
I relaxed with my Maple Pie dessert after a bit of a break from the sheer decadence of the main meal. The Maple Pie was a lovingly prepared bread pudding and not at all for the faint of heart. It is a worthy participant to leave room for after all the delicious protein from the main meal. Rich, oozing of a vintage childhood dessert – the Maple Pie will seal the deal. You will be having a restful sleep that night with this guy in your belly.
A space that is great for a tourist visit but also frequented by locals. When I was enjoying my meal, I observed many a young couple with their little ones, families and even single folk milling about having a drink, nice conversation over warm and inviting food. Be sure to dress comfortably and be ready to eat when you arrive for your seating is my best suggestion. You will be taken care of.
In the winter season, M. Wells Steakhouse will be a wonderful place to beat the snowy blues . Treat yourself to a few meals that are simply staged, uncomplicated and will indeed provide for an enriching experience. The conversations with friends and loved ones will be brighter and I guarantee you will feel restored.
Make a reservation at M. Wells Steakhouse before you leave town for New York or better yet make it a standing reservation once a month with friends and family. Starting off the New Year on the right foot with good food from M. Wells Steakhouse whilst celebrating your health, happiness and joy will serve you well.
Happy New Year!
https://www.magasinwells.com/

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Review: M. Wells Dinette (Queens, New York)

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When you venture over to MOMA PS1 on a Sunday afternoon, brunch at M. Wells Dinette is a must. Not only will it satiate you but it will provide you with a feeling of calm as you sit quietly in a school lunch room dining alongside other patrons much like you did as a little one.
Upon my recent visit to Queens, New York in the Fall of 2017 – M. Wells Dinette was on the top of my list. After seeing the likes of Anthony Bourdain giving them major props – I figured, if Bourdain gave them a go, so should I!
I like mom and pop resto’s when I travel. Off the beaten path, relaxed, homey and staff that let me do my thing in a quiet corner. M. Wells Dinette fit all of those pieces to a T.
To start, I encourage you to dwell upon the Tuscan, Kale and Lemon Salad. Think currants, shaved pecorino that build upon the simplicity of a hearty kale salad. The lemon was soaked up into the kale leaves and provided an explosion of zesty flavour in every bite. Refreshing and clean. This salad will linger with you throughout your travel day. A healthy choice for those in your group who want something light.
Next, I indulged upon the Capellini and Crayfish Pasta which came with bonito flakes in light red gravy. Think simple. Tuscan, robust and knee knuckling delicious. If you check out M. Wells Dinette for anything before you go back to work and school this Christmas break – grab a bowl of this pasta. This meal is inspired by Chef Damien’s Georgian roots. A true measure of comfort in a bowl. The thinly veined capellini was cooked beautifully, rustically favoured with only the crayfish to support it. I felt every bone in my body instantly soothed after days of walking city blocks in the cold. Something I could have easily written home about in a heartbeat.

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I luxuriated with a ginger beer from Regatta as I took in the space. White walls, school inspired tables and chairs, friendly staff and an ambiance that was befitting for a relaxed Sunday afternoon with friends and family. M. Wells Dinette is the perfect tucked away spot and just a hop, skip and a jump away from the subway line.
A space that is great for a tourist visit but also frequented by locals. When I was enjoying my meal, I observed many a young couple with their little ones, families and even single folk milling about having a coffee, nice conversation over warm and inviting food.
In the winter season, M. Wells Dinette embraces its French Canadian roots with the likes of the most decadent comfort food. When I visited, one of the owners, Hugue Dufour, was in the basement making Pot Pies as mentioned by my server, Montana. In Canada we say – Pot Pies for all!
The restorative vibe didn’t end there. After you have a nice meal with the team at M. Wells Dinette consider walking around MOMA PS1 and taking in some of the most lovely art in your own time.
Queens, New York is the place to visit when in town. M. Wells Dinette will take care of the hospitality and provide you with a nourishing meal before you head off for another adventure in MOMA PS1 or for more local fun and frivolity.
Happy New Year!
https://www.magasinwells.com/

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents George Frideric Handel’s ‘Messiah’ (December 22, 2017)

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Photo Courtesy of Jag Gundu

George Frideric Handel
Messiah
Born: Halle, now in Germany, Feb 23, 1685
Died: London, United Kingdom, Apr 14, 1759
Composed: 1741

The English oratorio, of which Messiah is arguably the greatest and certainly the most popular specimen, was a genre that Handel single-handedly invented by forging elements from existing types of dramatic and sacred music into a potent synthesis. When his fortunes as an operatic impresario declined in London through the 1730s, Handel increasingly turned his attention to oratorio. In 1741, the same year in which he gave his last Italian opera in London, Handel was invited to produce a season in Dublin, and that summer, he composed Messiah. The libretto was compiled by Charles Jennens, an eccentric but well-connected Englishman with a passion for literature and music. A public rehearsal on April 12, 1742, and the official première the next day drew large and enthusiastic audiences, and earned overwhelmingly positive reviews. In March of the following year, Handel introduced Messiah to London, though not before weathering some controversy instigated by religious authorities and others for whom the very concept of an oratorio—a musical setting of a religious subject intended for public entertainment outside the church—was an improper conflation of sacred and secular. Objections were short-lived, however, and Messiah quickly assumed its place (in the English-speaking world especially) as one of Handel’s most beloved works.

In many ways, Messiah is typical of a Handel oratorio—in its reliance on types of recitative and aria borrowed from opera, for instance, and in its basic structure of three large “acts” divided into smaller “scenes”. But Messiah differs from Handel’s other oratorios in some significant ways. First, it deals directly with the life of Christ—subject matter audiences were not accustomed to seeing in an English theatre. Second, the text, taken directly from the Authorized Version of the Bible, includes no real poetry, only relatively short units of prose. And third, the text is a narrative, not a drama—the story is not dramatized, but observed, related, interpreted, contemplated.
The libretto of Messiah gives almost no attention to Christ’s own words and deeds, preferring to maintain a more cosmic perspective, focusing on God’s redemption of mankind through Christ. Part One deals with Biblical prophecies of the Saviour, and their realization in the incarnation of Christ; Part Two deals with the events of Christ’s Passion and the ultimate triumph of the Second Coming; and Part Three comments on Christ’s role as Saviour.
Program note by Kevin Bazzana

THE ARTISTS
Matthew Halls
conductor
Matthew Halls made his TSO début in February 2013. The word “versatile” is an apt description for British conductor Matthew Halls. He first came to prominence as a keyboard player and early music conductor, but Halls is now better known for his dynamic and intelligent work with major symphony orchestras and opera companies, and for his probing and vibrant interpretations of music of all periods.

Karina Gauvin
soprano
Karina Gauvin made her TSO début in December 2001. Recognized for her work in the Baroque repertoire, Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin also sings Mahler, Britten, and the music of the late 20th and 21st centuries with equal success. The prestigious distinctions she has received include the title of “Soloist of the Year” awarded by the Communauté internationale des radios publiques de langue française, first prize in the CBC Radio competition for young performers, and the Virginia Parker Prize and Maggie Teyte Memorial Prize in London. In the 2017/18 season, she continues to thrill audiences both in the United States and Canada and also tours widely in Europe.

Krisztina Szabó
mezzo-soprano
Krisztina Szabó made her TSO début in January 2009. This season, Krisztina Szabó makes her Royal Opera House, Covent Garden début in the world première of George Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence, and she reprises her roles with the Dutch National Opera in 2018.

THE ARTISTS
Frédéric Antoun
tenor
Frédéric Antoun made his TSO début in December 2008. Frédéric Antoun was born in Québec and studied at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia.

Joshua Hopkins
baritone
Joshua Hopkins made his TSO début in January 2009. Chosen by Opera News as one of 25 artists poised to break out and become a major force in the coming decade, Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins has been hailed as having “a glistening, malleable baritone of exceptional beauty, and…the technique to exploit its full range of expressive possibilities from comic bluster to melting beauty” (Opera Today).

THE ARTISTS
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir
Noel Edison
Artistic Director
Cynthia Hawkins
Executive Director
Jennifer Min-Young Lee
Associate Conductor

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir made its TSO début in March 1937. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (TMC), Canada’s world renowned large vocal ensemble, performs choral music drawn from five centuries, including grand symphonic masterworks, world premières of new compositions, and rarely heard works. In addition to appearing regularly with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the TMC presents an annual series of subscription concerts and makes other guest appearances.

The TMC presented its first concert on January 15, 1895, as part of Massey Hall’s inaugural season. Since then, the TMC has flourished under the leadership of seven of Canada’s preeminent conductors. Under Noel Edison’s tenure, the Choir has won widespread praise from audiences and critics for its recordings, webcasts, and performances in Toronto, New York, Vienna, and Salzburg, and in Vancouver during the 2010 Cultural Olympiad.

http://www.tso.ca

Review: Media Profile’s Holiday Party (December 7, 2017)

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Media Profile celebrated their annual holiday party last night and as usual – it was epic! Media Profile prides itself on being an independent, entrepreneurial and tenacious public relations firm. Their communication campaigns are based on a healthy blend of research and imagination. They use all the tools in the toolbox, whether media relations, social media, content creation and marketing etc.. So clearly it was no surprise that their holiday parties resemble who they are and how they work. Think fun, fantastic and guaranteed to go late.
As we made our way through the historic Burroughes Building space which is hipster meets chic. It’s aged brick, high ceilings, swooping arched doorways, NYC elevator shaft and roof top patio – makes you feel welcomed and ready for a good time.
This year we indulged upon Stella Artois and Sixty Six Brix’s maple sugar station as they drizzled the most gorgeous of maple syrup onto a bed of ice hearkening memories at Pioneer Village as a child sitting at a picnic table slurping its sweet syrupy delights. The only difference at the Media Profile Party 40 years later, we now have gourmet cheese wrapped into ice hardened maple syrup like an ensconced sweater with the option of having bacon bits dipped on top like a crown or sea salt. It was a perfect mate to our Stella pints.
The DJ was sure to cloud the air with Cardi B and Robyn mixes as we danced the night away while also saying hello to Jagmeet Singh as he breezed into the space.
The holiday decorations were minimal but celebrated Canadiana and snowy scenes. The holiday lights beamed overhead as we relished our gorgeous cocktails and shared chats with fellow guests.
We took advantage of the photographer/selfie station that came equipped with wooden moustaches and lips that could be used for cheeky shots and then printed up on the tiniest printer you have ever seen as a takeaway bonbonierre.
The Media Profile signature drinks never disappoint. We loved The Baked Apple which consisted of Collingwood Whisky, Apple Cider, Bitters and a dash of cinnamon. Ho ho ho indeed!
Media Profile will always be known as the most crashable holiday party in Toronto. It’s epic in stature, the attention to detail is always on point and most importantly the vibe is consistently friendly, accommodating and authentically warm. Perfectly symbolic of the Media Profile brand and people.
Until December 2018!
Happy Holidays!
http://www.mediaprofile.com/ #MPParty

‘Shadowlands’ Author: William Nicolson (The Acorn Theatre 10/17/17 – 1/7/18) – New York (Fellowship for Performing Arts)

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Director: Christa Scott-Reed

Producer: Fellowship for Performing Arts

The Acorn Theatre

10/17/17 – 1/7/18

$75.00 Tickets

About the show:

In its first New York revival, William Nicholson’s award-winning play Shadowlands follows the unlikely and true love story of renowned Oxford scholar and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis and the much younger Joy Davidman, a Jewish-American writer, former Communist and Christian convert.

The smart, brash Joy burst into Lewis’ sedate, middle-aged life and upends it. Lewis is as shocked as anyone to discover that he and Joy have fallen deeply in love – and then almost immediately he must contend with the equally deep pain of losing her when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Full of great humor, and keen insight, the play is a moving portrait of love and loss, faith and doubt, as inspired by Lewis’ own A Grief Observed.

From Fellowship for Performing Arts, the producers of the international hit C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert, comes the first New York revival of William Nicholson’s Shadowlands the love story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman.

http:​//www.​theatrerow.​org/acornnowplaying

Review:

There is something about watching a play in New York that is full all kinds of magic and surprising reflection towards your own inner change. Think of the excitement of getting to the venue, in this case – Theatre Row. Finding your seat and waiting for the curtain to rise for play about C.S Lewis.

‘Shadowlands’ from Author William Nicolson is one of those slow, romantic and feel good plays that are not for the faint of heart. The dialogue is short and sweet but echoing of content far deeper that we can all relate to. A thought of a love affair perhaps long packed away with dusty scholarly books only to be re-opened and experienced like a cleansing waterfall by an unlikely international connection.

The audience inhales in the relationship of Joy as she travels to Oxford to meet Jack (Daniel Gerroll) who is a 50-something bachelor, already famous for the “Chronicles of Narnia” series. A quiet fellow with some strong views on religion, politics and the like. Upon sight of Joy (Robin Abramson, in her New York debut) we see a shift. She comes with her own baggage. A marriage that has broken down and a child in awe of Jack that runs deeper than fields in Narnia.

Their love affair experiences some bumps as the audience witnesses the couple in their confined home space. But we also begin to see a love bloom between two people that could have been a tad unconventional for the time that will make you want to cheer for their success from the front row.

Theatre Row does a wonderful job of building a set design in a space that is convincing, cozy and genuine. We see the actors in costuming that is perfectly curated to the mood and ambiance of the play. The actors work seamlessly in sympatico with one another. Finally with a take away ending that you sense part way through the performance will make more of a game changer than a mere mention on a post card home.

The chemistry between Gerroll and Abramson is warm, kind and compassionate. One can not help and reflect on their own relationships with loved ones through their scene work. Romance aside, ‘Shawdowlands’ exposes the audience to themes of forgiveness, moving forward and cultivating an open mind and heart. ‘Shadowlands’ is a wonderful feel good play as we head into the holiday season to bring family and out of towners for the holidays.

Use code TRSAVE20 at fpatheatre.com and save 20% off on your tickets! Catch the production before it ends on January 7, 2018 at the Acorn Theatre, Theatre Row.

Shadowlands

Theater Row – Acorn Theater

410 W. 42nd St.

Midtown West

212-239-6200

theatrerow.org

 

Review: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra: ‘Home Alone In Concert’ (December 2, 2017)

Ever since Home Alone appeared, it has held a unique place in the affections of a very broad public. Director Chris Columbus brought a uniquely fresh and innocent approach to this delightful story, and the film has deservedly become a perennial at holiday time.

In a career spanning five decades, John Williams has become one of America’s most accomplished and successful composers for film and for the concert stage, and he remains one of North America’s most distinguished and contributive musical voices. He has composed the music and served as music director for more than 100 films, including all eight Star Wars films, the first three Harry Potter films, Superman, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, Memoirs of a Geisha, Far and Away, The Accidental Tourist, Home Alone, and The Book Thief. His 45-year artistic partnership with director Steven Spielberg has resulted in many of Hollywood’s most acclaimed and successful films, including Schindler’s List, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Indiana Jones films, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse, and Lincoln.

His contributions to television music include scores for more than 200 television films. Mr. Williams has also composed themes for four Olympic Games. He served as music director of the Boston Pops Orchestra for 14 seasons and remains their Laureate Conductor. He has composed numerous works for the concert stage including two symphonies, and concertos commissioned by many of America’s most prominent orchestras.

Mr. Williams has received five Academy Awards Rand 50 Oscar nominations (making him the second-most nominated person in the history of the Oscars), seven British Academy Awards, 23 GRAMMYR Awards, four Golden Globes, and five Emmys. In 2003, he received the Olympic Order (the IOC’s highest honour) for his contributions to the Olympic movement. In 2004, he received the Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2009 he received the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the US Government.

In 2016, he received the 44th Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute—he first time a composer was honoured with this award. John Williams, composer

Constantine Kitsopoulos: Conductor

Constantine Kitsopoulos made his TSO début in October 2015. Constantine Kitsopoulos has made a name for himself as a conductor whose musical experiences comfortably span the worlds of opera, symphony, musical theatre, and film with live orchestra. He regularly conducts in such venues as Carnegie Hall, David Geffen Hall, and Royal Albert Hall, and has served as music director/conductor for musical theatre productions on Broadway.

The 2017/18 season marks Kitsopoulos’s eighth as Music Director of the Festival of the Arts BOCA where he has worked with such artists as Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Chang, the Russian National Orchestra, and many others. He was artistic director of the OK Mozart Festival from 2013 to 2015, and spent eight years as music director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra. Kitsopoulos founded Chatham Opera in 2005 and has recently become General Director of the New York Grand Opera. With those two companies, he is developing a series of semi-staged opera productions to be presented in the summer of 2019.

Highlights of recent seasons include appearances with the New York Philharmonic; the Baltimore, Colorado, Detroit, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Toledo, San Antonio, and San

Francisco symphony orchestras; and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra, and The New York Pops. Also much in demand as a theatre conductor, both on Broadway and nationwide, Kitsopoulos has been music director and conductor of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Broadway and of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess—the Tony Award–winning Broadway musical revival featuring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis that ran until September 2012. He is co-composer of a new music theatre piece called Temple, based on the life of Temple Grandin, and is in the process of composing a new opera, with a libretto by Evangelia Kingsley, entitled Holy Week.  Kitsopoulos studied conducting with Gustav Meier, Sergiu Comissiona, Semyon Bychkov, and his principal teacher, Vincent La Selva.

The Etobicoke School for the Arts Concert Choir made its TSO début in November 2008. The Etobicoke School of the Arts Chorus for this concert is comprised of the Grades 10 and 11 music theatre classes at the Etobicoke School of the Arts (ESA). The music theatre department, headed by Patricia Warnock, is one of six majors offered at ESA, which is the oldest free standing arts-focused high school in Canada. In the music theatre program, students are involved in intensive “triple threat” training, and gain experience and instruction in voice, drama, dance, and theoretical studies. Every year in the senior grades, they hone their craft with a full-scale musical, in addition to showcase performances. Students from this chorus are also involved in a number of extracurricular ensembles, including SPLASH, ESA’s award-winning show choir; and MusicFest national invitees Chamber Choir, JAMME, and WOCO. This year’s chorus is led by Patricia Warnock with rehearsal accompanist Michael Vieira.

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Review:

What a tremendous night to start off the holiday season with the musical score of ‘Home Alone In Concert’, conducted by the incomparable Constantine Kitsopoulos, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Etobicoke School for the Arts Concert Choir. If you were channelling Scrooge when you entered Roy Thomson Hall – that feeling soon left your body.

We might not have a snowy scene outside in the City of Toronto, but the audience was gifted with a well needed laugh amplified with the help of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the undercurrent of holiday music. The fun piece about ‘Home Alone’s’ holiday music is that it is such an ode to holiday classics that never fade and instantly make you feel good.

The audience was a wonderful mix of children, young couples and adults. The Toronto Symphony hosted such a warm and wonderful afternoon with a huge scene to watch ‘Home Alone’ on, yummy snacks for all and drinks to keep your cheeks rosy.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra never fails in providing the emotion when marrying their work into these very successful film events. One can not help but dwell on their arrangement in between emotional scenes for example when Kevin is on his own and partying it up at home or when his mother is on transit back to him from Paris.  A truly joyous experience as we head into a busy holiday time when it comes to reflection.

With the addition of The Etobicoke School for the Arts Concert Choir, the youth provided an added lovely texture to the film. During the pivotal scene where Kevin speaks to Mr. Green in the church and their mutual loneliness, the audience was able to really feel the infusion of the holidays into our hearts.  Comfort and good tidings shone through the screen and the audience felt it in our pores as the youngsters sang their piece with so much glory with The Toronto Symphony Orchestra carrying the audience to the end of the film.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has some more amazing HOLIDAY programming in the weeks ahead. Be sure to gab tickets and get fully immersed in the holiday season.  I encourage you to check out their Messiah performances in the later part of December.

Happy Holidays!

www.tso.ca

Celebrating The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern’s 70th Birthday with 54-40! (Thursday November 23, 2017)

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The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern marks its 70th birthday on December 6, 2017, and will celebrate with a series of very special concerts billed as the Horseshoe 70th Concert Series kicking off Tuesday, September 26 and running until December 31.

The series features notable artists doing multiple night ‘underplay residencies’, as well as one night stands by artists who have performed at the famed Toronto venue in previous decades.

There are more b-day events and concert series to be announced including the once-every-10-years private industry party on Tuesday, December 5th, and a special concert by a longtime H-Shoe artist on the actual birthday, Wednesday, December 6th.

Although the building at 370 Queen St. W. was erected in 1861 as a blacksmith’s shop, the Tavern’s storied music history began in 1947 once provincial liquor laws were ushered in, permitting longtime owner Jack Starr to convert the commercial property into a restaurant-tavern. In the mid-50’s Starr re-converted the bar to the Country Roots n’ Rockabilly Music Tavern, a 500 seat live music venue featuring country and rockabilly acts. Notorious bank robbers The Boyd Gang were known to be regulars but more noteworthy, the venue began sealing its reputation as a cultural musical institution, booking country superstars like Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, and Loretta Lynn to name a few. Stompin’ Tom Connors famously built his name at the Horseshoe playing extended residencies, and Starr became key in helping develop Canadian national and local acts like Ian and Sylvia Tyson and The Band.

Upon Starr’s retirement in the late 70’s, he rented the business to Toronto music promoters Gary Topp and Gary Cormier who quickly made a name for the venue by featuring a gamut of cutting edge and eclectic acts. The duo introduced Toronto to punk & new wave music like The Cramps, The Ramones, Talking Heads, MC-5, and famously bringing The Police to Canada for the first time. Unfortunately the Garys’ vision was miles ahead of its time and the venue closed under the weight of its own progression. Their final concert at the venue, known as the ‘Last Pogo’, became historic both for the music, the scene, and a documentary by filmmaker Colin Brunton.

Forgetting short stints as both another country club, and a strip club, an historic turn for the building occurred with the synthesis of Ken Sprackman closing the Hotel Isabella, deciding to drive cars to Florida while in-between occupations, and the building sitting empty. True story, Starr, an avid ‘snowbirder’ needed his car driven to Florida, Ken answered the call, they struck up a friendship, and before you know it, Ken became the next operator of the ‘Shoe. Really you can’t make this stuff up!

After Kenny modernized the bar for Starr, he was offered to buy the business, on one condition, Sprackman had to take Kingston resident Michael (X-Ray) Macrae, on as a partner. He had been bugging Starr for years to operate the venue. X-Ray introduced Kenny to his local friends Dan Aykroyd, and Richard Crook, and the four became the second generation owners of the H-Shoe Tavern.

Kenny and X-Ray re-invented the venue as we know it today. Sprackman managed the bar and revised venue operations, some of which impacted the entire Canadian Music industry. The duo introduced the ‘artist takes the door – the venue takes the bar’ booking policy – a radical move at the time which ultimately became the standard for local bookings in practically every original live music venue in the country. Similarly X-Ray focused on booking the music, he welcomed developing artists from St. John’s to Victoria, including The Watchmen, The Odds, Amanda Marshall, and with a focus on one emerging band from X-Ray’s hometown of Kingston, The Tragically Hip.

As the Toronto music scene began to coalesce next door at the Cameron House (which featured Handsome Ned and Jack Dekeyzer) and on Queen St with former punks like Greg Keelor, Jim Cuddy, and Bazil Donavan, who had a keen interest in Americana and Canadiana roots music. X-Ray also began importing the newest and best bands from Austin, Texas and the South. The Horseshoe quickly became the preferred touring showcase for new roots music, indie promoters, and was the go-to hangout for locals, music industry types and visiting celebrities.

Fast forward to the 90’s, when Jeff “JC” Cohen was hired by Kenny and X-Ray to lead the venue into the 21st century. Cohen had the distinction of opening the country’s first dedicated all-ages venue, ‘One Step Beyond’ (in Ottawa) and his punk-a-fied alternative music bio includes stints as a booking agent (Rheostatics, One, Lowest of the Low, Big Sugar, Malhavoc, Mahones) working alongside Ralph James, talent buyer (Apocalypse Club and El Mocambo), and management consultant. (The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, 13 Engines, Big Rude Jake)

Along with his then ‘assistant’ – and now ‘partner’ – Craig Laskey, the Horseshoe was given a shot of Garys like music adrenaline, cemented with initial bookings like Dick Dale, Link Wray, Olivia Tremor Control, the Oblivians, Neutral Milk Hotel, Wilco, the Old 97’s, Sunvolt, Neko Case, the Jayhawks, Golden Smog, and Whiskeytown/Ryan Adams’, while re-committing to being a national showcase for emerging Canadian artists like Nickelback, Great Big Sea, Joel Plaskett Emergency, and Big Wreck.

“I honestly thought Kenny and X-Ray would give us about the same short leash Starr gave the Garys,” says Cohen. “I thought our musical taste might be far too progressive for the venue, and Craig was always nervous about continually filling an entire week’s worth of bookings, but Kenny was extremely supportive from the get-go. He let us update the way the ‘Shoe ticketed shows and promoted its brand, and X-Ray loved our re-commitment to cutting edge roots music from Texas. He literally made us to go to our first SXSW in 1996, picked up Steve Jordan and us at the airport, insisted we head over to the Green Mesquite for our first ever Texas meal, and taught us where and what we should be seeing. SXSW became our primary source of A&R; it’s been like 22 years, and we haven’t missed one yet.’

By 1998, the venue’s reputation had evolved into the quintessential local venue to catch emerging artists like The National, Death Cab For Cutie, Spoon, and Frank Turner, new recording release showcases for Billy Bragg, Bad Religion, The Dropkick Murphys, Soundtrack Of Our Lives, and Foster The People, and surprise performances from industry heavyweights like the Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Bryan Adams, Melissa Etheridge, The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, and Dead Weather.

In the fall of 1998 Cohen was brought in as managing partner, Laskey took over the talent buying, before he too became an owner in the mid 2000’s, along with in house comptroller Naomi Montpetit.

Says Cohen, “We’re 3rd generation owners, having been given the opportunity by X-Ray and Kenny [Sprackman] to guide the venue into modern times, and not fuck it up. It’s been close to 23 years now and I think I did ok. The ’Shoe is not just still in business, but the venue is just as relevant, musically, and culturally speaking, as it ever was, if not even more so.”

A couple of years back, local author David McPherson approached Craig and JC about writing a book about the venue, in which JC suggested would be an ideal tie to the 70th celebration. David spent years talking to artists, managers, staff, and the Starr family, gathering decades of stories for his upcoming book, The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History, set for publication by Dundurn Press on September 23.

Review:

The scene at the Horseshoe Tavern on Thursday November 23, 2017 was full of good tidings and singalongs. As the crowd got ready to celebrate the Horseshoe Tavern’s 70th with 54-40 – the energy in the room was ready to go in anticipation of what songs were going to be showcased and the potential memories that would be tapped into.

54-40 began in 1981 as a trio consisting of Brad Merritt (bass), Ian Franey (drums), and Neil Osborne (vocals/guitar). They made their recording debut that same year, with four tracks on the independent compilation LP Things Are Still Coming Ashore, which also featured music by Vancouver bands Animal Slaves and Junco Run. The following year, the band issued the EP Selection.

The band was keen to play all of their old music but also a wonderful selection of new tunes off their latest album, “Sucker For Your Love”. The new  songs were feel good tracks and easy to dip into as you sipped your pint in front of the stage.   At one point, the band was joined on stage by Osborne’s daughter, Kandle.  She illuminated ‘Baby Ran’ and ‘I Go Blind’.

Last night’s show at Toronto The Horseshoe Tavern ached nostalgia. A nostalgia deeply connected to the Horseshoe’s legacy. Heart warming music for local folk (and perhaps not so local folk).  Regardless of your lineage – like 54-40, the Horseshoe embraces fans of music in all of its rustic, vintage glory.  54-40’s  fans were wide-eyed and eagerly danced where many had danced before on that wooden dance floor up front.

As the show concluded the good nights referred to the guy’s high school roots and perhaps how they still see themselves from small towns in British Columbia. Humility, kindness and genuineness. Osborne and the guys smiled goodbye with a cheeky hopeful intent that we’d see each other again soon.  Indeed, we will.

http://www.5440.com/

http://horseshoetavernbook.com