Feature

Here’s to ten years of Hugh’s Room


Regular visitors to this site know we often mention Hugh’s Room in our copy.

It’s not because the legendary Toronto folk club advertises with us. We believe in keeping editorial and advertising separate.

It’s partly that we’re based in Toronto: with a small crew, covering folk and roots music, its inevitable that we often wind up there.

But even if we had branch offices across the country, we’d still be talking about Hugh’s Room. In ten short years, the cabaret-style venue in Toronto’s west end has earned a national reputation among fans of folk music.

Odetta, Judy Collins, Ian & Sylvia, Jesse Winchester, Tom Rush, Richie Havens, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, John Hammond Jr. , Leon Redbone, Maria Muldaur and dozens of other legendary veterans have played that stage.

Contemporary Canadian folk heroes —David Francey, Ron Hynes, Stephen Fearing, James Keelaghan, Tanglefoot, Lynn Miles, Rita Chiarelli, Ken Whiteley, Connie Kaldor, to name only a few— all ply their trade at “the room” on Dundas West.

Members of a younger generation that includes the likes of Jenny Whiteley, Jory Nash, Suzie Vinnick, Digging Roots and The Arrogant Worms have made Hugh’s Room home base.

Up-and comers, like Old Man Ludecke, Dala, The Good Lovelies, Royal Wood and Serena Ryder have graced that same stage. An act’s first gig at Hugh’s Room is a badge of honour, but every show there is special.

If people treat Hugh’s Room differently than ordinary clubs, it’s because it IS different. Established by folk fan and businessman Richard Carson as a tribute to his late brother Hugh (a longtime musician and supporter of the scene), Hugh’s Room was made for musicians.

It’s a listening room. They serve the dinners before the show so the plates won’t clank and clatter. The bartenders, Danke and Peter, will shush you if you talk too loudly. It’s a pin-drop kind of place musicians love to play in.

It’s not because it’s cushy. The venue is far from the centre of town; the “Green Room” is a couch in a corner of the upstairs office; and the temperature in the club is notoriously variable.

But musicians love Hugh’s Room because Hugh’s Room loves musicians, and everyone works together to create the right kind of space for music to be heard in.

The sound crew, for starters, – Ann, Dave and Colin – are among the best in the business. But the wait staff, kitchen, merch, door, bar and cleaning staff all work hard to make sure the music is appreciated, and the audience enjoys the show.

The audience isn’t just any audience either; they’re a group of dedicated music lovers who listen with rapt attention, sing along when requested, and risk a parking ticket in hopes of a second encore. These folks will forgo other indulgences to pay for the price of a ticket, a dinner, and a CD. Bless their hearts.

And the show is never just another show. Holmes Hooke, (himself a seasoned perfomer) consistently books acts that challenge and excite the Hugh’s Room audience.

It’s not easy to satisfy “old folkies” while welcoming classic country, jazz and world music fans, and reaching out to the younger roots audience that can’t always afford dinner, and doesn’t like to be shushed.

But every month, the Hugh’s Room calendar combines these elements to make an earnest pitch for your entertainment dollar that’s difficult to ignore. The Hugh’s Room email blast is the newsletter that people rush not to delete, but to pore over and plan their schedules around. I’m one of those people.

I admit to bias here: I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time at Hugh’s Room, often as a performer or a host. But for every show I’ve done at Hugh’s, I’ll bet I’ve attended at least ten more.

There’s a wall of black & white head-shots at Hugh’s, a small sample of the hundreds of artists who have graced that stage in the past decade.

My favourite photo is not a head-shot, but a candid photo of Richard Carson and Bernie Fiedler, the one-time owner of the Riverboat Coffee House. They are looking at the Riverboat historic plaque now mounted where that venue once stood.

I love that picture because Bernie is passing the torch to Richard. And that’s as it should be.

Like the Riverboat, where Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Cochrane, Dan Hill, The Good Brothers and other great acts once played, Hugh’s Room has become part of the cultural landscape of Canada. It’s difficult to imagine the folk music scene without it.

Here’s hoping we never have to. Here’s to ten years of Hugh’s Room, and many more great years to come.

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9 comments

  1. avatar
    Eric 8 April, 2011 at 15:19

    It is, bar none (no pun intended), the absolute best place in the city to enjoy live music. Add Oatmeal Stout to that and you’ve practically found nirvana. I urge ANYone from ANYwhere to get to Hugh’s Room for a favourite (or unknown) artist. You’ll never be the same after that and you’ll be spoiled forever. Richard, Holmes and the staff are some of the nicest and best people anywhere. The whole experience – ending at a civil hour and with free parking to boot! – is the only way to enjoy the best of live music.

  2. avatar
    Andy Frank 8 April, 2011 at 15:34

    Yeah, well stated, Eric, the “civil hour” thing is so critical to the enjoyment of the evening. 8:30 start, 11:00 – 11:30 you’re on your way home, no dilly-dallying, no waiting to see if more people will come in first to fill empty seats, 8:30 – SHOWTIME, where the rest of the city gets off on 10:00 or 10:30 starts is beyond me.

  3. avatar
    Steve Tennant 8 April, 2011 at 18:02

    Thank You and Congratulations Hugh’s Room !!! For an out of towner who loves roots music, I’m grateful to know when I trip into Tranna there is somewhere I can always count on to get quality live music in an listening, intimate, appreciative atmosphere, connect with like minded friends and get a good meal with great sight lines and super sound. Always a treat and adventure, just a stumble from the subway.

  4. avatar
    Sandy Gordon 9 April, 2011 at 20:54

    It’s all true! I’ve had the pleasure of working at Hugh’s Room a couple of years ago, and I can say without hesitation that Richard and his staff are truly special people. The music is the thing, and no corners are cut to bring the audience member/music lover the best setting possible for intimate live performance. My one regret? That I could not meet Hugh Carson, and thank him for the years of joy he has inspired in others. Here’s to (at least) ten more awesome years!

  5. avatar
    Peter Verity 10 April, 2011 at 13:12

    As both a performer at Hugh’s Room and a frequent audience member, I can attest to the dedication and love of music that all Hugh’s Room staff exude. Thanks to Ricahrd et al for their persistence and a venue loved by musicians and audience alike.

  6. avatar
    Debbie Carroll 11 April, 2011 at 10:11

    Hugh’s Room – we moved away – and I miss you!
    Near the end of our time in Toronto, I think we went to Hugh’s Room 2-3 times a week to get our fill. What a great place to listen to great music. We’ll be back for many a visit!

  7. avatar
    Trevor Mills 11 April, 2011 at 10:42

    I remember belting out Mudpuddle Sailor with Hugh at Eaglewood somewhere between midnight and Campsite E.

    Hugh’s Room has recently revamped their website and there are several new features that we hope people will find useful. In particular, there is a Calendar Feed, meaning you can “subscribe” to the calendar in various ways. You can add the Hugh’s Room calendar – showing upcoming shows – to your iGoogle Home Page or any other RSS Reader. The URL is – http://hughsroom.com/category/events/feed. You can also add the calendar to your iCal (on a Mac) – the link to get that is http://hughsroom.com/?ical=events.

    All this and more is at http://www.hughsroom.com

    Trevor Mills
    Webmaster – rootsmusic.ca & hughsroom.com

  8. avatar
    margot rogers 16 April, 2011 at 02:45

    HELLO, Y’ALL….. 🙂 GREETINGS FROM RAINY VANCOUVER-UGH! I HOPE YOU’RE JUST IN FROM HEARING/SEEING SOME GREAT LIVE MUSIC!!! THANK-YOU FOR THIS WRITE UP ON HUGH’S ROOM…I’VE NEVER BEEN, BUT I SURE KNOW THE NAME. ‘NEXT TIME I’M IN TORONTO (PROBABLY FOR THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WOMENS BLUES REVUE IN LATE NOVEMBER) I’M GONNA STAY FOR A FEW DAYS TO CHECK OUT THE SCENE….AND I HOPE TO MAKE A FEW NEW FRIENDS ! BYE NOW! LOVE, MARGOT

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