Once upon a time if you wanted to hear live music in Muskoka your best bet was to head to the church on Sunday. These days you can find live local music virtually any day of the week across the region. There’s been a sea of change over the course of the past decade and it’s led to a thriving Muskoka music scene.
Venues like Sawdust City Brewing Co. in Gravenhurst, The Gri n Gastropub in Bracebridge, as well as On the Docks Pub and the Mill on Main in Huntsville have all put a heavy emphasis on local music. There are frequent open mic nights and stalwarts of the local scene grace the stage on a regular basis.
“There are so many more venues for local bands and artists to play than there were 10 years ago,” says Seamus Saunders, who’s responsible for booking the musical acts at Sawdust City and a veteran of the local music scene himself. “I think above all the quality of the work being produced by musicians in the area has improved dramatically. I personally know several people in Muskoka who do this as a full-time job – which was unheard of 10 years ago.”
There are now multiple summer festivals on the local calendar that have a strong musical competent. Sessions Muskoka in Bracebridge typically hosts bigger name provincial bands, as well as local acts on the main stage, while Band on the Run in Huntsville also draws a bigger name band for the headliner but also has many local artists lining the streets to serenade the athletes that take part in the 5 km run.
In mid-August, the Dockside Festival of the Arts at the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst features multiple local acts on the main stage over the course of a weekend.
In Muskoka Lakes Township, Muskoka Chautauqua hosts regular co ee houses throughout the year, where acoustic acts play in an intimate atmosphere.
Launched in 2017, the Sawdust City Music Festival is one of the newest – and largest – festivals in the region. The multi-day festival runs over several days in Gravenhurst and is the brainchild of Miranda Mulholland, a classically trained violinist and vocalist who has worked and toured with a who’s who of Canadian music including Jim Cuddy, Stephen Page, and the Cowboy Junkies.
Mulholland established the festival in Gravenhurst because her great-great-grandfather, former Mayor Charles Mickel, built the Gravenhurst Opera House 115 years ago. That same Opera House remains in operation to this day and hosts a Songs and Stories concert series for local musicians on a regular basis throughout the year.
Just down the street from the Opera House, Hunter’s Bay Radio recently opened its second Muskoka studio. HBR, as it’s affectionately known to its listeners, can be directly linked to the boom in popularity of local music.
“There were only two bands that had recorded music when we first started. That’s changed considerably over the past eight years,” says Je Carter, who established the volunteer-run station in 2009. “We now have over two dozen recording artists we play that can be considered local, with more added all the time. The region is rich in talent.”
The station moved from an internet-only format to the FM dial in 2014. They not only play a high percentage of locally recorded music but also regularly bring live guests to their flagship studio in Huntsville for concerts that are broadcasted over the radio and internet.
“I think having a place that can help aspiring musicians grow their craft is an important part of the community,” says Carter. “Despite the wealth of talent that was here prior to Hunters Bay going on the air, most musicians didn’t know each other and we helped bring that all together. Playing their music inspires others to get involved in the scene.”
Many of those were already playing, but before the emergence of HBR and the proliferation of live venues they simply had nowhere to play.
“Once the musicians came together and venues starting hiring them to play, it was simpatico,” says Carter.
This article was originally published in the http://investinstyle.ca/Invest In Style Lifestyle Issue and written by Matt Driscol, Multimedia Reporter/Editor