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NICEST GUY IN CANADIAN SHOWBIZ CELEBRATES 5th ANNIVERSARY AS ARTISTIC DIR. @ PEMBROKE’S FESTIVAL HALL

With so many live music and entertainment venues closing on an almost weekly basis across the country, Pembroke’s 600-seat FESTIVAL HALL is steadily building audience attendance and presenting line-ups that include music legends, current hit-makers, orchestral recitals and outrageous comedy shows that are the envy of show promoters in major cities. And the person largely responsible for this outstanding achievement is Artistic Director (and my dear friend) RICK WHARTON who celebrates 5 years at the helm next month, April 2017.b&wAfter starting his showbiz career as a comedian at Yuk Yuk’s and Second City, Rick created his popular television character “The Conspiracy Guy” on SPACE: The Imagination Station. Rick then spent 20 years in the Canadian music industry, working with Universal Music where he began as the liaison between record company, radio and retail – he helped maximize profile and value of the company’s music catalogue; marketed, tracked and promoted influential recording artists including The Tragically Hip, U2, Guns’n’Roses, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Rik Emmett, Alanis, Pursuit of Happiness, Michael W. Smith and others. He was quickly promoted to Head of Promotion in Ontario. Independently, he has also helped develop and manage the careers of many musicians as well as handled production and marketing duties.

with Alanis Morissette

with Alanis Morissette

Flanked by Aerosmith

Flanked by Aerosmith

Stepping into the role of Artistic Director at Festival Hall in 2012, he spearheaded the revival of the Hall by attracting big name performers from all music genres, comedians, classical recording artists, as well as celebrity guest speakers and supporting local theatrical groups. Some of the artists to grace the stage under his direction include:  Gord Downie, Matt Dusk, Rik Emmett, Randy Bachman, John McDermott, Gowan, Michael Burgess, Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe, Lunch at Allen’s, Sab and the Family Band, Malcom Burn and The Spoons , The Barra McNeils . Country stars Marty Stuart, April Verch and Corb Lund. Comedians Gerry Dee, Glenn Foster, Ron James, Derek Edwards, Carla Collins, Mary Walsh, the comic ensemble Women Full Clothed, as well as hosting the Canadian Comedy Awards’ Funniest Person In The Valley show.  He has also opened the doors to many theatrical events and Festival Hall is now home to local theatre groups.

I want people to experience the wonder of what the theatre offers. The magic of taking you away from life’s problems for a little while theatre can change and affect lives for the better.   Rick Wharton

Pembroke-Festival-Hall-Interior-1-1024x684Pembroke’s Festival Hall Centre for the Arts (above) is the largest performing arts centre in the Ottawa Valley. Through theatre, music, dance, storytelling, comedy, visual arts and educational programming, Festival Hall fosters artistic and historic awareness.   Since 2012, the hall has hosted over 55,000 theatre patrons for hundreds of productions that reflect the rich cultural diversity of the region. It’s also home to the Streetlight Theatre Company, Pembroke Symphony Orchestra, Kiwanis Music Festival, UTurn, and the Sears Drama Festival.

Rick and I go way back to the early 80’s when I ran Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret in Toronto – he was a frequent performer there. When I left to open my own talent & media relations agency in 1986, I would often run in to him backstage at the various concerts and tours I worked. One of my fave photos is this one (below) where Rick unexpectedly “photo bombed” me when posing with Monkee Davy Jones. Hey hey, it's Davy Jones with GlendaRick has often worked with leading comedians such as Rick Mercer and the late great Robin Williams (below)
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wharton and williams…and he’s remained close friends with Canadian guitar god, Rik Emmett (below) with whom he’s worked on numerous tours and celebrity appearances.rikemmettCONGRATULATIONS, Rick, on reaching this milestone anniversary at Festival Hall…and thank you for supporting so many Canadian artists as well as securing the big name acts for your stage. Bravo, Spudman, and wishing you many more years as the impresario of Pembroke!spaceDuring Rick’s fifth anniversary month, Festival Hall presents the Pembroke Symphony Orchestra’s We Got Rhythm on Saturday Apr. 8th, int’l recording star John McDermott (Raised on Songs and Stories) on Friday Apr.28th and Whiskey Jack performing Stories and Songs of Stompin’ Tom on Saturday Apr.22nd. See www.festhall.ca for details of these and other April concerts.

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OH WHAT A THRILL! The Mavericks deliver a new album & new tour

Twenty one years ago, I found myself sitting nervously in a Toronto hotel room waiting to interview a new band that had been tearing up the country music charts with an album that I loved. I could sing all the lyrics to every track, and I had the worst crush on their lead singer. The door opened…my heart pounded…and in walked The Mavericks, sadly, sans their brilliant vocalist Raul Malo who was resting his throat prior to their concert that night. Intellectually I understood, emotionally I was crushed, but after a few minutes of joking with drummer Paul Deakin and their then guitarist Robert Reynolds about their hit album  Oh What a Thrill, I was soon at ease and having a blast interviewing these two Mavs.

Skip ahead two decades and here I am again interviewing the band, this time for Cashbox Canada magazine. Paul Deakin and keyboard player Jerry Dale McFadden talked about their new album, MONO, and their April 24th concert in Toronto. Now, with numerous music awards including Grammys under their belts, I was wondering how life and the music industry had treated the guys – read my interview here:  http://bit.ly/1bodHT0

Mono Cover Art SmallSo here we are on Friday night April 24th, at the Phoenix Nightclub in Toronto – my photographer Gabriella Luchetta weighed down with an array of cameras and me carrying a ton of memories of great Mavericks concerts and recordings. Sadly, the club promoters did not think things through….the audience was mature so you don’t expect 50 and 60 year olds to stand for 4 hours on a concrete floor – but the Phoenix did. Fortunately, the head of security responded positively to my plea for seating (I still have a bum knee from a winter ice slip-n-fall) and led me to the special section for those of us with “challenges” which, as you can see below, was quite delightful!

DSC08546Not to worry, my focus was the stage so I turned my back on this horrible sight and ignored the constant tinny thunks as empties were hurled into the bin alongside my chair!

First up, the opening act and oh boy, what a fantastic artist we got. The Whitney Rose Band marched onto the stage and kept us entertained for about half an hour with some sizzling country tunes. The talented and pretty young Canadian country music artist Whitney Rose (below) held the audience in the palm of her hand, performing tracks off her new album Heartbreaker of the Year, produced by Maverick’s leader Raul Malo. She apologized profusely to those in the front row for the shortness of her skirt, adding a cheeky “you’re welcome” to those wolf-whistlers further back!  www.whitneyrosemusic.com

??????????????????????????????? 20150424_203007The Mavericks then took the stage and spent the next two and a half hours driving us all crazy with hit after hit, new tunes off MONO and even some Patsy Cline and Neil Young covers, too.20150424_231829The energy from the band was infectious, especially when keyboardist Jerry stepped away from the keys and danced across the stage to audience cheers (below). Macho guitarist Eddie Perez strutted and posed with a little wink-wink to the audience, and drummer Paul twirled his sticks wildly in time with the back-up musicians (horn section, accordion, upright bass).

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???????????????????????????????But it was Raul Malo who everyone wanted to see and hear. Malo’s voice – tinged with more than a hint of Roy Orbison’s bright falsetto – is phenomenal; he’s been called one of the greatest voices in popular music by many music journalists and critics.  And when he stood alone at centre stage singing The Mav’s early hit, “Oh What a Thrill” followed by  Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams”, the entire audience swayed in unison with many a tear-filled eye fixed on Malo.

??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????The Mavericks ended their show with a frenetic series of rock, New Orleans voodoo boogie, Tex-Mex and dance tunes filled with solos for each band member, and the crowd was well and truly spent. The audience of silver foxes was partying like it was 1999 – arthritis be damned!  The new CD, Mono, sold like hotcakes and everyone was grabbing t-shirts, bandannas and pins from the merchandise sales table. For more information about The Mavericks and their new album, Mono, please visit their website:  www.themavericksband.com.

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??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????I loved being there with The Mavericks.  Then sad concert was over….hope they come back real soon.

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Another story/concert review will appear in the May issue of www.TheRider.com