Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Absorbing soulful jazz, sipping wine and dancing on the grass in Niagara on the Lake - Hillebrand Jazz & Blues at the Winery

Towards the end of her gig at Niagara on the Lake's celebrated Hillebrand Jazz & Blues at the Winery, Canadian jazz vocalist, Kellylee Evans, descends from the elevated stage, microphone in hand. She playfully saunters through receptive fans as she sings Nina Simone's So Good. The appreciative crowd warmly responds, rising to its feet. Rhetorically, she repeatedly sings, "How do you feel?" "So good!" is the loud answer, shouted from up to 800 patrons, enjoying a cloudless, warm day in sunny Niagara, listening to jazz while sipping tasty wines.

So good indeed... the final act, Lily Frost and The Debonairs, sparks ad hoc dancing upon the lawn in front of the mammoth stage. All ages gleefully participate as she croons a Billie Holiday tribute and encourages those endowed with "particularly good moves" to join her on stage, while musicians riff on clarinet, electric guitar, keyboard and drums, swelling the lawn. I observe smiles from spectators ensconced on hundreds of cruise-ship-like red deck chairs appointed with comfortable cushions for the head.

Kellylee Evans Signing Autographs Crowded In Red Lounge Area Dancing With Lily Frost Good Crowd Good Time Had By All Kellylee Evans And Fans

A Canadian, Frost received a Gemini nomination for the score she co-wrote for the hit TV show, Being Erica. She has toured Canada with her western swing band, The Debonairs, and for me, exhibits a K.D. Lang sound quality which can only be good.

Evans in a form-fitting black outfit, won the 2011 Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. The album, Nina, is a tribute to jazz great Nina Simone. When the show ends at 8 p.m., she is happily engaged in signing autographs and chatting with fans.

Kellylee Evans On Stage Let The Good Times Roll Lily Frost And The Debonairs Lily Frost Grooves More Dancing More Dancing

Earlier, Toronto-based jazz group, the Steve Koven Trio + One earned well-deserved applause as well as The Daniel Barnes Quartet. The Koven band has released eight critically-acclaimed albums since their debut, Live at the Senator, in 1997. Pianist Koven is joined by long-time members, Anthony Michelli on drums and Rob Clutton on bass.

The Barnes Quartet appears at many major Canadian Jazz festivals. Daniel is a drummer, composer and producer with Mike Murley on saxophone, Kevin Michael Turcotte-on trumpet, Jim Vivian on bass-and David Restivo on piano. Daniel was nominated "Drummer of the Year" at both the 2003 and 2007 National Jazz Awards while his work with others has been nominated multiple times for Juno awards.

That's the typical talent assembled which guarantees a rewarding day for locals and many from the nearby GTA. As I drive away, I observe multiple limos at the Hillebrand entrance, but you don't have to be wealthy to savour this experience. Bring your own lawn chair or blanket for lawn seating tickets left and right of the stage at $35 per person.

Hillebrand has offered Canadian jazz talent to Niagara wine country for 22 years. The next event is scheduled for Saturday, August 13, 2011. Gates open at 2 p.m., with artists performing from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (Wine Club Members admitted at 1:30 p.m.)

Nibbling By The Grapes Red Lounge Area So Good So Good

We sat in the Trius Red Lounge area, front and center of the stage with great views. For $70 per person, we were provided with an assigned seat and umbrella. Lounge hosts attended all day for wine selections. A glass of wine was reasonably priced at $6. $150 provides Wine Club Members with both lunch and Lounge seating. The Backstage Pass at $160 per person begins with a sparkling wine reception, then a four-course dinner created by winery chef Frank Dodd, 2010 Toronto Gold Medal Plates winner. The menu is paired with wines selected by winemaker Craig McDonald. You feel like a groupie as each performer dutifully visits in the Vineyard Pavilion after their set.

Concerts proceed rain or shine. More information is available at:

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