IlluminAqua (Welland)


by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams


When I first heard the word “IlluminAqua”, I had no idea what it meant or for that matter, what it was! I had received an e-mail message from Stephen Fischer, Business and Operations Manager of the Welland Recreational Canal Corporation, asking me for information about promoting this event called “IlluminAqua”! Before contacting Stephen back, I decided to do a little research via the internet. Once I had visited their website, it all came together! Simply put, IlluminAqua, which is held in Welland, is a series of seven night-time concerts. After that I contacted Stephen and was even more intrigued. He told me that they were in the process of completing construction of a new amphitheatre. He also told me about their floating stage, the types of music that would be performed and the fires that would be set on the canal! At that point I knew that this was an event that I had to visit! Unfortunately Judi was away, so I had to go alone.
The trip through Toronto to Welland was uneventful. Surprisingly I had never been to Welland before and was impressed by its size and uniqueness. Welland is a city of 50,000 people that is in transition from an industrial powerhouse to a sophisticated renaissance community. The industrial buildings are now mostly closed down and the main Welland Canal now by-passes the downtown area. Although the changes have been traumatic, the resiliency of Welland’s citizens seems to make the town more vibrant! Now that I had reached Welland and had seen some of the changes, I was even more excited to experience IlluminAqua!


Even though the concert was an evening event, I decided to arrive early so that I could find Merritt Park, where the concert was being held. I also wanted to introduce myself to Stephen Fischer. After driving around in a circle in the downtown area, I eventually found the park and Stephen. This past year Stephen’s main job was to plan and manage the building of Welland’s new amphitheatre! This was a Herculean task that was just having the finishing touches completed when I arrived! Although I had never seen to old set-up, I can tell you that the new amphitheatre is spectacular! A stone stepped amphitheatre overlooks the old Welland Canal. Out on the water was a floating stage where the performances were going to take place. After speaking with Stephen, I took the opportunity to explore both the park and the amphitheatre. All around me people were working hard getting ready for the evening’s performances and activities! As I looked out over the water, I noticed several floating iron baskets, each filled with a pile of wood! I can’t tell you how many there were, but there were a lot! Not wanting to be in the way, I left Merritt Park and headed for a local “watering hole”, a “Tim Hortons”! After I had had my “coffee fix” and a bite to eat, I headed back to the park and IlluminAqua!

Opening Act…

Back at Merritt Park, I parked my car and walked to the event’s man entrance. Here I was greeted by a volunteer who handed an IlluminAqua program to me. Merritt Park had been set up with numerous booths, each one offering event goers something different, food, refreshments and festival souvenirs. Excitement and anticipation filled the air! I toured the park and then went to the amphitheatre. A number of people were in groups talking about the new wonderful venue and about the upcoming concert. Eventually, as start time grew closer, people started to take their seats. I chose mine towards the back of the amphitheatre. Fortunately I sat beside a gentleman who was a long time resident of Welland. He was kind enough to fill me in on some of the local history and activities. Finally the Chairman of the Welland Recreational Canal Corporation, Bob Mahler, took to the stage to begin the opening ceremonies. He welcomed everyone to the opening night and thanked all who had helped make it happen. He especially thanked Stephen Fischer and his staff for getting the new amphitheatre ready for the concert series! He then introduced Welland’s Mayor, Damian Goulborne. Mayor Goulborne spoke a about Welland and its new facility and then welcome everyone to the opening night. With the opening ceremonies over, the Opening Act was introduced. Michael Gabriel took the stage accompanied by Cellist Trina Nadeau. According to Michael’s biography, “Michael Gabriel trained and performed as a classical singer in Vancouver. He has been the lead singer in original bands in both Canada and the United States. When he released 2 solo EP's, he toured with his classical guitar across Canada and played throughout Southern Ontario.” Michael is currently traveling southern Ontario in “a van/camper named Gary”! Michael’s performance on the Welland stage was wonderful. He sang many of his own original compositions. The accompaniment of cellist Trina greatly enhanced the performance. As Michael entertained us, day slowly turned to night. Out on the canal waters, silent boats entered the water and made their way to the numerous fire pods. One-by-one the pods were lite. Billowing clouds of white smoke started to fill the air. The music played on! Joining the flotilla of fire boats were two kayakers. Both paddled noiselessly amongst the burning fire pods as they listen to the music. With the sun setting in the background, Michael and Trina completed their portion of the concert.

Second Act…

The next performer on stage came out dressed in jeans, a cowboy shirt and hat had a guitar over his shoulder. I wondered, “Who is this cowboy/country singer?” His first song was, of course, country! After his first song was over, Elton Lammie began his musical story! He told us that through his music we would learn more about him. We sat back to listen. His career began as a country singer/songwriter. He was pretty good! As a young man, full of adventure he headed to Tennessee to make his fortune. He was lucky enough to be “discovered” and as a result he produced his own record with very impressive backup musicians! As he told us, the album was not a great commercial success, so he returned home to Canada with his “tail between his legs”. Not to be defeated, he decided to try his hand as a “tribute artist”. His tribute was to Roy Orbison. With this Elton sang two of Orbison’s best known songs. The crowd clapped in time with the music! Lammie’s next incarnation was as a result of a great “discovery” in Toronto! He discovered “musical theatre” and fell in love with the music! He then sang a tune from Les Miserables. While discovering the music scene in Toronto, he learned about a music contest that Bravo TV was holding. He decided to enter. He walked into the studio where the contest auditions where being held wearing his jeans, cowboy shirt and hat. Every one there gawked at him! This was an audition for the next “OPERA” star! Unaffected, Elton learned the songs and lyrics, changed his demeanour and eventually won the contest! A few weeks later he was on the Roy Thompson Hall stage making his first operatic performance. The last part of Elton’s IlluminAqua show was, of course, dedicated to the opera. The audience was thrilled as he sang a number of songs from famous operas! His last song was one that he composed. It was a final tribute to the late great Roy Orbison and it was sung entirely in Italian! The fire pods were now shinning brightly with the flames of the fire dancing on the canal water. The dark skies of night had finally arrived!

Final Act…
It was now time for the performance that everyone had been waiting for! The stage lights had been turned down during intermission. Now as the singing began, the spot lights were turned on, revealing the three Destino Tenors  and their accompanists. The final performance was now in full swing! The three tenors were amazing, thrilling the audience with their wide range of songs. As their biography says, “Classically trained, award winning professional tenors Paul Ouellette, Joey Niceforo and Hans Munoz form Destino. Before collaborating as a trio, the three Canadian vocalists were in established solo careers, performing pop, opera, gospel, soul, R&B, jazz and musical theatre. Destino has received critical acclaim, selling out concert halls in Canada and the U.S. Their music is best described as “popera” or “pop with an opera flair" that is sweeping musical charts, thanks to internationally renowned recording artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Mario Frangoulis, Russell Watson, and many others.” Each of the three tenors, Paul Ouellette, Joey Niceforo and Hans Munoz sang individually and collectively. At one point in the performance Joey left the stage and walked into a group of young girls. He chose one and sang to her. I’m sure that he has a fan for life! The musicians accompanying the trio, a pianist and a violinist, were also incredible. Several times the Tenors stood back to let these wonderful artists play on their own. All too soon the concert was over! I, for one, was left wanting more! The whole evening was certainly magical and I now know why they called this great event, IlluminAqua – “Fire • Music • Water”!

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