A New Chapter

I think I miss the cramped stairway down to the bathrooms the most. Or maybe the shoebox charitably called a “green room” with its autographed John Hammond promo pic and the poster for Porkbelly Futures. On the multi-act tribute nights, the famous and not-so-famous would crowd together on the clapped-out couch or overflow out to sit around the long table in the office, tuning instruments, rehearsing vocal harmonies and telling war stories as the staff sorted cutlery and Heather took last-minute box office calls. When it was time to hit the stage, there was no other route for us than through the tiered seating, while trying to avoid braining patrons with the lower bout of an acoustic guitar.

Finally on stage, we looked out at two hundred patrons on a packed night, the front row tables almost in our laps. Even the stools in the back still felt to be within arm’s reach. Social distancing was never an option at Hugh’s Room Live.

We are living in an exceedingly strange time, but that is especially so for those of us who are nourished by close encounters of the musical kind. As I write this, every live venue in Canada is shuttered. The live music rooms struggle to see the day when they will open their doors again. Performers are facing sudden and traumatic financial strain as well as the loss of that essential energy that emanates from an audience. Music lovers are starving for the intimacy and social cohesion that only in-person performances can bring. Some musicians have taken to social media, inviting us into their homes for informal concerts. Undoubtedly, some beautiful and even moving musical moments have been shared through screens in the last few weeks, but we all know what we’re missing.Hugh’s Room’s original location closed just as live music was entering an extended hiatus and I can’t help but think that this is somehow as it should be. Imagining that room, so recently alive with music, sitting empty and silent is sadder than knowing that Hugh’s is simply in transition to a new space and a new chapter in its history.

When we gather together again, we will need the community that we’ve built here more than ever, because since 2001, Hugh’s has given us something that can’t be digitized: the magic of intimate musical connection.  
Mike Daley is a Toronto-based musician, lecturer, and musicologist. His popular lecture/concert topics at Hugh’s Room Live have included James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Presley. Read more about his projects at MikeDaleyMusic.com