Hootenanny Night

David Wiffen
David Wiffen

We continued the poetry readings for a while, but we had lost the intimate atmosphere of 544 Rideau Street and fewer people came. And what was informal on Rideau—the impromptu singing—became more formal on Bank. That’s when I instituted the Hootenanny. At first, it ran Sunday nights. Then I shifted it to Monday since it permitted us to have the weekend performer for one extra night. Monday was a slow night in any case. We held many Hootenannies over the years. There was a minimal charge at the door, and the coordinator received half of the door take. The same applied to our regular performers. There was always a base fee of $150.00 to $200.00 per week or 60% of the door receipts, whichever was highest. Performers generally always received more than the base.

Many of the old guard from Rideau Street took on the role of Hootenanny Coordinator, including Nev Wells, Peter Hodgson, his brother John, Bill Hawkins, and later David Wiffen. Sandy Crawley probably did it the longest, though I could not understand why, since some of the performers were very bad. The coordinator would set up the list of performers and set equal audience time for each performer. However, some performers, intoxicated by the chance to perform in front of a captive audience, would prolong their stay. Countless times I witnessed the coordinator jumping on stage at the end of a long, never-ending song, urging the audience to “give him a big hand,” which they did probably out of great relief more than anything else.

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