Small is the New Big
Profile by Jane Ledwell
Do you know the Lot 16 Hall?” asks Steve Horne, business director for PEI’s Festival of Small Halls. The June festival, an ECMA nominee for Event of the Year, features almost two weeks of music and storytelling in community halls across the Island. To Steve, the Festival is “everything that’s good about PEI in the early summer.”
Steve says, “There’s so much energy that time of year. People are opening their cottages. People who live or visit here for the summer are starting to arrive. Restaurants and theatres are opening up for the summer... And the lupins have sprung and are starting to bloom. It’s great to be out in front of that, and to launch the summer season with an Island-wide event that brings everyone together.”
Steve is from Cape Breton and has been putting on concerts since he was a university student. After completing degrees (and lots of shows) in Cape Breton and Halifax, he couldn’t settle into a job in the corporate world and took a chance on a six-month contract with the ECMAs in Sydney in 2000. When the ECMAs were looking for an Executive Director, he got the job and moved to Charlottetown, where the office is located.
One of the strengths of the ECMAs, Steve says, is that “there are all kinds of little communities in Atlantic Canada, but Atlantic Canada is really one big community.” It’s the same idea he presented to the world last year, co-producing a multi-media show for Atlantic Canada House at the Vancouver Olympics. And on a more local scale, it’s the same philosophy he brings the Festival of Small Halls, celebrating smallness and diversity as part of one festival.
“I left the ECMAs just when the Festival of Small Halls was looking to make a plan to get off the ground for their second run,” Steve says. “In doing the plan and coming up with strategies for the Festival, I really fell in love with the concept…People are proud of their halls and that they are a focal point in their community. There may not be a church or a school in that community any more.”
When we spoke, Steve had just read a blog describing an event from last June from someone who attended the Festival’s opening night in New London: “It was the best event at the Hall since it opened, with music that was all that says PEI, with the right amount of fiddle and the right amount of songs. But the highlight was intermission, with a biscuit and a cup of tea, standing outside and seeing the ocean in the distance.”
There will be a Festival of Small Halls stage at the Old Triangle during the ECMAs, featuring performers who have played the first two seasons of the Festival – fiddle tunes, songs, storytelling, and reminiscences about memorable Festival moments – and of course biscuits and cheese and chowder and tea. Steve and the Small Halls team will dress up the stage to look like a small hall, “as best we can with a bar at the back,” Steve smiles.
But back to Lot 16. That’s where Steve experienced the highlight of last year’s Festival of Small Halls.
Steve remembers, “It was close to the end of the festival. I was standing at the back of the room in the small hall. It holds 110 people, but there were 110 plus in the hall. There were great acts that night, and there was such energy on the stage…. Then everybody was outside with biscuits and tea and cheese on this warm spring, almost summer night. I just sat on the step with my biscuit and watched the cows come over to listen to the music.” He laughs, “The Beaton sisters [performers from Cape Breton] even got their fiddles and played for the cows.”
This irreproducible, once-in-a-summer moment is exactly the kind Steve wants to make possible through the Festival of Small Halls. He’ll be working at it until the cows come home, in Lot 16 and across the Island.