Underground Railroad Festival branches out, moves indoors

The Underground Railroad Music Festival is spreading out and will be held in three venues around Ontario this fall.

The festival, previously a one-day summer event held in Mapleton, was put on hiatus by organizer Diana Braithwaite in 2013, with the idea of making it a semi-annual event.

The 2014 festival will be the fifth since it was initiated by Braithwaite, a Toronto-based musician and a descendant of the original black settlers of the Queen’s Bush area.

The first two festivals were held in Glen Allan, which was considered a main terminus of the Underground Railroad, the term for a series of safe houses and individuals who helped black slaves reach Canada from the United States in the early 1800s.

The event was moved to Drayton’s Centennial Park in 2011 to take advantage of parking and other facilities.

It was originally conceived as a way to recognize the history of the Underground Railroad and the black pioneers of the Queen’s Bush settlement

This year the festival will be held over three days, Sept. 26-28, kicking off with a show at the Fergus Grand Theatre Sept. 26. The event will move to St. Catharines at the First Grantham United Church on Saturday, and wrap up on Sunday at Hugh’s Room in Toronto.

“They’re all indoor venues and the weather is not a factor. We’re also reaching three main places where people settled,” said Braithwaite.

Braithwaite said the festival had been growing steadily and organizers wanted to extend its reach.

“So I thought, we’ll go indoors and see what the audience is like but at the same time, we’ll have an opportunity to have three audiences …  a wider audience I guess is what it is,” she explained.

Braithwaite is particularly excited to be bringing the festival to Fergus.

“Fergus has a special place because of the fact Richard Pierpoint settled there and Wellington County has a rich tradition of early black history,” she noted.

Festival lineup

Braithwaite, who will perform in the show with her partner Chris Whiteley, said a number of acts, from both Canada and the United States have been booked to take part in the show, but she anticipates additional acts will be added.

Among those scheduled to perform are Atlanta-based blues artist Zakiya Hooker, daughter of legendary blues artist John Lee Hooker and, from South Carolina, and the Georgia Sea Islands, traditional singers the Georgia Gullah ring shouters

Tickets to the Fergus performance can be obtained from the Fergus Grand Theatre or on their website at: www.fergusgrandtheatre.ca.

For more updates watch undergroundrailroadmusicfestival.com