CANANDAIGUA – Sueann Townsend has heard it a few times since the Fort Hill Performing Arts Center announced it would be bringing singer-guitarist Roger McGuinn to Canandaigua in September.
“‘The real Roger McGuinn? From Byrds Roger McGuinn?’ said FHPAC executive director Townsend with a chuckle. “My biggest thing right now is that I think people seem to be a bit shocked or not really sure that we’re attracting the caliber of artists that we are now.”
It is indeed the real Roger McGuinn who will go to 20 Fort Hill Ave. September 24 – the McGuinn who, along with Gene Clark, founded the founding folk-rock band behind classic songs such as “Eight Miles High” and their famous Bob Dylan arrangements. “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” But people could be excused for a touch of confusion – Fort Hill has booked and continues to book several tribute acts, including a return performance this Saturday by The Mersey Beatles, a tribute to the Fab Four based in Liverpool, UK -United.
Then there’s the other problem: FHPAC is just over two years old now — opened shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down performing arts venues in March 2020 — and several months of those two years were closed to the public. Even after reopening, Fort Hill management – Townsend, facilities manager Gordon Estey, a board and various staff – had to keep tabs on the twists and turns COVID-19 transmission data is taking, aware of the need to pivot if new strains take a dangerous turn.
The 427-seat venue has gained momentum in the long-distance race towards its goal of being a premier showcase for music, dance, theater and other performing arts (as well as visual arts , with exhibitions housed in its hall). It has hosted regional arts institutions such as the Finger Lakes Concert Band, Rochester City Ballet, Finger Lakes Symphony Orchestra, and Gap Mangione & The New Big Band, as well as an Easter weekend performance of music from ” Jesus Christ Superstar”. But even as his profile has risen, there remains a sense in which FHPAC is among Canandaigua’s best-kept secrets.
So what is Townsend’s message for the community?
“We’re here; we’re viable. We’re attracting bigger artists — and we’re always here to serve local arts groups,” she said. “We’re slowly developing a reputation as a place where musicians high caliber can happen.”
It goes beyond McGuinn: Fort Hill will host multi-Grammy nominated progressive bluegrass band Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen on May 21; nationally acclaimed comedian Earl David Reed is scheduled for June 17; and Mary Fahl, former lead singer of the chamber-pop-rock group October Project, is scheduled for October 1. by jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan presenting an evening of his takes on Jimi Hendrix songs.
These shows are intertwined in a performance program that includes:
- The May 7 issue of The Mersey Beatlesa returning engagement but with a new show stream, costumes, and video content.
- A return appearance by Rochester City Ballet on May 14 and 15, featuring “Firebird” by RCB Artistic Director Robert Gardner, among others.
- Rock/R&B band from Rochester Teagan and the Tweeds in concert on May 25, in the last show of local musicians “F-PAC Wednesday” for the time being. This series has been dormant for a while, Townsend said.
- Finger Lakes Community Banddirected by Greg Kane, performing June 5.
- A doubleheader on June 17 featuring music by Cool Club and the Lipker Sisters and comedy by Earl David Reed.
- Soprano Cree Carrico of the Finger Lakes Opera will perform on July 30 in a program featuring musical theater giants (Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein, etc.).
- Several musical tribute acts are reserved, including Grand Illusion (tribute to Styx), on September 17; High Noon (Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern Rock), October 8; Bennie and the others (Elton John), October 29; The Regular Crowd (Billy Joel), Nov. 12; The Seven Wonders (Fleetwood Mac) in a return performance, November 19.
- Annual Bloomfield Rotary Holiday Showthis time a live radio drama production of “A Christmas Carol”, on December 2 and 3.
- Dasha Kelly Hamilton one-woman theatrical performance, “Makin’ Cake,” on February 24.
Townsend and her colleagues continue to work on creating and strengthening partnerships — the connection with Fanatics, for example, which she says will result in a blues festival next year — and planning for the future. Townsend said she hoped the Dasha Kelly Hamilton show would help put Fort Hill on the map as a theater production location (a missing piece of the puzzle so far, she acknowledged), and investigated possible collaborations with theatrical entities of the region. .
Like all performance venues, Fort Hill is still dealing with an ongoing pandemic – and the first few months of the year have brought a wave of unwelcome deja vu, thanks to the omicron peak. “It pretty much shut us down again in January and February,” Townsend said. “…We had artists who actually had COVID, so we had to cancel, and as the numbers grew people were less inclined to attend a big performance.” Some tours had to be cancelled; the “Makin’ Cake” show was originally scheduled for early 2022.
“We joked at our Feb. 19 reopening with the Finger Lakes Symphony that it was the third reopening,” Townsend said. “We have to keep a sense of humor about it all.”
The Mersey Beatles’ May 7 show begins at 7 p.m. at the Fort Hill Performing Arts Center, 20 Fort Hill Ave., Canandaigua. Tickets range from $25 and $35 for an orchestra seat to $45 for a mezzanine and can be obtained at the box office or at fhpac.thundertix.com. For information on other upcoming shows or to purchase tickets, visit fhpac.org.
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FRONT-ROW SEAT is a column that showcases the region’s art, music, theatre, film and general creative scene. If you are a musician with an upcoming live online performance or album release; or if you have arts/entertainment information to report, please send your information to L. David Wheeler at [email protected]