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.
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.