It may not be that far geographically from the music room of Huntsville High School to the stage of the Gravenhurst Opera House, but for Leah Leslie it’s been a long and winding road.
When Leslie plays the Opera House this Friday, April 22, guests can expect to hear a range of genres including folk, blues and jazz. As a touring musician, Leslie travelled from coast to coast across Canada and the United States sharing the stage with such musicians as Stan Rogers, Jeff Healey, Gary Breit and Vern Dorge.
It all began for Leslie at the age of 14 when she started playing guitar – a relationship that was fostered by the teachers at Huntsville High School.
“In Huntsville, and across Muskoka, the teachers have been a huge part of what’s helped to keep the arts alive and thriving,” she says.
For Leslie, that included teachers like Carol Purchase who started the Huntsville High School Folk Music Club in 1970.
“It was a great experience and it allowed a place for us to really express our creativity,” she says. “We were given the opportunity to travel with the Club and we were as important as any sports team at the high school.”
After graduation Leslie branched out on her professional career, performing at Deerhurst Resort, Divine Lake Lodge (now known as Trillium Resort and Spa), as well as a year-long house gig performing at the Empire Hotel’s Tui Lounge, which was located on the main floor.
Eventually Leslie took her show on the road, travelling across North America and getting the opportunity to play with major Canadian talents.
“It only lasted a decade but I feel like I was given a rare gift, and something that very few people have the opportunity to experience,” she says.
Leslie’s love for Muskoka eventually brought her home, where she’s since worked primarily in sales and marketing.
Several years ago she got the idea for a live concert at the Opera House but unfortunately Covid had different plans for Leslie. Making the most of pandemic lockdowns, Leslie decided to stay busy and keep her musical chops as sharp as possible.
“On March 26, 2020, I picked up my guitar, recorded a song and posted it on Facebook,” she says. “This became a daily ritual, and since then, I have shared hundreds of songs – classic folk, jazz, blues, country and a few originals. Recently, I realized we were coming up on the second anniversary, and I decided now is the time to make that concert happen.”
Leslie will also be joined on stage by musical friends this Friday.
As well, from 10 am to 7:30 pm, select works of award-winning artist Gayle Dempsey will be displayed at the Opera House, as a preview to her upcoming exhibition in Port Carling this July.
Tickets to Friday’s concert are available at www.gravenhurst.ca.
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