A much-loved Christmas season staple for thousands of Peterborough-area residents is returning in December to the place where it all began in 2000, once again raising funds for youth and families experiencing homelessness.
‘In From The Cold’ is back at the Market Hall Performing Arts Centre in downtown Peterborough for the first time since the pandemic began, with two in-person concerts at 8 p.m. on Friday, December 9th and Saturday, December 10th. Tickets cost $25 ($30 for cabaret seating) and can be ordered at markethall.org.
Performing seasonal music you won’t hear anywhere else, from traditional carols to more obscure contemporary selections, a familiar cast of local folk and roots musicians will again be front and centre, with In From The Cold co-founder and director John Hoffman among them.
“It’s a chance to go to a different kind of Christmas show,” Hoffman says of In From The Cold’s enduring appeal, referencing the concert’s “kitchen party” feel. “There are a lot of shows at Christmas. It seems every church and every school has something. Various people around town will do Christmas shows. None of them are folky. We are folk musicians. We play acoustic instruments.”
“We’ve stayed away primarily from the standard songs you hear every year,” he adds. “We do a few of them but we’re always digging up new stuff. I’ve had people tell me ‘I hate Christmas music.’ They hear it in the shopping mall. They hear it on the radio. Our music is different. We take a different approach and the music is good.”
Hoffman will once again perform in the trio Carried Away with Susan Newman and Rob Fortin who, along with Curtis Driedger, co-founded the benefit concert. Multi-instrumentalist Michael Ketemer and Celtic harpist Tanah Haney will also return, as will the 30-voice-strong Convivio Chorus led by Newman. Driedger will also be returning, although not in the form of his longtime onstage persona Enrique ‘Roy’ Claveer — but the famed Santa suit will be making an appearance.
“Every year, Rob, Sue and I come together and have this negotiation,” says Hoffman about the song selection. “One of the surprises this year is a song from White Christmas. It’s not a Christmas song but it’s associated with a Christmas movie and it really suits our voices. We’re also doing a nice little Ron Sexsmith song this year. One thing that keeps me going is the excitement of finding new, really cool songs. I can’t believe how I stumble upon great Christmas songs I hadn’t heard before.”
Hoffman adds that, while he enjoys performing live, his greatest joy is selecting the song list and working with the ensemble of performers.
“There’s magic for me in putting the music together, and all the give and take, and all the cooperation and the harmony of that. There’s nothing like it. Right after the concert, I start looking for new tunes to do next year.”
While In From The Cold again promises superb entertainment value for its audience, it also provides the opportunity to help youth and families who find themselves with a home. Every show since day one has seen all proceeds donated to Peterborough’s YES Shelter for Youth and Families — more than $150,000 to date.
“At the beginning, we thought we’d have a concert and, if we make money, we’ll give it away,” recalls Hoffman, admitting “We didn’t really think too much about who we’d give it to.”
The group soon settled on YES Shelter for Youth and Families, which has just incorporated as a not-for-profit charitable organization but had not yet purchased or renovated its property at 196 Brock Street for use as an emergency shelter.
“There was no shelter back then,” Hoffman recalls. “It was kind of a dream and they were doing things on an ad-hoc basis to support homeless youth. I thought ‘This is perfect.’ We all had young kids at the time. You never know what’s going to happen. You never know whose kid might be doing fine at age five and might be on the street at age 16. We felt we needed to support each other’s kids.”
From her vantage point at 196 Brock Street, YES Shelter for Youth and Families development lead Brooke Erickson couldn’t be more grateful for In From The Cold.
“It is a way for people to direct their concern toward the problem of homelessness in Peterborough into something that is productive and helpful,” says Erickson, terming the concert “a lovely way to support the shelter.”
“People who are disturbed by the idea of youth and families sleeping outside all winter long, which is a reality, can direct those feelings toward spending a little bit of money on a ticket and watch an amazing show knowing they’re doing some good by doing that.”
Erickson notes that while the number of homeless youths isn’t as high as it was three years ago when she came on board at YES, there are currently 25 families experiencing homelessness but just a few spots for families available at the shelter.
“We only have a certain number of beds and we have double the number of people that are experiencing homelessness,” she points out.
VIDEO: “In From the Cold” – A Film By Rodney Fuentes (2017)
The result, Erickson says, is the majority of homeless families are “sleeping rough or couch surfing in potentially unsafe conditions.”
Proceeds from events like In From The Cold, says Erickson, are huge in terms of the recent expansion of a transitional housing program to accommodate 25 to 30 youths.
“Shelter doesn’t solve the problem of homelessness — it just solves the problem of where are you going to sleep that night,” she says. “A few years ago, the research wasn’t necessarily in place to show us how we can resolve homelessness. It’s there now — it’s affordable transitional housing. We have to do that. It’s a no brainer.”
“With support that has come from In From The Cold, we’ve been able to expand into housing programs where we’re supporting youth in a semi-permanent housing location with a really comprehensive plan around how they’re going to overcome the issues that made them homeless in the first place.”
Erickson adds that if just five per cent of Peterborough residents gave $10 a month to YES, “We would be able to house, in a supportive way, all of the youth who are currently homeless. We would have space in our shelter for those in a housing crisis and we would have a subsequent space for them to support them out of homelessness. Youth homelessness would be done.”
While Hoffman is pleased In From The Cold has supported the efforts of YES Shelter for Youth and Families for so many years, he is reluctant to describe it as a benefit concert.
“Our objective is to put on a good concert, one that first and foremost we like doing and one that the audience likes and wants to keep coming to,” he says. “I’m proudest of the fact that people still want to do it.”
“Every now and then I feel like I’m back in school learning a song for the choir. Doing this concert takes me back to that time and I think it does the same for our audience. In From The Cold is not this thing where you put on a tie and have to be on your best behaviour. It’s quite relaxed and people like that.”
Among those people will be Erickson, who’ll be there both nights.
“Every year I cross my fingers that In From The Cold continues,” Erickson says. “The concert has evolved along with YES. It’s such a comfort that each year we are going to be in the hearts and minds of so many people because of In From The Cold.”
Until 2020, In From The Cold had always been a live concert performed at the Market Hall over two nights every December, with each concert recorded for a Christmas Day broadcast on Trent Radio. A live concert was not possible during the first year of the pandemic, so a radio concert was broadcast instead featuring a retrospective of songs from 20 years of Trent Radio recordings. In 2021, a limited in-person concert took place at St. James’ United Church for a small invited audience, and was also livestreamed.
While both the radio and virtual concerts still managed to raise funds for YES, Hoffman is looking forward to the return of In From The Cold to the Market Hall where the musicians will perform to a live audience.
“I watched some virtual shows during the pandemic and I enjoyed them, but there’s nothing like listening to or playing live music,” Hoffman says. “There has always been an emotional element for me with In From The Cold. That will be heightened this year.”
That said, the rise of virtual concerts during the pandemic has resulted in one benefit both for In From The Cold audiences and for YES.
Noting that Market Hall has installed cameras that allow for streaming, Hoffman say the plan at this point is to offer a stream ticket price for those who aren’t comfortable attending in person because of the pandemic or for those who can’t come because of distance.
“Everyone has friends and family living in faraway places that have never been to the show,” Hoffman explains. “Streaming provides an opportunity for them and will maybe bring in a little extra ticket revenue.”
As is the case every year, In From The Cold also relies on the support of local businesses and organizations.
This year’s advocate sponsors are kawarthaNOW, McInroy and Associates Private Wealth Management, and Jo Pillon of Royal LePage Frank Real Estate.
Patron sponsors are LLF Lawyers, Herod Financial Consulting, Manitoulin Transport, Stoneguide Realty Limited, and Artspace, while supporter sponsors are Wildrock Outfitters, Camp Ponacka, Sam’s Place, Ashburnham Ale House, Black Honey, Kawartha Credit Union, Teachers For Kids, and Long and McQuade.
kawarthaNOW is proud to be a long-time sponsor of In From The Cold.