Some of the most memorable local performances I’ve witnessed have taken place in churches. Up close and intimate at the Live On Locke series at Melrose United, Bahamas and Hannah Georgas delivered captivating performances. Supercrawl presented Whitehorse at New Vision United (soon to be The Music Hall) and the duo was breathtaking. The most epic of them all, The National in that same space for the brilliant Welcome To Hamilton benefit show in June 2016.
It makes sense; after all, churches were built for live music. The acoustics are stunning and the sound envelops you. The sound paired with the energy of a sacred old space, and the stage is set for magic.
New live music series Cinquefoil is next to turn a church into a contemporary venue. Taking place on the third Friday of every month at Church of St. John the Evangelist (also known affectionately as the Rock On Locke), Cinquefoil is an “exploratory music series.” In short, 5 diverse artists perform for 10 minutes each, with every month revolving around a theme. The word cinquefoil is a nod to our city – it comes from the badge of the Hamilton clan, found on the Hamilton flag. It’s a local weed with a yellow flower of five petals.
Launched by Steve McKay of Twin Within this past summer with a one-off preview show, the series officially kicked off in September with dates set so far until June 2018. Seating is limited to 50 and the entire shows takes place up on the altar with musicians in the middle and the audience seated in pews on either side. Microphones are suspended to capture the delicate delivery of the acoustic performances.
At each Cinquefoil concert you’re treated to a diverse range of talents. From well known indie favourites, to classical musicians, to undiscovered acts, it’s a unique way to experience music. Past performers have included Dan Edmonds, The O’Pears (featuring members of Dwayne Gretzky), as well as harpist Rachel Nolan, pianist Alexei Gulenco, soprano Julie Ludwig, plus choral and choir groups. Steve books artists that will pleasantly surprise you with their unsuspecting talents. My favourite discovery so far – the charming Mark McNeil, historian and journalist at The Hamilton Spectator, who performed songs about Hamilton. Best lyric – “We’re the biggest small town on the planet / And we’re always trying to expand it.”
The short sets make it like an open mic, except everyone is guaranteed to be awesome. We all know what it’s like to be at a show that drags a little long, but the pacing of this suits the night, and even leaves you wanting a little more. It’s also a social atmosphere with local craft brewery Fairweather on hand to supply, as Steve calls it, “booze in the pews!”
The themes for each month are chosen to make you reflect on the month. As Steve explains, commercialism dictates what we’ve come to associate with certain times of the year. October is all pumpkin spice lattes and Halloween; in February, Valentine’s decorations are unavoidable. But what does October feel like? What does it mean to you? October’s theme was “The End Of Things” and artists share why they chose their particular songs to compliment the show’s theme.
And there’s more – Cinquefoil is also a podcast. Each show is recorded by Kirk Starkey (also a fantastic classical musician himself who we’ll see perform at the next session on December 15th) which he later turns into a podcast with Steve as host. Steve has plans to grow Cinquefoil further into a music hub with even more content on their website.
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Disclaimer: I work with Cinquefoil as a member of the team but all thoughts are my own.