photos by Randy Owen and Jackson Schott
The Purple Hill Country Hall, located in Thorndale, just 5 miles east of London, Ontario, hosts an old fashioned Opry Show the first Sunday of every month. The venue is a former auction barn that’s been converted into a cozy, woody, atmospheric performing space with not a bad seat in the house. Everywhere you look, there are antiques and implements covering the walls. It’s the brainchild of George and Anna Taylor.
In the past, the venue has featured such treasured performers as Carroll Baker, George Fox, Larry Mercey, Marie Bottrell, The Good Brothers, Paul Weber, Julian Austin, Brooklyn Roebuck and many more Canadian country artists. The dinner and show package always attracts a big crowd and this past Sunday was no exception. With 15 artists on the bill, plus a high quality dinner of roast beef or ham with all the trimmings, the P.H. Country Hall was packed with fans of traditional country music. But this week was a little different. It was their first all acoustic show. Most shows have a house band, The Boys of Purple Hill, (made up of fine London area musicians), backing up several featured singers. This show was done a little differently as it paired some acts that don’t normally perform together. Kicking off the day was singer-songwriter Jay Allen who, in a solo set, put across his original material with confidence and humour, getting the crowd singing along with him. Jay’s a fine songwriter who has also performed on the Songwriter’s Cafe at last years CCMA’s. Following Jay, was bluegrass singer Pam Brooks. Pam delivered a solid set of songs ably backed up by house band members John P. Allen (a member of the CCMA Hall of Fame, also of Prairie Oyster/Big Redd Ford fame), Al Widmeyer (Stompin’ Tom Connors / The Dixie Flyers), Dwayne Friesen, Guy Melanson and Brian Storey. This was followed by a set of all original material from Denomme-Jones (Peter Denomme and Brent Jones). Denomme is also the owner of the London Music Club, another popular area venue.
After the break, funnyman/guitarist Wendell Ferguson, master fiddler Shane Cook, and husband and wife duo The Schotts (Darrin and Alison) took the stage together. Although each of these acts are friends and had worked festivals and workshops before, this was the first time they’d ever interacted like this. Sparks flew as they traded licks with one another and took turns filling and soloing over both original and traditional material. Bassist Dwayne Friedsen joined them on a few numbers during their exciting, unscripted and unrehearsed set. The audience showed their appreciation loudly. Then Fred Lewis and Amberley Beatty came on and displayed a wonderful blend of voices, enhanced by Fred’s excellent guitar stylings and strong support by members of the house band.
Then a set by three of Canada’s finest fiddlers, John P. Allen, Shane Cook and Darrin Schott. They blazed through a quick collection of fiddle standards each lighting up the stage with their fiery fiddles. To cap off the evening, Eric Shain and Caroline Danowski each contributed a set of classic country material culminating in the entire cast appearing for the finale. The whole show was ably hosted by George Taylor and sound was supplied by Wayne Greve and Scott Taylor.
Many musicians and luminaries also dropped by to catch the show including fiddler Ken Cook, steelman Doug Johnson, 107.3 Country/Tillsonburg’s Randy Owen, and multi-CCMA award winner and Hall of Famer Marie Bottrell.
Coming soon to the Purple Hill Country Hall will be Gordie Tapp, Naomi Bristow, and many more top country talents.
Check out the details on their official website at: http://www.purplehillcountryhall.com/index.htm