Plans for annual Christmas concerts that dot the December calendar in Winnipeg won’t be roasting along with the chestnuts on an open fire.
Instead, those celebrations will be going virtual.
For Tom Jackson, creating livestream Huron Carole concerts reminds him of when he began the annual fundraiser for Winnipeg Harvest — now known as Harvest Manitoba — in 1987.
"COVID gave us a blank page and we had to start rethinking things," the actor, singer and philanthropist says. "We can’t go out, we can’t shop, we can’t go do those things. I don’t know what else people can do, except rally around.
"This is an opportunity to gather your family, help the food bank, save some lives and celebrate the spirit of Christmas. That is a little outside the box."
The show is highlighted by Jackson’s famous rendition of the Huron Carole, a Canadian carol written by St. Jean de Brebeuf, a Catholic priest and missionary to New France in the 17th century. But the show also includes "stories and songs and tomfoolery that creates the spirit of Christmas," he says.
Jackson, who lives in Calgary, has also spent the last 35 years, off and on, in Winnipeg. He lived on the city’s streets at one point, dealing with addiction, and it was his attempts at helping Harvest in the 1980s that led him to recovery.
"It saved my life," he says. "I felt so elated. I went from being addicted to one thing to being addicted to another... I need to help because it’s my oxygen."
During the summer, Jackson and his wife, Alison, launched Almighty Voices, livestream concerts held over the summer to support the Unison Benevolent Fund, a charity that provides counselling and emergency relief to Canada’s music industry.
"We learned a lot through the process and we realized we could do a virtual Huron Carole," he says.
The result is 34 virtual Huron Carole concerts taking place across Canada, including its Dec. 9 show with proceeds once again going to Harvest Manitoba. The Huron Carole livestream begins at 6:45 p.m. on Dec. 9. Tickets are $70 and can be purchased at huroncarole.ca; there is also a $135 ticket that includes wine and a charcuterie board. Those must be purchased before Dec. 4.
Jackson’s philanthropy hasn’t gone unnoticed. He was named a Companion of the Order of Canada by Governor-General Julie Payette last week, an honour he says he is still is trying to sort out.
"One can use words like flattering or honourable. No, no, not good enough. Got to find something better than that. Maybe I’ll find some young person; they’ll have a word for it."
The Huron Carole is one of several virtual Christmas concerts going on in Winnipeg this month. Here are some others:
● The Good Lovelies Virtual Christmas Tour (Dec. 11, 8 p.m.) — The Ontario roots trio is celebrating the holidays with livestream concerts across Canada. The West End Cultural Centre, the National Arts Centre, along with the Calgary and Edmonton folk festivals are hosting the Western Canada show, on Dec. 11, with a share of the proceeds going to Harvest Manitoba. Tickets, which range in price from $18.73 to $42.87 are available here.
The WECC, along with Home Routes, is also presenting a livestream concert with Juno-winning Winnipeg singer-songwriter William Prince on Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. Visit here for details.
CP Holiday Train at Home (Dec. 12, 7 p.m.) — The holiday train is staying on the siding this year, but COVID-19 hasn’t derailed this annual fundraising effort for the nation’s food banks. Pop singer Serena Ryder headlines CP Holiday Train at Home, which can be seen at Canadian Pacific’s Facebook page with singer-songwriters Jojo Mason, Logan Staats and Kelly Prescott also performing.
The Holiday Train has been rolling down the tracks of Canada since 1999 and raised more than $19 million and 4.8 million pounds of food for food banks, including Harvest Manitoba.
Under the Mistletoe with Those Guys (Dec. 13, 7 p.m.) — December would ordinarily be the busiest month for Those Guys (pictured at top), a nine-piece a cappella group that would hold its own show, as well as joining in on other events.
But Silent Night doesn’t mean December 2020 must be totally silent, says Bernie Pastorin of Those Guys. Instead, the group is getting together via Zoom, and has compiled some past concert footage to convert into a livestream performance that will be available at the group’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitch channels.
Canada in Unison Holiday Special: In Concert (Dec. 17, 7 p.m.) — Canadian artists such as Iskwe, Tom Wilson, Jim Cuddy, Tim Hicks, Sarah Harmer, Scott Helman and many others will team up for this livestream concert, with proceeds going to the Unison Benevolent Fund. Tickets are $30 and are available here.
The JP Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday Show (Dec. 18) — Hoe and his friends and musical colleagues have sold out the Burton Cummings Theatre the last few years with their seasonal show, raising money for the Christmas Cheer Board in the process. The annual concert has even spawned a Christmas album.
Hoe says this year’s version will be a solo show, unless provincial regulations on gatherings ease and allow for guests.
"It’s not ideal, but if I can bring some joy to 10 people, mission accomplished," Hoe says.
Tickets are $20, with $5 from each ticket going to the Christmas Cheer Board, and will be available starting this week at sidedooraccess.com. Audience members will be able to download lyric sheets and chord sheets if they want to play along, he says.
Hoe has also released his album Brighten Up the Night to Spotify and Apple Music streaming services. He initially released the 2019 LP exclusively to those who attended the Holiday Show in 2019.
Amero Little Christmas (Dec. 19, 7 p.m.) — Country singer Don Amero is also taking his annual Christmas celebration online, so expect some videos and solo performances from the Juno-nominated singer-songwriter. Visit here for tickets, $15.
Winnipeg Folk Festival concerts — The folk fest will hold two livestream concerts with a holiday theme in December. It presents two concerts with Hawksley Workman (Dec 11, 7 p.m.; Dec. 12 1 p.m., $12 plus fees); and A Celtic Family Christmas at home with husband-and-wife fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy. (Dec. 20, 8 p.m. $25 plus fees).
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.