Taking a trip down memory lane is usually a fun experience, especially when someone else is driving. Forgotten memories resurface in your mind and all the joys, and sometimes sadness which accompanies them, flow forward, through the forgotten channels of your brain.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a theatre/concert production of the Riverboat Coffee House. If you were born after 1970, you may not recall the venue, but if you at all remember the sixties (and if you remember them too well, you didn’t live them) the Riverboat on Yorkville Avenue, was as sacred to the folk music scene, as it gets.
SoulPepper Productions are responsible for reviving the iconic Toronto landmark. Their current playhouse, The Young Centre for the Performing Arts, is located in the Distillery District, a venue worth visiting all on its own (especially now the Christmas market is open). There are also venues for dinner and Archeo is one I would recommend.
The theatre has an intimate atmosphere, similar to that of the coffee houses of the sixties. Producers Mike Ross and Frank Cox-O’Connell, have done a fantastic re-creation of the original spot. Coffee houses in Toronto’s Yorkville district arose because the drinking age was a 21, and young people wanted to experience entertainment and nightlife.
The original Riverboat Coffee House opened in 1964, and lasted for 15 years. It was the brainchild of Bernie Fiedler, a German refugee, who as luck would have it, was in attendance the night I went. Fiedler brought a new group of unknown artists to perform, while a small, but dedicated audience tapped their toes and sipped java.
Performers who got their start at the Riverboat Coffee House include, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian & Sylvia, Joni Mitchell, Murray McLauchlan and Neil Young, as well as a few appearances by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Simon and Garfunkel. The cast of SoulPepper does an amazing job of bringing these icons back to life through their music. The finale, performed to a standing ovation, was ‘Four Strong Winds’ and I thought the walls were going to collapse to the sounds of the audience crooning at the top of their lungs.
It was sad when the Yorkville strip was closed by then Mayor, Allan Lamport, because he wanted to develop real estate in the area. It was even sadder the way he did it, by creating a huge, fabricated media campaign around drugs and ‘hippies’, scaring the public with his ficticeous crusade.
SoulPepper has done a fantastic job of bringing Yorkville of the sixties back to life, and I for one, was glad to have lived through that era.