PROVIDENCE BAY—Lynn Szekely and Chris Walker live up the street from one another. Mr. Walker is a musician and Ms. Szekely likes music. After enduring several long winters on Manitoulin Island, they decided to put out feelers to other musicians wanting to expand their networks. More than two dozen musical folks got together on a recent Saturday at the Providence Bay Community Centre for an inaugural ‘meet and greet.’
Ms. Szekely initially contacted Huron Sands for venue space but that didn’t work out. They were able to rent the community centre for a $25 fee and the Providence Bay/Spring Bay Lions Club covered insurance for the event. “That was really nice,” she said. “They’re just long winters up here so I wanted to try to do different things. Everything seems to be either in Little Current or Gore Bay and it’s so beautiful down here. Why not down here?”
“My inspiration?” said Ms. Szekely. “I love people. I want to meet people. Long winters. Everybody’s in different areas and I just wanted to get people together. Music is a great way. I wanted to get people from around here so then we have a meeting place kind of and see where it takes us. Have an open mic, listen to music and let people just express themselves.”
She mentioned her idea to Mr. Walker. “I’ve been here for three years and I haven’t met very many people,” she said. “We came up here four years ago. We were going to Lake Superior and we never left Manitoulin. We drove around and knocked on people’s doors and asked if anyone knew where there was waterfront lots for sale and we found it that week we were up here and bought it. We built over a year and now we’ve been up here for three years.”
“I just want to get to know some of my neighbours and see if we can liven up Prov a little,” she added.
Mr. Walker told her, “’Let’s do that. I’ll start with this (meet and greet).’”
He posted on the Manitoulin Musicians Facebook page. He’d signed up when he first came to Manitoulin. At that time and up until three weeks ago, there were only 34 members. There were 82 members in the group as of Saturday, and more than 120 now.
“This is just about meeting people you don’t know,” Mr. Walker said. “Music is a very universal language. You can talk to anybody about music. It doesn’t matter if they’re old, young, white, black, female, male, whatever. It’s called the great leveller.”
People sat in small groups in the hall while Mr. Walker led everyone through a brainstorming session to find out what they hoped to see. Participants wanted to see something like the meet and greet, as well as open mic nights, jam sessions, workshops and learning experiences. With the growing Facebook membership, there is the ability to contact more people, to offer to host events or to find them.
“We’ve had suggestions for an open mic night and workshops, to expand our horizons,” Mr. Walker told the group. “This has been a great conversation.”
Little Current musician George Williamson spoke about his success hosting music nights in Little Current. “Seven years ago I asked the town (NEMI) if I could host an open mic night,” he said. “I knew I could be a solid rhythm player and could accompany anybody. One guy came up and supported me that first night and now we’re up to as many as 60 people who come out, and we’ve raised money for the food bank.”
He was hoping to see his musical model grow to other Island communities, he said. “It takes one solid person in each community to be a ringleader. You just need to be good enough to accompany someone. We don’t have to make a decision today.”
It’s not just a group for musicians, Mr. Walker pointed out. “Anybody is welcome to come. Some of the people who came today just wanted to hear what was going on. Lynn doesn’t play anything but she wants to hear live music.”
Responses to a group survey showed that about 60 percent of the people just wanted to expand their circles of who they know that plays, he said. “So that’s what we’ve achieved and we’re just going to keep it going.”
The meet and greet ran from 1:30 to 4:30 pm on Saturday, with people dropping in throughout the afternoon. Many had brought their instruments with them and ventured on stage to play and sing a song or two.
The vibe was reminiscent of kitchen parties and summer campfires. “That’s what I want to do,” said Ms. Szekely. “I want to have a campfire and bring your instrument and we’ll sit around and play music and learn new music. Even the kids. I want to get more of the younger ones out to the house, get away from that (electronics). I just want to have fun. I’m hoping there’s going to be more of these events and we get positive feedback from everybody. Today was just a meet and greet. Come and play if you want. Come and sing. Bring the family and let kids dance.”
If you’re a musician and want to get involved, or just someone who enjoys live music, look up Manitoulin Musicians on Facebook. It’s a growing community.