This holiday season Tom Jackson isn’t touring The Huron Carole the way he normally would, which is a drag for him and his band, not to mention fans of those Christmas songs and stories, but he’s excited by at least one aspect of the virtual performances being rolled out in November and December.
The online benefit concert was recorded last summer at White Rock’s Blue Frog Studios for broadcast in Surrey and other areas of Canada on select dates, as part of a 33rd-annual effort to raise money to feed people in need.
“We can raise more money this year, possibly,” Jackson said of this 2020 initiative. “I think it will raise more awareness and more funds for people who need it, more than we ever have.”
The Surrey version of Jackson’s hour-long, all-ages The Huron Carole will be shown Friday, Dec. 11 starting at 7 p.m., with tickets priced at $15, or $25 with VIP reception on the Zoom conference platform. In partnership with Surrey Civic Theatres, viewers can make an additional donation to Surrey Food Bank on the event webpage, found at surrey.ca.
The schedule of virtual tour dates is posted to huroncarole.ca, with additional B.C. events connected to charities in Kelowna, Campbell River and Victoria.
Jackson, a musician, actor and activist, has helped raise close to $230 million with his charitable initiatives over the years, leading to humanitarian awards, Red Cross ambassadorship and an Order of Canada induction.
The Huron Carole benefit, which has a goal of “defeating hunger, feeding the soul” based on Jackson’s signature song, was first performed at Toronto’s Silver Dollar bar in the late-1980s.
“Seems like a long time ago,” Jackson said with a laugh from his Calgary-area home. “It’s been a wonderful journey and it all continues to change, with new challenges and other things in the mix that have to be overcome, and every time you do that you learn something. This year we’re all in that program of reinventing ourselves to some degree, and this is no exception.”
That first benefit event in Toronto didn’t generate truckloads of cash, with only 200 people in the place, but it raised awareness of a need in the city, and helped set in motion the touring production and national TV special to come. The following year, Jackson saw a need for a show in Winnipeg, and it all grew from there.
“It didn’t start touring until I got to Calgary, because it was about figuring out how to do it both Winnipeg and Calgary, because I was living here in Calgary,” Jackson recalled. “I rallied a bunch of folks here and now all of a sudden we had two shows, and the next year we had four shows, and it became a tour that eventually morphed into a national television special for 10 years, and a tour.
“At some point we had a request, a lot of requests, to bring the show into smaller communities, so we relaunched it and renamed it Singing for Supper,” Jackson continued.
Eventually, The Huron Carole tour returned to Canada’s bigger cities.
“The model for so many years was the travelling cast and having guests on the show from the local communities, but at some point we decided we needed to ground the show so it would be the same show in every city, a traveling cast, within the last decade.”
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the concert was recorded by Jackson and his band of Vancouver-area musicians, including music director Tom McKillip, Darryl Havers, John MacArthur Ellis, Kirby Barber and Chris Nordquist. McKillip suggested Blue Frog Studios, and Jackson and his wife, project manager Alison Jackson, made their way west for the session.
“It was great, a great facility,” Jackson said. “It was a wonderful surprise, because originally we had planned to bring the band out to Calgary and set up a soundstage, so to speak. “But Tom said he did a thing out at Blue Frog where they have cameras and a nice stage, and that’s how it came to happen.”
Blue Frog operator Kelly Breaks was glad to host the band at a time when the studio was pretty much shut down.
“We used a bit of the audience floor as well, not only the stage,” Breaks recalled.
“It was surreal almost, because it was during a warm spell in the summer, beautiful weather, and here it was all decked out for Christmas. We had our patio doors opened, so people are walking by hearing some Christmas stuff going on, and some of them recognized Tom Jackson.”
The Canada Life-sponsored online show, produced by Tomali Pictures Ltd. and Joe Media Group, is billed as “a world-class concert experience intended to leverage fundraising opportunities for varied hosts.”
So far, the Surrey broadcast has attracted “a great response (and) lots of interest,” according to Kent Gallie, the city’s manager of performing arts. “The good thing about a virtual event is that people can tune in from the comfort of their living room, no matter where they live.”
For Jackson and company, the work now involves spreading word about the online edition of The Huron Carole.
“There’s always been a gap, and it’s greater this year than it’s ever been, that gap between the haves and the have-nots, and that’s why the food bank is there,” Jackson said. “I’m not skilled enough to solve the big picture, but I am a band-aid. The cliché is, if there’s no band-aid, how do you stop the bleeding? But I’m very happy to be that – don’t get me wrong. Yes, it’s working but we wish we didn’t have that issue. I’m glad to help.”
There may never be another Christmas quite like this Christmas, he noted.
“The need is never greater, as we’re in a battle with this virus and also with mental health,” Jackson added.
“This year we can help people at a time when they’re at home, to be happy at home and rekindle that Christmas spirit, the spirit that I remember when I was a kid. Yeah, I get it every year, but probably not like this year.”