“This evening made me realize how much I have missed live theatre,” said Fonthill resident Wendy Brown after Thursday evening’s performance of Shaw Festival’s Vineyard Concert Series at The Hare Wine Co.
This event was the second performance in a series of three live music concerts organized by the Shaw Festival and funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. The first concert took place last Tuesday, and featured the music of songwriter Dorothy Fields who wrote more than 400 songs for Broadway musicals and films. She is famous for tunes such as On the Sunny Side of the Street, and The Way You Look Tonight.
Accompanied by a trio of a keyboard, percussion and double bass, Thursday’s performance featured the songs of American composer and songwriter Cole Porter and featured the tunes, You’re the Top, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, and the concert closer, Anything Goes. This last tune featured a little tap and shuffle routine which delighted the 50-member audience seated in the expanse of the back lawn area behind The Hare Wine Co. courtyard.
The performance was staged with a backdrop of the escarpment and The Hare Wine Co.’s vineyards. Although the evening was chilly, the music kept members of the audience warm. Two audience members who spoke to The Local said that the “sound was fabulous,” the performance was “uplifting” and they “didn’t even feel the cold.”
One audience member, Maureen, who didn’t want her last name used, said it was “amazing how many words to the songs you can remember when you can’t even remember what you had for lunch.” The evening’s concert made her so happy she wanted to thank the winery for hosting the event in their lovely facilities, and to thank the Shaw performers. She believed their performance was “a gift to everyone there,” she said.
After the performance, associate artistic director Kimberley Rampersad noted the venue was different than being in a theatre. She said seeing the audience in front of the singers is a “beautiful experience.”
In a theatre the actors see the first, maybe the second row of people in front of the stage but in this context, in an open area with no lighting or formal stage, it is “nice to see the audience as part of the performance, even if all they could see is their smiling eyes” above their masks, and more than a few tapping feet.
The venue was the perfect place for such an event. John Hare, owner and general manager of The Hare Wine Co., agreed. “This was a perfect fit for us as we have ample outdoor space, and we felt this would be a wonderful opportunity to support the arts in NOTL.” He explained he became involved in the event as a member of Wineries of NOTL. The committee reached out to all participating wineries about the FedDev grant for The Shaw and their outdoor performances. “We were very excited to hear about the FedDev grant for the Shaw and their outdoor performance series. So when we had the opportunity to bring back live music to The Hare, we put our name forward to hold a few performances.”
Hare explains how the pandemic has affected events at the winery. “We love live music at The Hare. We were to hold the Niagara Jazz Festival and Niagara Quartet in late July here again (it would have been the 4th year running). Obviously both these events have been cancelled this year,” because of the pandemic and restrictions.
“We, as many other businesses, have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. On our cellar door side of the business, we have had to make many changes to our winery experience for guests, and have moved much of our tasting experiences outdoors to ensure physical distancing. On the staffing side, we have had to hire more part-time staff to provide more one-on-one experiences for our guests, to ensure small group sizes and physical distancing.”
In order to ensure the safety of the staff and guests who attend tastings or events at the winery, he said, “every staff member wears masks, thoroughly cleans all surfaces after each guest.” Hand sanitizer is offered before you walk into the winery, and all throughout the winery, he said.
“We had to re-arrange our retail store and create small tasting pods to ensure physical distancing for our guests. And, we have moved tasting experiences outside onto our beautiful vineyard patio view, and some areas of production, to ensure physical distancing,” said Hare.
“There are many challenges all businesses will continue to face with COVID,” he said, especially with a second wave and tighter restrictions on people coming to Niagara.
“We are grateful for all the efforts of the provincial government about their messaging about how we can stop the spread of COVID-19.” He adds, “We are also grateful for the way the federal government has helped many small business through CEWS (Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy) and other programs to support our staff. We have hired more part-time staff to serve fewer guests in smaller groups (while maintaining physical distancing) and the CEWS program has helped us through the current challenges we face.”
As far as a contingency plan for the uptake in cases, “we continue to have as much of our tasting experiences outside, and going forward into the fall, we will continue to do so. We have plans to start holding tasting experiences in our beautiful and spacious courtyard, making it comfortable for our guests, while maintaining physical distancing.”
The floor of the courtyard is heated, he explained, and the courtyard will be equipped with patio heaters.
“We are also planning to have wine tastings in production during harvest. Icewine tastings will be held outside in our heated courtyard this winter.”
Hare intends to continue to support the Shaw and to offer live performances.
“I think many people just want to get outdoors and enjoy live music, especially with current regulations for indoor performances. We have had a wonderful response to our two Shaw concerts to date. Both were sold out. This is not surprising, as the Shaw performers have amazing talent and wonderful energy when they perform.”
The Hare is hosting the final performance in this concert series, which will feature the music of Duke Ellington, on Thursday, Oct. 8 (weather permitting), starting at 5 p.m.
Tickets are a $10 donation to the Red Roof Retreat, with 100 per cent of the ticket sales for all three events donated to this cause. “So far, we have $1,000 and after next Thursday’s concert, we expect to donate $1,500,” Hare said.
Tickets or information is available through theharewineco.com website, by visiting their Facebook page or by calling 905-684-4994.