The stage is set for authentic community experiences alongside Small Halls!

It all starts tomorrow, folks! Five years culminating in first strums, first notes drifting into the air and first cheers for big names in music filling intimate rural halls with incredible music.

Here’s another first: for the first time ever, we’re kicking off our expanded line up in THREE locations on Thursday: Almonte Old Town Hall is set to be wowed by William Prince with Outside I’m a Giant (still tickets available!); Barney Bentall will rock the sold out Chaffey’s Lock Community Hall with Kelly Sloan, and Lindi Ortega with Madison Galloway will blow the sold out audience away at the Tamworth Legion.

So, you have your tickets for this weekend – why not extend your visit to explore some of Eastern Ontario’s intriguing small towns? It’s easy to celebrate small town charm and community – by discovering it. (What? You don’t have tickets yet? Many shows are sold out this weekend, but there are still a few that have available tickets here. Join us!)

Here are some suggestions for authentic experiences to get you in the spirit for kicking off the Festival this week.

Spend time in…

Chaffey’s Lock – Grab an ice cream cone and stroll the grounds at the fabled Opinicon in Chaffey’s Lock or go for a walk along the Cataraqui Trail – just five minutes from the hall is a brilliant view from a former train bridge high above the Rideau Canal! Or, come earlier in the day and take a boat cruise or rent a kayak to explore the Rideau Canal with Rideau Tours. There is also an outdoor barbecue taking place on the hall grounds for ticketholders, put on by The Opinicon. Yum!

Almonte – This is one of most picturesque and unique downtowns along the Mississippi River. The Town is currently hosting the shoot of a high-profile Christmas movie – so if you see snow, you’re not dreaming! Enjoy shopping and dining on Mill Street and then visit the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum National Historic Site to discover static and working displays of textile equipment and processes focusing on the region’s heritage, culture and the role of the textile industry in the development of Canada.

Tamworth – This village has the beautiful Salmon River flowing through it – and nearby Beaver Lake to accent it’s variety of amenities and highlight its milling history! Before the sold out Lindi Ortega show, take a jaunt in the Beaver Lake Lions Park along the waterfront to enjoy the scenery! You might want to swing past the Devon Café while you’re in town , too – we hear their homemade bread, soups, quiche and coffee are to die for!

Winchester – Indulge in a wine tasting at Blue Gypsy Wines at 5 p.m. in nearby Oxford Mills and explore the vineyard – then keep the glass as a souvenir! Starting at 5:30 p.m., the Winchester United Church (519 St. Lawrence St.) will host its delicious annual turkey feast. $16 per person at the door, includes dessert. Round out the country experience by visiting a nearby apple orchard with pick-your-own opportunities. Don’t forget to arrive a few minutes early for the show to walk around Winchester and marvel at this bustling, historic small town!

Athens – Small-town atmosphere combines perfectly with strong agricultural roots here. On your way to the show, stop by Mensen Farm on County Rd. 42 for local produce – and have a giggle at the antics of the resident goats. Once in Athens, be sure to stop by the unique shops on the main street, like Willard’s Bakery and Deli, for their famous baked goods. (The huge oatmeal cookies and doughnuts will make your taste buds tingle!) Before the show, JJ’s Country Diner at 68 Main Street in Athens is ready to serve hungry Festival goers. After your meal, pick up the Athens Tourist Guide 2018 at JJ’s for insight into a self-guided walking tour of the village.

Matawatchan – Explore Matawatchan before the show – surrounded by nature this is a great place to unwind and simply enjoy.  Get your camera ready as the mighty Madawaska River makes for beautiful photos. The sunsets here are gorgeous! Beginning at 5:30PM, St. Andrew’s United Church will host a chili supper down the road from the hall (1812 Frontenac Road, Griffith, ON). The menu includes chili, buns, grated cheese, sour cream, veggie tray, squares, tea and coffee for $10.00 per person. No reservations required. There will be a cash bar at the hall during the show and sandwiches will be available for purchase.

Pakenham – Marvel at the only five-span stone bridge in Canada (one of the Seven Wonders of Lanark County!) and then step back in time at the Pakenham General Store which has been in operation since 1840. The store still maintains its charm with wood floors, original wooden counters and antiques used by the original owners. Fresh in-store bakery! Take in the natural beauty and friendly community of Pakenham and visit other unique shops and eateries before the Stephen Fearing show at St. Andrew’s United Church.

McDonald’s Corners – Make memories while visiting nearby Wheeler’s Maple Museum, which holds a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest collection of maple artifacts in the world! Lace up and visit the Purdon Conservation Area – home to a unique nature trails (one is even an accessible boardwalk), as well as the largest colony of lady slipper orchids in Canada. McDonald’s Corners Agricultural Hall will be buzzing with activity even during intermission when artisanal pizzas by PJs Pizzas will be available for purchase!

Sydenham – Before the show featuring, Stephen Fearing with Kris and Dee, tour Canada’s Oldest General Store: Trousdale’s General Store in Sydenham to be transported back to yesteryear with an old fashioned snack bar, traditional candies, unique gifts and loads of local history. Don’t forget to swing by the Limestone Organic Creamery for the best chocolate milk you’ll ever sip. This neck of the woods is also home to woodslakestrails, country roads, heritage homes and history. Dip your toes at the public beach on Sydenham Lake and then head over to Mill Street Café to revel in local foods prepared with love.

Tweed – A hidden gem of a winery is tucked away near Tweed, Potter Settlement Wines. Explore the winery, book a guided tour of the vineyard and learn about the history and wine-making process first-hand. Tweed is also rife art galleries to peruse, shops to discover and trails to hike, so spending a day in Tweed is easy time. Visit Lester B Pearson Peace Park to meander along a nature trail with 32 interpretive signs telling about local wildlife.

Kilmaurs – The first ever Small Halls Chef’s Table: A local farm-to-table country feast is taking place on the lawns of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Kilmaurs preceding the show. We’re excited to announce that dinner is already sold out.

Morton – Revel in the Rideau Canal and head over to Jones Falls to marvel at the engineering genius of this UNESCO World Heritage site as you watch boats going through the locks. Don’t forget to visit Wendy’s Country Market on Fortune Line Road to feed the animals, count the bunnies and discover delicious, locally grown and produced foods before the Skydiggers matinee sold out show.

Balderson – Even getting to the Balderson United Church is remarkable while driving through the gorgeous Lanark Country landscapes to arrive at the sold out Kathleen Edwards show. Balderson is home to a unique shopping experience with vibrant stores right next to the church, but also antique shops dotting the countryside. Before the show, stop by Balderson Cheese (1410 Highway 511 in Balderson)  to sample some of their delicious cheeses – and maybe even take a few home too!

Don’t have your tickets yet? See our full schedule here to join us!

There are also wonderful community dinners, events and more taking place in many host communities! See the list of dinners, art shows, tours, markets and more here.