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Cultural Feast

Long known for its scenic lookouts and leisurely summer days on the lake, the Muskokas is also becoming known for its thriving arts scene, with a variety of cultural festivals and events making for a busy social calendar this year.

From Huntsville to Parry Sound, and from Gravenhurst to Port Carling, an abundance of art, music and theatre can be found that could surely rival anything the “Big Smoke” has to offer.

The one-year-old Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts is a prime example of the high calibre of venues in the Muskokas. The 480-seat performance hall has acoustics frequently described as “extraordinary.” Not surprisingly, Laurence Follows, the Centre’s general manager, is impressed.

“To have this entertainment centre inside the context of this environment is simply amazing,” says Follows.

And with such an excellent venue available, there is no better place for the Festival of the Sound to call home. Celebrating its 25th season this year, an exceptional roster of performances are scheduled from July 16 to August 8. The Huntsville Festival Orchestra opens the festivities, with piano soloist David Jalbert performing a program that includes the Grieg Piano Concerto. The anniversary party continues with more than 25 chamber works presented in a day-long concert marathon. The rest of the season will highlight baroque and classical music. Three outstanding Canadian string quartets, the St. Lawrence, LaFayette and Borealis, and the choral stylings of the Elmer Iseler Singers, will help bring down the curtains on yet another great and memorable season.Right in the middle of the Festival’s silver anniversary celebrations is the annual Jazz Canada Weekend, July 31 and August 1, which includes a highlight of the music of Duke Ellington, as well as a performance by the Ambassadors II, who will perform the big band oldies of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, among others.

For more great music, the Gravenhurst Opera House is a must for music lovers and lovers of theatre, as well. The Opera House has been at the epicentre of Gravenhurst’s thriving performing arts scene for more than 100 years, featuring more than 200 shows each year starring regional performers. This year, expect an adaptation of the Stephen King novel Misery, a choral medley with Broadway Then and Now, the musical tributes, Memories of Hank Williams & Patsy Cline and The Canadian Tribute to Glenn Miller with John McNab and the Fabulous Moonbeams, and poetry and love stories with Citytv personality Jennifer Valentyne.The Muskoka Lakes Music Festival brings together a cornucopia of concerts, art exhibits, and literary and culinary events for its eighth season, from June 19 to August 11, with most events taking place at the Port Carling Memorial Community Centre (3 Bailey St., 705-765-1048).

The Festival encompasses several festivals and events, including the Solstice Arts Festival (June 19 to July 1), the Kaleidoscope Children’s Festival (June 19), the Muskoka Place Art Exhibition (June 21 to 30), the world première of Saarinen & Sinclair (June 26), and Flavours of Muskoka Culinary & Wine Festival (June 30) and the Canada Day Literary Celebration (July 1).

Part of the Muskoka Lakes Music Festival’s regular season (July 13 to August 11), Classical Tuesdays, Jazz Wednesdays and Variety Thursdays are an excellent way to spend an evening. New this year is Tuesday Night Jazz Cruises on the Wenonah II steamship, allowing for moonlight dancing across the waters and jazz music filling the night air. Every Tuesday night, from July 13 to August 10, the likes of the Swing de Paris, Bourbon Street Buskers, Swing Noir, Kory Livingston and Moodswings will play soulful tunes during a three-hour cruise.

If a Vegas-type show is more to your liking, then the Deerhurst Resort (1235 Deerhurst Dr., 705-789-6411) in Hunstville is the place to be. Now in its 22nd year, the resort’s reputation for putting on high impact shows is well known—Shania Twain got her start there— and this year’s show won’t disappoint. Expect a 90-minute musical journey through popular culture, including pop, rock, and jazz music, throw in some musical theatre, a dash of comedy, and the magic of dance and you have a not-to-be missed show.While in the Huntsville area, be sure to check out the 12th season of the Festival of the Arts, running from July 3 to 18. This year’s celebration features performances by East Coast band Lighthouse, fiddler Natalie MacMaster, and Indie Canadian rocker Hawksley Workman.

See one-of-a-kind art in Muskoka at the Seguin Art Tour, July 31 and August 1. For this tour, more than 40 artists open their studios to the public. Travel through some of the most beautiful scenery in Muskoka and meet some of the area’s most interesting artists, including watercolour painters, jewellers, potters and carvers, in this two-day event. “This tour is in its 15th year and I believe that people are surprised that so many talented people live in cottage country,” says Janie Bradberry, president of the Seguin Arts Council. An accomplished artist herself, Bradberry opens up her own pottery studio, Janie’s Pottery, for the tour, displaying her human sculptures, unique vases and porcelain bowls.

There is even more to be seen at the Humphrey Arena (on Humphrey Drive, 20 minutes west of Rosseau on Hwy. 141), where exhibitors display antiques, art, soapstone carvings, and collectibles.

Whether spending a quiet afternoon dockside or enjoying an evening of theatre, be sure to take in all of Muskoka’s many delights this season.—Donna Danyluk

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