And the Estelle Klein Award goes to ….

We nominated the fabulous Jan Hall for the highest honour at Folk Music Ontario—the Estelle Klein Award—and she won!  Jan has been volunteering at Hillside for many years as an MC, but she is also a radio talk show host, folk music enthusiast, and music presenter who has worked tirelessly to promote folk music in Ontario and beyond in multiple ways, volunteering her multiple talents as DJ, interviewer, stage host and festival emcee, researcher, and makeshift engineer to foreground the bright talents of others. 

By her well-articulated British accent, it’s clear Jan is originally from the UK. For the past ten years, she has run a much-loved radio show specifically about folk music - Folk Roots Radio. Folk Roots Radio started on CFRU 93.3 (Guelph ON) and is now syndicated and currently airs on ten different radio stations. The tag line for Folk Roots Radio is 'we're all about the music and the people that make it' which really says it all. As the host of Folk Roots Radio, Jan focuses on bringing new folk, roots and blues music and the voices of upcoming and independent artists to the airwaves. Over the years she has interviewed everyone from students taking a songwriting course, to Ron Sexsmith.

Starting out in Radio in 1993 while at graduate school at the University of Illinois, Jan was in charge of Wednesday's eclectic 'Morning Menu' on WEFT 90.1fm in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. 

After moving to Canada, Jan stepped back into radio in 2005 with Royal City Rag - a grass roots music and community show that focused on community issues and local politics but also invited musicians into the studio to sing and play.

I was on that show for a few years as a regular arts commentator. Jan liked to call me her “Culture Vulture.” I can attest to how passionate Jan was then--and still is-- about her community and music.  Always informed, prepared, curious, and ready to laugh, she remains humble in her dealings with everyone, as her life partner, Susan Wheeler, can attest:  “Jan loves to bring out the best in others; I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard musicians’ say that her questions were outstanding and made them feel great about their music.”

Jan is particularly drawn to community activism, and to this day feels strongly that she will always mine her talents to give to others and their causes:  “I surround myself with activist people.  There’s something very exciting about talking to people who are passionate about what they do.  The key is giving of yourself because there’s a tremendous amount of well-being to get back.”  

As well as her radio, Jan is also part of three other endeavours that exist to support independent musicians and their careers:  the Sun Parlour Coffee House Sessions, a soon to be released audio/video podcast series entitled  "The Business of Music", and Dale’s Friday Coffee House.  

The Sun Parlour Coffee House Sessions is filmed in the Quantum Sound Productions studio in Kingsville, Ontario where Jan offers a high-quality professional video music show focused on the music of an individual artist. The show includes 4-5 live songs and an in-depth interview conducted by Jan. This is provided at no cost to selected musicians to support the development of their music portfolio. This series is on the internet at http://sunparloursessions.com, Youtube, and it also airs on the local YourTV community channels. 

Gary Glass, the video director for the Sun Parlour Coffee House Sessions, and Jan Hall are now also working on an audio/video podcast series “The Business of Music," which grew out of the sessions as result of Jan and Gary's desire to help independent musicians make headway in a rapidly changing business environment. That series will debut later this fall through Folk Roots Radio. 

Along with local musician and community booster Dale Butler, Jan also co-hosts a popular monthly music event, Dale’s Friday Coffee House, that provides an opportunity for local and not-so-local musicians, in a variety of genres, to perform three songs each, on stage at Leamington, Ontario’s Bank Theatre, in front of a supportive audience, that often numbers more than 100 people. As Jan says "It is always a delightful evening of music and community, and there is always something for everyone."

Jan Hall has buoyed up many artists within our community, our region, and beyond with her characteristic curiosity, irrepressible sense of humour, and love of the folk tradition. In interviews, in broadcasts, in commentary, and on playlists, she exudes a devotion to her subject matter, a deep fascination with folk and roots music, and a generous desire to help promote the varied sounds and stories of this tradition and the people who make it. Estelle Klein would applaud Jan’s wide and inclusive view of folk music. In the fourteen years I have known Jan, she has never once left a conversation without saying, “Hey, have you heard So-and-So’s music?  They would be great at Hillside!” 

While Jan exudes positivity and loves to really laugh, most people don’t know that Jan has had to cope with a mysterious illness that crippled her first career and left her with acute weakness and all-over body pain that she still endures. She hardly ever mentions it. You see, Jan used to be a veterinarian and later a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Guelph. Then some time in 2008, she fell ill: “I was at the top of my profession — a superhero in the veterinary field. The person other vets turned to when all else failed, fixing the things that other people thought unfixable.”  But one day she could barely get out of bed. Her diagnoses have been inconclusive:  perhaps  MS, perhaps myalgic encephalomyelitis (aka chronic fatigue syndrome). Gradually, I watched Jan give up so many things she loved:  soccer, teaching, working with animals, advising vet students. However, she never gave up her radio and her music.  

Indeed, as she explains, radio is in her:  “as an eleven year-old, I spent hours mixing together my own shows using a record player, a microphone, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder.”  

Over the years, I have watched her profile rise, her audience grow, her knowledge deepen, and her passion for folk music intensify. There is hardly a folk artist in Ontario who has not been covered by her in some way, shape, or form.  Artists come away from their encounters with Jan feeling gratitude, awe, and buoyancy—ready to write more, sing more, play more.  All because someone listened to them with passion, genuine curiosity, and profound appreciation. 

Jan Hall has helped more music careers than I could ever count. It is without a doubt that she is well-deserving of the Estelle Klein Award:  Folk Music Ontario’s highest honour.  

Marie Zimmerman
Executive Director, Hillside Festival