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The Hear! Here! Niagara Music Series is a new monthly gathering for songs and stories with our beloved local hosts, the Mark Lalama Trio. The PAC home band (much more than a house band) features acclaimed musicians Mark Lalama, Rich Moore and Davide DiRenzo. Both together and independently the trio have performed alongside some huge names including Tom Jones, Mariah Carey, Jon Bon Jovi, Jacksoul, Holly Cole, John McDermott, Anne Murray and The Tenors. They are accomplished musicians at the top of their game.

Hear! Here! takes place in Robertson Theatre overlooking St. Catharines’ old Welland Canal and the Twelve Mile Creek valley leading up to the Niagara Escarpment. The exposed floor to ceiling window acts as a beautiful backdrop to the performances, with zooming car lights and flocks of birds dancing among the clouds, as if almost perfectly choreographed for the occasion.

As the story goes, The Mark Lalama Trio held a weekly house gig at Coppolla’s restaurant in St. Catharines for three years, and some of the band’s most die-hard fans included staff from Centre for the Arts and the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. It was evident that these musicians needed to build on this regular gathering would be the perfect choice to host a new Niagara- centric music series.

“It’s like combining the best elements of music in a concert venue with the vibe and intimacy and all the great things about experiencing music at your favourite local hangout,” explains Lalama.

“The audience is up close and personal and the musicians are in a setting where they’ll have the

freedom to stretch out and let go. It will be a monthly house gig where a relationship is established, month to month, between the folks on the stage and the folks in the audience. In that sense it becomes a sort of creative collaboration, which is really what its all about.”

With a sold-out (and then some!) first show under their belts, Hear! Here! brings all the heart to a special Valentine’s Day performance, which features wildly innovative guitarist Kevin Breit and the honest and compelling singer-songwriter Beth Moore. Bassist Mark McIntyre will also be stepping in for Rich Moore this month.

“We’ll play two-thirds of a set, bring up the local guest and do some songs together,” says Lalama. “Then there will be an intermission and the international featured guest will join.”

Next up in the series on March 13, Suzie Vinnick and Joe Lapinski will take the stage. Vinnick’s roots are firmly entrenched in the sound of roots, blues and gospel music. Since kicking-off her solo blues career in 2011, Suzie’s mantle has filled up with accolades and awards including 2012 SIRIUS XM Blues Artist of the Year and multiple Maple Blues Awards. She’s a powerhouse vocalist, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who charms audiences across the nation.

Local guest Joe Lapinski is a musician, songwriter, producer and sound designer. His latest self- produced album The Beauty Beyond (2013) is a courageous, heartfelt and rousing album that flips the script on the often ‘middle-of-the- road’ singer-songwriter style. A local fixture, Joe plays with The Woodshed Orchestra, co-founded Niagara’s In the Soil Arts Festival and operates WOW! Recording Studio in St. Catharines.

On Sunday April 3, Ian Thomas slides into the headlining guest spot with over a dozen solo albums under his belt during an impressive career that spans four decades. Since the early days of “Painted Ladies,” Ian has racked up serious accolades including a JUNO Award, four SOCAN classic awards and a UNICEF Danny Kaye Humanitarian award. He’s written for Santana, America, Anne Murray, Lunch At Allen’s and his nationally treasured lyrics have even appeared in textbooks. His latest solo album Little Dreams was released nearly 39 years after his debut, Long Long Way.

St. Catharines’ multi-talented Brittany Brooks graciously joins Thomas as April’s local guest. Also known as Creature Speak, Brooks writes haunting lullabies full of imagined memories and nostalgia. Her debut album Shadow Songs was self-released in November 2015 and has received praise from Bandcamp, Exclaim, and a few dozen international bloggers. The UK blog Goldflake Paint says of the album, “a strangely comforting collection that brings us closer to a truth we’ve almost forgotten. Shadow Songs is a powerful and cathartic tribute to the deep human connections that defy time and death.”

Lalama and the band look forward to creating a special afternoon of music every month. “It’s a cross between a concert venue and your favourite local pub. It’s for music lovers who want to hear the band in a really intimate setting,” describes Lalama. “We’re not going to stick to any script and we’re going to play in a really adventurous way.”

- Jordy Yack & Annie Wilson


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