Monday, 26 October 2009

Hugh's Room is Toronto's Hidden Gem

Several year's ago, an old camp friend introduced me to the music of a fabulous indie artist from Chicago named Susan Werner. I have been hooked ever since. I purchased a couple of albums and she has been a prominent part of my iPod rotation. Her musicianship, songwriting skills and voice just floored me. The woman is immensely talented and I am a sucker for talent. Last February, I included my version of her anthem May I Suggest in a Shabbat Shirah service in song at synagogue. The haunting lyrics, including the brilliant tag line "May I Suggest this is the best part of you life", struck the perfect chord for a song before the Mourner's Kaddish. Much of the congregation was moved to tears and, believe me it was Susan Werner, not me, who was able to induce the emotion. Our Rabbi loved the piece so much that he suggested we include it as part of our Yizkor service on Yom Kippur. The reaction was much the same.

Just before the holidays, that same rabbi noticed from an online ad that Susan was coming to Toronto to play Hugh's Room and he suggested that we go. Torontonians!! If you have never heard of or visited this gem of a club in the north part of the Bloor West Village, you are truly missing out. The intimacy of the surroundings is not to missed, and the musicians who frequent are amongst the world's best in the folk/rock/indie scene. Local artists also showcase their talents at Hugh's, and it is impossible to guess who might pop in for an impromptu session on any given evening. Joni Mitchell has been known to skulk in the shadows when in town, as have Sylvia Tyson, Gordon Lightfoot, Ashley MacIsaac and the like. Other than its inconvenient location from my home, I love everything about the place, so it was an easy call to agree to an evening with Susan Werner. We enlisted the company of some friends who feel much the same about Hugh's as do we. They were not familiar with Susan's music, but I played them a couple of tracks and they readily agreed. We were blown away. Not only was she musically brilliant, but she was funny, engaging and warm with the audience. She sipped local wine between songs, and included the crowd in some comic banter. She was irreverent, fiercely loyal to her hometown, and refreshingly unapologetic. What truly stunned me, was the music from her latest album Classics. She has taken old favourites from the likes of Cat Stevens, Marvin Gaye and Paul Simon and rejigged them with snippets from classical composers like Vivaldi, Chopin and Bach. The results are brilliant. The five of us were blown away and desperate to purchase the new disc following the show.

We were not disappointed. Susan hung around the lobby signing CDs and posing for photos. When our turn finally arrived, my friend the rabbi told her of our performance of her piece at Yom Kippur. She was visibly moved and truly taken aback. She spent a good five minutes chatting with us and even asked the rabbi if he would email her regarding a question of faith. He took her address and was planning to do so this morning. She was everything that I had hoped for and more. The pictures are a bit fuzzy because I couldn't use flash, but they aren't bad. If you are ever in this part of the world, make it your business to visit Hugh's.


  1. Couldn't have said it better, Dawn, about both Hugh's and Susan

  2. I just recently became acquainted with Susan Werner and I must say, she rules my mp3-player and my car cds also :) She really is an astonishing musician. Thanks for your article,