By Vivian Collings
You might have noticed – music is alive and abundant in the Highlands this summer.
The My Haliburton Highlands calendar is packed full, almost everyday, with live music events happening at resorts, on docks, and in restaurants, tens, theatres, legions, and parks.
But why the concerto of live music? Where are the artists coming from? Are there enough spectators to fill each venue? Will there ever be too much music? Does it benefit the community? And does Haliburton County have its own sound?
“COVID was one of the best things to happen to tourism up here,” said Thom Lambert, employee of the County of Haliburton Economic Development and Tourism department and member of the Haliburton County Folk Society.
Local musician Bill Black echoed Lambert’s thoughts.
“I think people are hungry to get back out again, not just the musicians to play, but for people to get out again. At this point in time, it feels almost back to normal again,” Black said.
Black has steadily had three or four gigs each week. Lambert says there are close to 160 live music performances happening in the county this summer.
“There are places like the Dominion that are doing seven live shows a week. And then we have brand new venues like the Music Room with a full schedule. Their lineup is unbelievable. Internationally-known acts are coming in. We also have Hollow Valley Resort. They’re doing three shows a week as well,” Lambert said.
Hollow Valley Resort specifically built a bar and music venue on site and started up performances as soon as they opened in February.
“All of the owners, including myself, are musicians and lovers of live music, so we wanted to contribute to bringing it back. It’s quite popular. We fill up our little bar every weekend,” said co-owner Shaun Pennell.
In addition to the community’s craving for connection, Lambert thinks social media in particular is offering venues and musicians exposure at a higher level than ever before.
“People that have live music have gotten really savvy about social media. Part of it is that there are more performances, but part of it is that those performances are more visible than they were four or five years ago,” he said.
But how much is too much? Lambert thinks the amount and frequency of performances doesn’t necessarily mean smaller audience sizes.
“There’s always been a discussion in the county that there’s a finite audience,” Lambert explained. “I have a tendency to think there’s a much bigger audience than what we once believed.”
He said at one point in time a few years ago, the county actually created a calendar to prevent overlap.
“It didn’t work,” he laughed. “Because the reality is, if there’s a performer in the book, most have limited availability.”
He noted one Saturday that had three large concerts in the area. He assumed each musician would perform to smaller audiences that night, but to his surprise, all were sold out.
“There are audiences for certain kinds of music. There are also audiences for venues. For example, there are certain people that are going to go to a show because it’s at the legion. There are certain people that are going to go to a show because it’s on Kennisis Lake. There are a certain amount of people that will follow a certain performer, as well,” Lambert said.
More venues means more opportunity for musicians to play, and steady crowds mean performers can make a profit, too.
“Ten years ago, if you were a local performer, a lot of these opportunities were not paid opportunities. Now, what I’m hearing from musicians, is that most of these gigs, even if it’s a patio on a Wednesday night, are paid. And that’s a change,” Lambert said.
He noted that the more a musician plays to a live audience, the more experienced they get.
“And that elevates the entire scene. People notice when the quality is impressive, and that builds an audience, too,” he said.
So that’s a seemingly endless loop.
More shows with full audiences, equals more experience for musicians, equals an enhanced performance, equals a bigger audience.
“If an artist has a great experience here, they will pass that along to other artists. It affects a destination’s ability to get good acts, and we have a very good reputation up here,” Lambert said.
One could say that music like that can happen anywhere, but Haliburton County has a few other tricks up it’s sleeve.
“The outdoor stuff has got this incredible vibe. There are not very many places at all that have the natural features that we have in addition to the music culture,” Lambert said.
He reveled in the beauty of the setting for Rotary’s Music in the Park in Head Lake Park in Haliburton.
“It’s a whole other thing to either be sitting outside on a patio in Haliburton County versus a patio in the city,” he said.
Haliburton School of Art + Design plays a big role in diversifying music by bringing in experts to teach.
“People plan entire vacations around music here in the summer. The students of the school will plan an entire vacation to come and study music. And on Tuesday night, they could go to Music in the Park, Wednesday night they could go to the theatre, Thursday night they could go to their instructor’s concert at the school, and there’s just not a lot of other places in the world that you can do that,” Lambert said.
‘A healing force’
Following three years of global illness and isolation, live music may quite literally be healing us.
“It’s incredibly well-documented. Music is a healing force. It is a measurable, medically-known fact that live music is just good for us. To be in groups either playing live music or experiencing live music,” Lambert said.
“Combine that with being immersed in the natural world, those two things in conjunction are powerful, and I think that’s what makes us a unique destination across the board”
And the “Haliburton” sound isn’t limited to one specific genre.
“It’s astonishing that we have an opera studio in Haliburton. And those that come study here have fallen in love with the place, and that’s ten years worth of opera students that have experienced the Highlands,” Lambert said.
And is this phenomenon a once in a lifetime occurrence for Haliburton County this year?
“I don’t think we have really good information on whether it’s too much music yet. It’ll be interesting to see if the pendulum swings back the other way,” said Lambert. “But it would be delightful to me to know that what works up here is original.”