Performers include the Country Show Band, Donnie Benton, Eric Shain and Ruby Lee
By Dan Rankin
George Taylor, co-owner of the Purple Hill Country Hall along with his wife Anna, remembers the grand opening of the hall, located at 20903 Purple Hill Road, back in 1992, calling it a “full-blown country show.”
It featured stepdancing from area champion Larry Stacey, and fiddling from a then 17-year-old Shane Cook. “He’s the only fiddle player to win the Canadian Open and the Grand Nationals in the United States,” Taylor said. “I didn’t know very much about country music, but we had a band and different entertainers just kept showing up.”
It was the first of many, many more “full-blown” country shows out at the hall, which has also been the site of numerous weddings and other community events since Taylor was inspired to build a showpiece auction hall after a trip to Alberta. One such event near and dear to Taylor’s heart was the launch party for the West Nissouri Township history book about 15 years ago.
Another momentous occasion is planned at the hall, located halfway between Thorndale Road and Dundas Street, on Dec. 31, when they will hold their 25th annual New Year’s Eve party. To help celebrate their Silver Anniversary and ring in 2017 are a long list of musicians, many of whom have long histories with Taylor and the hall.
Backing up great performers all night will be The Country Show Band, whose talents over the years helped inspire Country Music News publisher Larry Delaney to name the hall the “Canadian Opry.” The group is led by Guy Melanson, and also features Country Music Hall of Fame fiddler player John P. Allen, bassist Brian Moon, former director of music for Stompin’ Tom Connors Al Widmeyer, steel guitar player Steve Smith, who was on the Tommy Hunter Show and has toured Canada with Caroll Baker, Ingersoll’s Jim Gonder on keyboard and drummer Brian Storey.
Also performing will be Canadian artists Rockin’ Eric Shain, Hector Sturgeon, “Purple Hill’s Songbird” Caroline Danoski Burchill, “Silver Fox” Donnie Bentum, and big band singer Ruby Lee Fewings, who will lead the countdown to a balloon drop at midnight. “She sang for years at the Port Stanley Stork Club, which is where Guy Lombardo and all the big bands played,” Taylor said. “We’re excited to have her out.”
The evening kicks off at 8:00 pm on Dec. 31. Tickets for the New Year’s Eve party are $25 per person, which includes hats, horns, balloons and streamers.
“They’ll be playing all kinds of varieties of music from the ’50s right up to the ’90s,” Taylor said. “From country to old time rock’n’roll.”
Another tradition of the night is making it a pot luck event, Taylor said. “Anna used to do all the cooking at every event, and that’s how the ‘pot luck’ started,” he said, adding that they expect around two hundred attendees. “That night, on New Year’s, she didn’t cook and everybody else brought the food.”
After New Year’s Eve, Taylor said their monthly country shows kick off on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. The hall’s country shows always take place on the first Sunday of every month.
The New Year promises to be an exciting one at Purple Hill, where plans are in place to introduce a Bluegrass Show band to complement the Country Show band. “They’ll put their skills on display at our Bluegrass Reunion festival Aug. 18-20, 2017 alongside a bunch of top bluegrass bands,” Taylor said. “There will also be three days of camping as part of the weekend of events here at the Purple Hill Opry.”
Before that, on Friday, June 16, 2017, the Ontario Country Music Association will host a kickoff night at the hall prior to its weekend of events and awards ceremonies at Centennial Hall in London. “They want to a country classics show of all the greatest performers Canada has ever known, and they want to do that here,” he said.
One more change coming to the hall in 2017 is a new architectural feature sure to get some attention from hall visitors. “The Carter family have ‘Carter’s Cove,’ the Cash family have the ‘Cash Cabin,’ and the Taylor family, now, because of this hall, we’ve got ‘The Cabin on the Hill’,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he intends the cabin, located just steps away from the hall, to have multiple uses, including serving as a sort of backstage/green room area for visiting musicians to relax and warm up. The building will be decorated with classic photos, furniture and artifacts from West Nissouri, telling the story of the area and the Taylor family. “You’ll walk in, and you’ll be back in time,” he said. There are also possibilities for its use as a space for bridal preparations or photo sessions on wedding days.
On the wall of Taylor’s home, alongside countless other bits of country music memorabilia, is a commemorative plaque from the disbanded classic Canadian country music group The Family Brown, in recognition of the reunion performance he helped organize at the hall.
The plaque credits the Taylors and the Hall as “an oasis of classic country spirit.” Judging by Taylor’s plans for 2017, that’s not likely to end any time soon.
To book tickets for the monthly dinner shows, weddings and other events at Purple Hill Country Hall, call Anna at 519-461-0538. Visit purplehillcountryhall.com or Facebook.com/purplehillcountryhall for more information.