New York City singer/songwriter Willie Nile with lead guitarist and vocalist Jimi Bones, drummer Jon Weber and bass guitarist Johnny Pisano rocked Song Sparrow Hall in Salmon Arm on Aug. 16, 2022. (File photo)

New York City singer/songwriter Willie Nile with lead guitarist and vocalist Jimi Bones, drummer Jon Weber and bass guitarist Johnny Pisano rocked Song Sparrow Hall in Salmon Arm on Aug. 16, 2022. (File photo)

Salmon Arm’s Song Sparrow Hall winning over musicians

‘The Rolling Stones could go in there and make a great album’

Song Sparrow Hall is drawing music lovers through its doors.

Rave reviews are offered by many who have enjoyed concerts, dance parties or the process of recording their own music.

“The Rolling Stones could go in there and make a great album,” said accomplished cellist and composer Christine Hanson, who recorded an album following her appearance at the Roots and Blues Festival.

Rocker Willie Nile chimes in from New York in a Nov. 8 email.

“I loved playing Song Sparrow Hall! It’s a great room for music, for the performer and for the listener,” he said, calling the sound exquisite, the sight lines perfect with not a bad seat in the house, and an atmosphere that is intimate and alive.

This is music to the ears of hall owner Craig Newnes.

“Song Sparrow Hall was always conceived as a multi-use facility and, with our backgrounds in the music industry, it made sense for us to include a proper recording studio,” said Newnes who, with partner Clea Roddick wanted to build a creative space with the right gear and acoustics that could attract big-name artists.

“Not only could we record and mix full album projects but we can tie in with the hall to record and film live concerts and events.”

When COVID slammed the door on most events and activities, Newnes and Roddick used the time to proceed with the addition of a studio.

“We were able to bring in a brilliant acoustician named John H. Brandt to design the space from the ground up,” said Newnes. “The studio ties in with the main hall so we can set up large ensembles in a sort of old-school way like you might see at Abbey Road Studio 2 or one of those classic big studios.”

And that wasn’t the only project that progressed during the shutdown.

Newnes attended one of the concerts musician, producer and artist agent Ted Crouch arranged in Westgate Mall several years ago, introduced himself as a sound engineer and suggested the two might cross paths sometime.

“We started talking about a concert series to coincide with a grand opening in 2020,” said Crouch, noting COVID reduced distractions, making collaborations easier. “Craig, Clea and I had serious conversations and stayed committed to keeping a foot on the pedal so whenever Dr. Bonnie Henry gave the OK, we were ready to go.”

Crouch mused that one of the best things to emerge was a documentary called Celebrate Shuswap, which was recorded with seven musicians under Covid rules.

“It was a great opportunity to experience the room as a studio and to celebrate the local music industry,” he added. “Since then, we’ve done a dozen events together with people who wanted to get back to work, and I was able to present them in Song Sparrow Hall.”

One of those artists was Hanson, who recorded her composition of The Cremation of Sam McGee at the hall, followed by a surprise, sold-out concert at the end of the week.

That project was the result of another new collaboration that could put Song Sparrow Hall on the global musical map.

Impressed with with Crouch’s values in art and music and approach to music and business, Hanson introduced him to Charles Harrison, executive director of the Ted Harrison Foundation and son of the late, renowned artist Ted Harrison, whose colourful and charming paintings of the Yukon form the backdrop of Hanson’s multi-media piece.

Harrison was intrigued with Hanson’s proposal to record her project at Song Sparrow and credits Crouch with making it possible. He said the foundation engages in projects with people who have shared values and positive messaging around the arts.

Read more: ‘Celebrate compassion’: New York’s Willie Nile to rock Salmon Arm’s Song Sparrow Hall

Read more: Musicians, audience grateful for opening of new Salmon Arm concert hall

That includes New York rocker Willie Nile, who performed at the Ross Street Plaza in August, drawing many audience members to his evening concert at the hall and filling the space with enthusiastic dancers.

Harrison said the Willie Nile Western Canadian Tour aligned nicely with the foundation’s mission to support the ongoing development of the arts, artists, art education and art programs.

“We were assisting in the creation of a new market for an artist who has spent his entire career spreading a positive message for humanity through the medium of world-class songwriting and rock and roll,” said Harrison.

Playing for the foundation made the experience all the richer, said Nile who describes himself as a believer in people and the good that can be done with music and art to lift people’s spirits.

“Heartfelt thanks to Ted Crouch and Charles Harrison for bringing me to Salmon Arm to play with my band. We had a magical time,” said Nile. “I would love to come back next summer to play again and take in more of the magic and beauty that Salmon Arm has to offer.”

And Crouch is very hopeful Nile will be gaining many new fans in the Shuswap in 2023.

In the meantime, Uninterrupted, the virtual reality presentation of the life of the Adams River sockeye salmon was shown at the hall on Nov. 3, the group Celebrate Shuswap holds regular dance parties and other projects for the versatile hall are in the works.


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