A few years ago in Montreal, I attended a workshop on presenting modern circus. I love circus. The mix of music, drama, acrobatics, magic – it is simultaneously immersive and captivating.

I must have felt emboldened by the energy in the room. I found myself standing up to ask a question of the world-class panel.

And so, in a darkened conference room filled with a hundred or more participants I formulated my question about scalability. En francais – in French.

I explained that we present events in intimate surroundings in mostly rural settings and wondered aloud if circus could be scaled to be performed in a ‘salon’ (livingroom).

The panel members were very animated in their response – talking about how circus could be presented in any ‘salon’ (theatre) – no matter where – if the technical requirements could be met.

I remained standing and politely requested a follow-up question. I explained I was talking about the much smaller version of ‘salon’ – one where the audience sat on sofas, kitchen chairs and on the floor.

There was some nervous laughter and several participants turned to see who was asking the question. I had, inadvertently, captured the attention and imagination of the room.

We had a chat right there about what it means for audiences out in the countryside to be able to connect with performing artists – with musicians – in a way that just can’t be replicated in a big city venue.

How by sharing that experience with children their imaginations are sparked and they have dreams and understand the power of live performance… so they reach for the stars because an artist took the time to visit their small town.

How by going out to where rural audiences live and work and play, artists (and the brands which sponsor them) are showing real respect for the folks who may – one day – make a pilgrimage to see those artists perform in a much bigger venue.

To their credit, the presenters not only assured me it was possible but established lasting relationships with our organization to ensure that we could make it happen. I love that story. I also love that I was invited to visit the Cirque de Soleil’s own salon (theatre) and wander around backstage. And dream a few dreams of my own.  Sweetness.

Be well. Practice big medicine.*


​​*Big Medicine = the right people working together at the right time will be Big Medicine. I’ve been saying ‘Be well. Practice big medicine’ for as long as I can remember. It is my own very personal version of ‘Sawu Bona’, the Zulu greeting which means ‘I see you’… I see all of you, I see your good works, I see the difference you are making in the world.

And that’s a wrap for the 2016 Stanstead House Concerts Network season

And that, my friends, is a wrap for the 2016 Stanstead House Concerts Network – SHCN season… 23 concert events in 12 months in 2 countries…

Special thanks to Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards, Nick and the Babes, 10 String Symphony, The Bombadils, Belle Starr, John Jacob Magistery, Jordie Lane & Clare Reynolds, The Slocan Ramblers, Yann Falquet & Pascal Gemme, Christina Martin, Oh Pep!, Amanda McCoy & Pandel Collaros, The Mae Trio, Mark Reeves, The Secrets, Francois Jalbert & Jérôme Beaulieu, Po Lazarus, Nikki & Andrew Waite, & THE RECORD BREAKERS… for creating musical magic in our homes..

Giving voice – with special thanks to Taylor Swift


When we moved out here to Stanstead, the century-old house we moved into held the unlikely key to a treasure. It came in the form of a broken-down third-rate department-store guitar with five intact strings and a slightly warped neck.

Sophie, our eleven-year-old daughter, adopted the guitar as her own. A family friend added a sixth string and tuned it by ear.

And Sophie took her guitar to her bedroom and taught herself how to play. She used her iPod to download how-to videos from the internet.

Sophie loved the music of Taylor Swift. So she armed herself with chord charts and lyric sheets. And she practiced ceaselessly.

And slowly the sounds became songs.

She entered the town’s talent show with a friend and together they captured second prize after singing a beautiful version of ‘Our Song.’ They went back the next year and won first prize with ‘Mean.’

Almost two years after she first picked up that old guitar Sophie and I made our pilgrimage to Steve’s Music in Montreal where she chose a Big Baby Taylor.

And then she went back up to her room with her new guitar and practiced every evening. We must have heard ‘Love Story’ and ‘Red’ a hundred times.

She sang ‘Teardrops On My Guitar’ in her first appearance at her high school followed by ‘Last Christmas’ and ‘Santa Baby’ at the holiday show.

Sophie sang ‘Love Story’ at her grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration in a restaurant at Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont. It was an amazing few minutes and when she was done even the folks at other tables applauded loudly.

We were primed for the release of ‘1989’ long before the latest Taylor Swift album was released. Almost immediately, Sophie was working her way through the new songs – capturing their essence while singing and playing guitar.

And now, six years since we moved into this old house, seventeen-year-old Sophie has harnessed her dedication and passion – and having successfully auditioned last Spring – is now studying Pop Voice in the Music program at Vanier College in Montreal.

I count myself among the legion of loyal Taylor Swift fans. For good reason.

In my case, I give thanks for Ms. Swift’s ability to help Sophie find her voice – and for providing continual inspiration to keep making sweet sounds with her guitar.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


PS: Big Medicine is my nod of respect to a First Nations expression that, roughly translated, means the right people working together at the right time will be Big Medicine. I’ve been saying ‘Be well. Practice big medicine’ for as long as I can remember. It is my own very personal version of ‘Sawu Bona’, the Zulu greeting which means ‘I see you’… I see all of you, I see your good works, I see the difference you are making in the world.

Stanstead House Concerts #37 #38 #39 – Amanda McCoy featuring Pandel Collaros



“Wow! From rocking out to Amanda McCoy & Pandel Collaros channeling their inner Jimmy Page/Robert Plant for an incredible blow-out-the-jams spine-tingling acoustic cover of Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love to getting to hang out and share the experience with childhood friends.. The music… wow! Incredible performance by a tight duo of guitarslinger blues/folk singer-songwriters – original tunes mixed with a few covers – and a near-classic version of John The Revelator.. and a searing Deep South revisiting of The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down…” – #37 Montreal QC July 29 2016

“Wow! Amanda McCoy & Pandel Collaros treated us to another beautiful evening of music in our livingroom… with a couple of Neil Young covers added to the mix capping off a great night !” – #38 Stanstead QC July 30 2016

“Amanda McCoy and Pandel Collaros performed tonight in the Cabaret Room at the Catamount Arts Center and blew us all away!” – #39 St Johnsbury VT July 31 2016


Fair Trade Music


I am at once very proud and astounded to announce we are the first Fair Trade Music 1000* venue in all of Canada.

Right, I know what you’re thinking – I’ve heard of Fair Trade coffee, chocolate and other stuff, but music? What do you mean?

More and more musicians are risking more and getting paid less to work as folk/roots artists and singer-songwriters. The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) believes – and we agree – that musicians should be paid a fair and just living wage and have a good and safe working environment as a right, not a privilege.

I got lucky early in my career as a marketing/business development consultant. On my second interview with a potential client I was introduced to the concept of playing for tips. The experience changed the way I looked at the art and science of creativity forever.

The potential client was in the household goods marketplace. My interview was with the Chief Executive Officer. He wanted guidance on exploring new markets for their products. He was fully engaged in the conversation.

And then we came to the part about my fee.

He suggested that I provide my services for free for six months and if he “liked what he saw” he’d “pay me a certain amount.”

I was taken aback – and yet – somehow I mustered a reply. I suggested his company could send a semi-trailer full of their products over to our street. Everyone could try their products for six months and if they liked what they saw, they could pay the company a certain amount.

The conversation had definitely taken a turn.

He barked at me, “That’s patently absurd.”

With the proviso that I don’t know anything more about the music business than what I have learned in the past 18 months as a house concert host, I have a very difficult time understanding why anyone with a venue thinks it’s appropriate to ask an artist to play for tips.

Musicians are artists and there’s a price to be paid for their creativity. When we invite artists to perform in our livingroom it is because we enjoy the sound – the tunes – the sweet grooves they are crafting.

We instituted a guaranteed minimum fee because our house is out in the country and there’s always a chance the crowd will be on the sparse side. A share of the gate – or playing for tips – can be pretty tough sledding when there are only a dozen folks who braved the cold or the distance to gather in the livingroom.

There’s a cost for an artist to take a chance on us and travel out to our part of the world. We’re two hours from Montreal QC or Burlington VT. The road which leads to our driveway can be lonely – and yet when you arrive at our driveway, there’s always a warm welcome for both our audience – and our musical guests.

I didn’t take the marketing gig for those folks. I vowed to never work for tips. There’s a price to be paid when my brain is engaged on your behalf.

And so it should be with musical artists. They don’t need ‘exposure.’ They need our support – and they need to earn a living wage so they can craft more tunes.

Thanks for your consideration.

Be well. Practice big medicine.

Hal Newman

The Stanstead House Concerts Network is online at and on Facebook

*American Federation of Musicians, Local 1000

The Bombadils

“It was apparent from the beginning of our relationship that Hal was the real deal. We’ve done two house concerts at his house and are talking about a third. He is friendly, funny and understands artists and their needs. He brings out an enthusiastic audience who are always wonderful to play for. It’s been a pleasure to know him and his family and we look forward to working with him for a long time to come.” – The Bombadils