The amphitheatre may not be open yet, but music has returned to Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery for the summer.
Welland singer-songwriter Katey Gatta got the ball rolling on the 2021 Summer Lawn Concert Series last Friday. The musician, who also releases music under the name Sleepy Jean, stepped onto the new portable stage just a few yards northeast of the patio, and began her afternoon set with a cover of a song by the Irish band, The Cranberries.
Rob Richardson of Marquis Entertainment, who has been booking acts for Jackson-Triggs for two decades, is excited about the new set-up.
“Last year we did something similar, using a small tent,” he explained. “But this year we had more time to plan. This is actually a demonstration sun room from a company called Lumon. The overhang protects from the rain and the roof is heat reflective. And we added a new state-of-the-art Meyer sound system as well.”
The protection came in handy on a drizzly Friday. Gatta was able to stay dry on stage while getting ready, and continued to be protected when the sun began to shine later in the afternoon.
“We’re going rain or shine,” promised Richardson. “We’ll do our best. If it’s uncomfortable because of lightning, for the safety of the artists, we’ll cancel. But if it’s drizzling, that’s why we brought this stage in. If it’s a rainy Friday, come on down, have a glass of wine, a bite to eat and listen to some great music.”
The 29-year-old was elated to be performing once again.
“Since I started singing semi-professionally at nine years old,” she told The Local, “this is the longest break I’ve had, six months, without a proper show. There’s definitely some feeling of shaking off the rust, but also the exhilaration you get from playing a song and seeing someone enjoy it physically in front of you.”
Richardson explained that local musicians will be the focus on Fridays, Sundays and holiday Mondays, while on Saturdays, performers from outside of Niagara will be featured.
As a well-known local artist, Gatta is representative of much of the lineup planned for the small stage this summer. Her set of well-known cover songs and folk originals was perfect for a summer afternoon. Other Niagara acts already booked include Nathan Warriner, Joel Lewsczynksi, Emma-Lee Fleury and the duo Laurel and Hulley.
“I’m just finalizing the details on some Juno Award winners coming down for the Saturdays,” Richardson added. “Gabrielle Shonk (Juno nominee from Quebec City), Julien Taylor (a Toronto funk, soul and rock singer-songwriter), and AHI (Ahkinoah Habah Izarh, a soul and funk singer from Brampton) have all been lined up.”
The Jackson-Triggs website also lists appearances by Devin Cuddy (son of Blue Rodeo frontman Jim) and Toronto-based Ethiopian/Eritrean singer-songwriter Ayo Leilani, known to fans as Witch Prophet. It’s an eclectic line-up that is certainly beyond the usual outdoor music entertainment.
Estate manager Sreejith Sasikumar added, “as an estate, we’ve been supporting Canadian musicians for over 20 years. When we could not handle the concerts in the theatre, we pivoted to the smaller stage version so that we could continue that support for the music industry.”
Just before Gatta took to the stage Friday news came down the line that Ontario was to move into Step 3 of the provincial reopening plan a week later. Under the guidelines for that stage, attendance at an outdoor seated concert at any one time must not exceed 75 per cent of the usual seating capacity for the venue, or 15,000 people, whichever is less.
That would lead one to believe that Jackson-Triggs may begin plans to mount its usual lineup of great Canadian musical talent in the amphitheatre this summer. But Sasikumar said it’s a little more complicated than that.
“We would still need at least three weeks to set up the stage,” he said. “Even if the government said ‘go ahead’, we would need the time to set up, and also the time to get the talent we want to showcase. We would want to make sure we meet the calibre of what people expect from Jackson-Triggs.”
In the meantime, operations at the winery seemed to be clicking along at a rapid pace.
“It’s great to welcome people back onto the estate,” said Sasikumar. “All of us were dying to have some kind of customer interaction. We’re here to give customers a good time. It’s exciting to be back.”
Sasikumar was also happy to report that he had been able to recall all employees.
“We called them all back in, and had a week of training,” he explained, “to get them refreshed on what the COVID measures are. We went through the whole guest services experience as well. They were glad to get back. You can see the smiles behind the masks.”
He added that he even has a few openings in various departments, including culinary and guest services, at both Jackson-Triggs and its sister winery, Inniskillin.
Sasikumar is hoping that as things reopen, Jackson-Triggs will once again reach pre-COVID sales revenue in both retail and at the restaurant. Live music every weekend should make the winery a choice destination for 2021.
For information and the full lineup for the Summer Lawn Concert Series so far, visit https://www.great