Hugh’s Room Toronto On The Brink


Submitted by Don Graham

One of the most iconic and loved listening rooms, Hugh’s Room in Toronto, has been on the brink of going under. But as long as there is hope people need to stop burying the body before it flatlines. At this writing, owner Richard Carson has NOT gone bankrupt as reported by some on social media, but has filed for insolvency. On January 8, Richard statement read: “To all our supporters – performers, audience, and staff – I am sincerely sorry to have to say that Hugh’s Room has reached a point of insolvency. More information will be available over the next few days as to how we can proceed from here, but at this time we are closing our doors until we can see what options are available to us.”

Richard opened Hugh’s Room in April 2001 and named it after his late brother Hugh.

With the late great Jesse Winchester as the first act to grace the stage. Since Jesse’s passing Bill McKettrick has organized a Jesse Winchester Tribute show there with one scheduled for this April. It’s still a large possibility as the room, although closed now, is working on a solution. On January 9, Hugh’s Room issued this statement, “We have received a tremendous amount of good will and support over the past few days and we’re working on finding ways where we may be able to garner that support. It certainly has given us some encouragement that we may be able to move forward and continue in the ways where many people – performers, audience, and staff – have been touched by the room over the past 17 years. It ain’t over folks!”

Some of the world’s greatest singer/songwriters have found their way to the Hugh’s Room stage. One of the most prolific songwriters of this generation, Jimmy Webb had this to say, “Hugh’s is one of my favorite venues in the world to play. The crowds are amazing and the energy and feeling of acceptance in the room is unbelievable. I love that venue.”

Hugh's RoomHugh's RoomWhen contacted at his home in the Netherlands folk music legend Eric Andersen said “ Oh my God. I just found out about Hugh’s Room. I feel so sad tonight. I rarely had feelings for any venue like I did for Hugh's -- THE music and supper room! I confess, It is such a bleak feeling to see your generation getting picked off one friend, one artist,
one venue at a time. But I have many great memories. And as long as there are memories, worlds like Hugh's Room will always exist. I remember so many great, wonderful shows there.

Everybody at Hugh’s was so kind, generous and gracious to me. The sound was always great. I had huge respect for the spirit of the room.

I remember especially some amazing moments when Garth Hudson and Joni Mitchell sat in on shows. And the nights playing with Oliver Layah-Jane. And it was always wonderfulto see my dear friend Jane Harbury. We filmed part of my movie Songpoet at Hughs.The audiences were simply the best. They really would go along for the ride.They always "got it!” I felt especially close to the owner Richard who I considered a good friend (I'm still trying to get him over to visit me in the Netherlands!) Richard named the place after his beloved brother Hugh who had died. Tonight I am praying for a miracle! Let the doors swing wide open again!”

Andy just before press time maybe Eric will get his miracle as this was issued from Hugh’s Room. A committee has been struck and yesterday met to explore ways to restructure and make Hugh’s Room work in the future.

The focus is squarely on several priorities:Re-opening the doors as soon as possible developing a business plan to ensure Hugh’s Room is successful going forward and making sure that the three communities :- Staff, Artists and Audience members – who are the backbone of Hugh’s Room’s success over the past 16 years – are fairly treated.

There are plans for Hugh’s Room to move forward under proposed community-ownership structure and the will is strong to make that happen sooner than later.

Spokesperson for this committee is Grit Laskin, Member of the Order of Canada, who has been one of Hugh’s Room’s strongest supporters through the years.

So there is hope and that’s all we can ask for at this time. If or should I say when, this venue is saved we who love live music need to show our love and support the venues that make it possible. Fingers crossed.