The last two Coffee Houses of the year take place on March 10 and 24 at Manitou Opera House.
A long-standing musical event is coming to a close for this year in Manitou.
The Coffee House Musicians have been putting on Coffee House events for 26 years now. Every second Saturday night over the winter, performers come to the Manitou Opera House to perform for free to raise money for local charities.
“Every time there’s a coffee house a charitable group from the community provides the lunch and refreshments and people are asked to donate something to the organization in exchange,” organizer Al Thorleifson said.
“We never actually know who’s going to be there,” Thorleifson added. “And we’ve never had a problem with not having enough people. If you’d like to perform let us know and we’ll put you on stage.”
The Coffee House events came about primarily to supply exposure. “One of [the reasons it started] was to provide an opportunity for some of the musicians in the community to perform for people who wanted to hear them,” Thorleifson said. “Over the years we’ve also recognized that the Coffee Houses provided new and aspiring musicians a chance to actually try this out on stage, so there’s been a lot of young performers that have performed in public for the first time at a Coffee House.”
At the last Coffee House, the high school choir sponsored the event and many of the students also got up on stage at the event, often as smaller groups of two or three.
“Some of the combinations of people we hadn’t heard before so it was really cool,” Thorleifson said.
Thorleifson said the event is pretty relaxed. “We’ve been doing this for so long that it’s kind of formal as to how we set up and what we know works and probably won’t work, but on an event by event basis it’s pretty informal,” he said.
Thorleifson said the events always get good audiences. “There are some people who never miss,” he said. “The community is very pleased that we give them an opportunity to fundraise and there are people who over the years have come to hear specific groups that they know are going to be there.”
“We’ve also developed partnerships with different organizations,” he added.
One of these partnerships is with the Village Green Morris Dancers, who come out every year and will be performing at the last Coffee house event on March 24.
“Morris dancing is a very old English tradition,” Village Green Morris Dancer Ian Fillingham said. “We have all kinds of interesting stories about how it started but nobody’s really sure.”
Fillingham said the earliest recording of Morris dancing in a public place was hundreds of years ago. The Village Green Morris Dancers formed in 1974, and Fillingham joined in 1976.
“It’s a group of around six men usually dressed in white, we wear bells around our lower leg and we jump up and down and dance,” Fillingham said.
The group dances to folk songs and adapted international tunes.
Fillingham said the group focuses more on having fun and enjoying the dance than being perfect. “Most Morris teams around the world are the same,” he said. “There are some that are very precise and great to watch, but the majority of us are out there having fun.”
Fillingham said most of the dancers come out and perform because they’re interested in the dance. “Except for one or two guys, all of us have a direct connection to England,” he said. “Some of us were born there, some have family there, and some are just interested because it’s interesting stuff. There’s nothing like Morris dancing. There’s lots of different types of folk dancing but we’re pretty unique.”
The Morris Dancers come out to Manitou every year from Winnipeg to the Coffee House. “There are great people out there, we love it,” Fillingham said. “They’re really neat people. It’s also a really neat place to go. Every time I go I’m blown away by the amount of talent and interest in the things that are going on locally.”
The last two Coffee Houses of the year take place on March 10 and March 24 at Manitou Opera House. Donations are accepted, but Thorleifson said everyone is welcome to come by and enjoy the experience.
“Come on in the door, you’re welcome,” he said. “Come in and sit down. Celebrate music, especially local music. Support the musicians and community charities.”
Thorleifson hopes those in attendance will recognize the value of community and celebrating music together.
If you can’t make it to the last two Coffee Houses, they will start up again in the fall.