Thursday, August 9, 2007

Report from: Jackson-Triggs Twilight in the Vineyard with the Philosopher Kings – August 3, 2007

An event like no other you’ve experienced; when me and 500 (or so) of my closest friends brought lawn chairs and a love of music to the Jackson-Triggs amphitheatre, located behind the winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, to watch and listen to the Philosopher Kings. The amphitheatre is a beautiful, intimate venue, nestled at the back of the vineyard, where, as promised, “there isn’t a bad seat in the house”; and the canopy is the star-filled sky – which after dark was a sight to behold, unlike, say, at the Molson Amphitheatre in downtown Toronto where the closest thing to a star you’ll see is an airplane making its way slowly across the sky.

The night starts at about 5:30 when the venue opens and you can start to select your “seats” … at 6:00 you have a choice for dinner (a choice you made at time of ticket purchase) of either the Vineyard Grille or the Barrel Cellar. Choosing the more relaxed option of the Vineyard Grille, I would have to say was relatively satisfied and slightly disappointed at the same time. Arriving within the amphitheatre compound at about 6:30 I chose my seat, of which good spots were still available, and ambled up to the Grille at the back of the concession tent. A three sided bar was set up: the front was for wine service; the left side empty and the right side had the Grille spread: mixed green salad (with a great dressing), vegetable couscous, salmon skewer (with a cube of salmon, a tomato, mushroom and yellow pepper), sliced tomatoes with feta cheese, and an assortment of cookies, macaroons and brownies for dessert. There was also a tiny chicken burger on offer, but by 6:30 they had run out, and by 6:45 there was no food left at all. When I arrived, there was a Jackson-Triggs employee policing the Grille spread – but I suspect he had not been there the whole time; as I looked over the crowd there were plates piled high with untouched mini-burgers and cookies – which lessened the options for latecomers … so arrive early. I did hear some grumbling about the lack of food from some patrons and my friendly, bubbly and talkative neighbour pointed out she would have been happy with “simple burgers and dogs and not so much of the fancy stuff.” But again the best advice I can give is: arrive early for best selection.

The Philosopher Kings set the stage ablaze at 8pm (or was that the setting sun) and provided the audience with a live show that rivaled the best I’ve seen. The intimate setting managed to enhance the performance. Last year the Philosopher Kings played to a rain soaked crowd in a torrential downpour on the Labour Day weekend, as the remnants from some of those hurricanes passed through the Niagara area. This year there was not a cloud in the sky – the stars were bright and the music was lively and energetic; Jon Levine, keyboardist, played the piano with palms, elbows, fingers and even his nose. While lead singer Gerald Eaton had good stage presence and knew how to play to the crowd, he led the band through its paces and let each player take the spotlight. Proving the power of good music, even the 70 year-old usher, who looked sorely out of place, got his jitterbug on by shows end.

The wine flowed freely with a selection of 2 whites (Gewurzt and Sauvignon Blanc), 2 reds (Pinot Noir and Meritage) and a rosé … and helped lubricate the crowd into a boisterous ovation for the band. I particularly enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc, which proved to be more than adequate on this warm summer’s eve.
Overall, except for not getting a full belly at the Grille, the Jackson-Triggs twilight in the Vineyard experience was a rousing success and one I would recommend to anyone – as long as you like the performers that are coming. Still to come this year are Paul Brandt and Chantel Kreviazuk – both sold out … but keep your eyes open for next year’s line up.

Your favourite Canadian band under the stars at this small venue is a refreshi
ng change from the monster venues of the big city shows, where if it weren’t for the screens you wouldn’t be able to see a thing, and the intimacy factor is somewhere around nil. These JT shows sell out quickly, so if you want to go don’t “think about it”; as Nike says “Just Do It” – you’ll be glad you did. Heck I’m still singing the songs and wishing for another glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and its only 7:52 in the morning (the next day). It’s small, intimate concert events like these that truly make attending one worthwhile.

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