Sellout crowd in Dundas closes Small Halls Festival

Mitch MacDonald
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DUNDAS - Five standing ovations, an atmosphere that ranged from a “beautiful quiet” to boisterously engaged and an authentic taste of rural P.E.I. all contributed to the closing of this year’s Festival of Small Halls here Sunday.

A jam-packed sellout crowd of more than 350 was on hand to close out the fifth annual festival at Dundas Heritage Hall.

Festival manager Debbie Atkinson said with the hall usually selling 300 seats or less, the show was a “wonderful” way to close out the festival.

“It went spectacularly," she said. “The show was tremendous, a great mix of artists, lots of energy and everyone was really excited about it.”

The event saw the crowd clinging on to every note opener Dave Gunning played.

That mood switched to clapping and stomping feet, as well as some step dancers, during a performance by Cape Breton’s Troy McGillivray.

After an intermission featuring a cup of tea some biscuits and homemade jam outside, the crowd moved back into the hall to hear final performances by Newfoundland’s The Once and P.E.I. fiddler Richard Wood.

“People that come to the shows get a very rural Canadian cultural experience, and very much a rural P.E.I. experience,” said Atkinson.

Having been involved in the festival since its inception five years ago, Atkinson said the first year saw 14 shows in 11 days.

“I wondered how on earth we were going to do that,” said Atkinson. “Now, our staff has grown a little bit. But the amount of shows has grown a tremendous amount.

“I couldn’t have envisioned that (growth) at first. It’s a wonderful surprise.”

This year’s festival saw 42 shows events over 11 days in 37 different venues across P.E.I.

Atkinson said there are many attendees who come back year after year.

One couple from San Francisco are festival regulars, while another couple from Saskatchewan stumbled upon the festival while visiting the province two years ago.

“They (the Saskatchewan couple) came back this year just for the festival,” she said. “Tourism-wise it (the festival) is a great thing.”

One of the highlights this year included sold-out shows in several halls which were new to the festival. Those included Seaview Hall on the north shore as well as venues in Kinkora and Argyle Shore.

Another highlight was a performance by Souris group Kindle P.E.I. Brewing Company in Charlottetown.

“About half of Souris was in Charlottetown that night,” said Atkinson. “There was just some wonderful moments musically, touching moments and high energy rocking moments.

“Ninety per cent of our artists are internationally touring musicians so we’re running at a pretty high level. And they never disappoint.”

One popular musician at the festival this year was U.K. based guitarist Tim Edey.

Edey played at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Belfast, St. John’s Anglican Church in Victoria and St. Mary’s Church in Indian River.

He also found himself playing with many other musicians throughout the festival, said Atkinson.

“He’d get up with people he had never played with before,” she said. “And it sounded like he had practiced with them for two years. It was uncanny.”

Atkinson said part of the beauty of the festival is the charming nature of the small halls as well as the hospitality in P.E.I.’s rural communities.

She said the festival also isn’t possible without the festival staff.

“They hung in there are were awesome.”


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