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It’s still all about the singing

Mustard’s Retreat performs Saturday night as part of the Folk Night at the Registry series. Next week, the venue is home to a tribute show to the late Stan Rogers, with proceeds going to support the folk festival that bears his name. [Submitted]

Folk Night at the Registry concert series set for eighth season opening Oct. 5 with Gathering Sparks

As Jack Cole prepares for the eighth season of his Folk Night at the Registry concert series, he looked back on the beloved series’ evolution. It has been a long journey from humble beginnings in his Kitchener living room to becoming a staple in the Registry Theatre’s lineup.

“I’m a folk music nut,” he laughed. “The music meant so much to me, and in those days it was pretty much: Go to Toronto, or don’t hear it at all.”

James Hill and Anne Janelle are set to perform this season. [Submitted]
James Hill and Anne Janelle are set to perform this season. [Submitted]
This was the dilemma that Cole has made his mission to solve, and in the 18 years since founding the Old Chestnuts Song Circle with his wife Lori, he has programmed local and international performers and gathered likeminded fans to celebrate all things folk in the Waterloo Region. For years the Song Circle met in neighbourhood homes to join in singing the country music standards, and Cole saw an opportunity to broaden the group’s scope.

“It’s nice to get together and sing with each other, but it’s also nice to get an opportunity to learn with people who are world-class singers themselves,” he said.

“The original idea was to bring in a few people who would just come into our living rooms and give us a chance to sing along with them. It grew from the house concerts into church halls and eventually into this pretty stable series at the Registry. But always it was all about the singing.”

The Registry Theatre series started small, with mostly local acts filling the bills, but over the years the series has become enough of a “brand name” to bring in performers from across Ontario, as well as national touring acts and some musicians from south of the border.

“One of the promoters who represents a number of musicians has told me that this is an anchor stop on any tour they put together,” said Cole. “That has helped – people are willing to come book us first, and then work out a tour around that date.”

Though its ambitions have evolved, the series’ mandate remains the same: a mixture of contemporary folk music, interspersed with more traditional fare (this year represented by Eileen McGann and Maria Dunn) that aficionados are unlikely to see anywhere else.

This year’s series will begin on October 5 with a performance by Gathering Sparks, a “graceful collision” of local musicians. Cole first met Eve Goldberg when she ran an annual dance camp in Muskoka, and she performed in Folk Night’s debut season

“When I first met Eve, she was a young, beginning songwriter,” said Cole. “She’d recorded a few of other people’s songs but none of her own, so she’s just blossomed.”

He added, “The wonderful thing about Eve’s music for me is, it’s very singable music. She writes songs that are meant to be sung, because she comes from that background of song circles and music camps.”

Joining Goldberg are Sam Turton and Jane Lewis, two fixtures of the Folk Night series who regularly organize workshops and sing-alongs in Guelph. Cole has high hopes for the collaboration.

“I’ve got three people who really love the group singing experience,” he said. “I’m expecting them to come in and sing multiple harmonies, multiple instruments, and get the whole audience involved in their show.”

Audience interactivity has proven to be one of the series’ most important elements, Cole said.

“I try to bring in people that can interact well with the audience – people who have a lot of sing-along material; people who are good entertainers as well as good musicians. I’ve found when I break that rule and bring in someone who’s a really great musician but doesn’t have a great rapport with the audience, it just doesn’t work as well. It’s all about audience involvement.”

Gathering Sparks will perform on October 5 at 8 p.m. at the Registry Theatre (122 Frederick St., Kitchener). Tickets are $20 at the door, or $16 in advance, and can be purchased at the Centre in the Square box office (www.centre-square.com).

Other performers in this year’s series will include Ritchie/Parrish/Ritchie (November 30), Brother Sun (January 11), James Hill with Anne Janelle (March 29), Maria Dunn and Cara Luft (April 12), and Eileen McGann with David K (May 31).

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