A Festival of Small Halls experience: a musical and community adventure

When I first heard about it, I found the concept of the Festival of Small Halls intriguing – renowned musical artists appearing at small, intimate venues in rural communities across Ontario.  The festival offers the opportunity to travel to small communities you may not otherwise have visited, to experience quality music in a much smaller, and far more intimate, venue than you would in an urban setting.

Sounds interesting, but I wasn’t sure what exactly the hype was all about until I experienced it first hand, and then I knew what everyone was talking about when they were saying how AWESOME an experience it is.

My festival experience took place in McDonald’s Corners, a small community north of Ottawa, one that pretty much consists of a few houses and businesses along a short stretch of county road, including a cute little grocery store and, of course, the agricultural hall – a must in any rural community. The agricultural hall doubles as a wedding reception venue, voting location during election season, fairgrounds, meeting house, and musical venue, among other things.

I unfortunately arrived late to the performances of Jim Bryson with Melwood Cutlery,
after a long and arduous trip back from Toronto – which normally takes about four hours, but took an additional two  thanks to gridlocked traffic on the 401.  After hours and hours spent in the car, watching city scapesmeld into suburban areas and finally into rural landscapes, I was ready for a change of scenery
in more ways than one.

I was worried we may have missed the show completely, but when we pulled up in frofosh3edited3nt of the McDonald’s Corners Agricultural Hall, the parking lot was full and the lights were blazing from inside, where the sound of music, laughter and clapping came spilling out.  I have to admit that my first sight of the hall, coupled with the atmosphere inside, especially after so much time in the city traffic, was like stepping into a warm and welcoming community hug.

The hall was absolutely FULL of people, some I recognized and many I didn’t. The dance floor was shaking, the musicians were playing their hearts out, and people were clapping and stamping their feet to the music.  It was an unbelievably awesome experience, and as soon as I stepped into the room I had my a-ha moment, where I knew EXACTLY what all the hype was about with this small, but rapidly growing festival.

So here’s what you can expect from a Festival of Small Halls event, and some tips for maximizing your experience for next year:

  1. Expect to get sweaty – dance your heart out, clap your hands, stamp your feet and get into the action, there’s nothing that will enhance your experience more than launching yourself into it with both feet first.
  2. Meet new people – naturally, when you’re dancing shoulder to shoulder with people you tend to make friends fast!
  3. Participate in the pre-show community event – if there’s a community dinner ahead of the performance, or some other community event, take part in that as well! You’ll make friends and feel far more comfortable before you even get to the performance part of the evening.
  4. Wear layers – that way you can remove some if it gets too warm inside, and still be comfortable. You can also wear your dancing shoes. 🙂
  5. Get your tickets early – almost every show in the Ontario Festival of Small Halls line-up sold out this year, which means you’d better be quick on the draw next year or you’ll miss out!  So set a reminder in your calendar to check the website during the spring and summer to make sure your tickets are safely bought before they are no longer available.

Next year’s festival is a long way away but I’m already excited to hear what amazing performers will be playing and what new communities I can explore and what new adventures are to be found from the experience. I’ll see you at the show!




4 thoughts on “A Festival of Small Halls experience: a musical and community adventure

  1. The Festival was wonderful. I can’t wait to be a part of next year’s festival. This year we met Elliott Brood in Athens and Devin Cuddy in Bollingbroke. Amazing venues, wonderful music and great- happy- people of all ages. So much fun. Everything was well organized and tickets were a steal.
    Looking forward to next year’s lineup.


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