The Crooner, The Vocalist, and The Big Band!

Grand Bend’s own crooner, Michael Vanhevel, is back on the beach this summer with his ever-popular big band sound.  This year, he is joined by local vocalist, Theresa Wallis-Kneale, and they will be backed by the Jimmy Stahl Big Band, a 17-piece orchestra.  Billed as The Smooth Crooner and The Sensational Vocalist, this is the first time the two have performed together.

They will be on the Rotary Stage at the end of Grand Bend’s Main Street on Wednesday, July 18, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., part of the Wednesdays’ Familiar Favourites Concert Series, offered by the West Coast Lions Club of Grand Bend.  Every other Wednesday throughout the summer, entertainers with a local connection are performing on the beach, singing popular songs that concert-goers will recognize.

“All the talent taking part in the Wednesday night concert series either lives in Lambton Shores, or grew up here, or has family here.  And they sing the familiar songs that Grand Benders want to hear,” says organizer Mary Alderson.

This is very true when it comes to Michael Vanhevel.  Born and raised in Grand Bend, Michael is a graduate of North Lambton Secondary School in Forest, where he sang his valedictory address to the tune of “My Way”.  Vanhevel is an anachronism:  even as a young teenager he enjoyed the songs of his grandparents’ generation.  He prefers the music of Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Bing Crosby and the other crooners best known in the 1940s.  He brings things up-to-date, sounding much like Michael Bublé or Harry Connick Jr.

“I love the hometown audience in Grand Bend,” Vanhevel says, “I’ve performed all over Canada, but I never get the response like I do in Grand Bend.”  His popularity in the resort town is obvious.  He is often on stage at Dave’s Pub in Oakwood Resort, and he also does an Elvis show regularly at Denny’s Drive-In.

Joining Michael for the first time is Grand Bend resident Theresa Wallis-Kneale.  A popular hairstylist at Hair Bend’rs, she is also well known for her vocal performances.  Originally from Watford, Wallis-Kneale is a versatile singer.  She performs in a quartet, After Four, and is a regular vocalist with the Forest Excelsior Band.  She is often found singing with jazz ensembles, or as a guest soloist in various churches.  She is part of the choir, London Pro Musica, and was on stage at Huron Country Playhouse when they presented Messiah last Christmas.

“I am thrilled Michael has invited me to join him for this concert,” Wallis-Kneale says, “I’ve never performed on the beach before, so that’s very exciting.”

Backing the “smooth crooner and the sensational vocalist” will be the Jimmy Stahl Big Band.  Based in the Hamilton-Niagara area, the band offers the incredible music of the big band era with fresh arrangements of big brassy blues and classic jazz standards.  Vanhevel says the band can comprise 17 to 20 people, depending on the availability of the musicians.

The July 18 concert will be a special treat, not only for the audience on the beach, but also for the performers.  Vanhevel says he enjoys crooner shows.  “This genre is where I got my start and it’s where I feel most confident,” he explains.  Similarly, Wallis-Kneale likes the big band sound.  “I am really pumped to sing with this powerhouse band,” she adds.

The West Coast Lions Club, including concert organizer Mary Alderson, is working to ensure greater use of the Rotary Stage.  The Municipality of Lambton Shores, NextEra Energy, Grand Bend Community Foundation, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 498, and Tourism Sarnia-Lambton are financially supporting the Concert Series.  In addition, several community-minded businesses are sponsors: Geo-Teck Heating & Cooling; Physiotherapy Alliance; Hair Bend’rs; akSence Café, Catering & Gift Boutique; T. Harry Hoffman & Sons Funeral Home; and Denny’s Drive-In.

On August 1, popular musical theatre entertainer Leisa Way will be back on the Beach stage.  She packed the area last year with her Oh! Canada! show for the 150 celebrations.  This year, she and The Lonely Hearts Club Band will present Across the Pond: The British Invasion.   Concerts continue every other Wednesday evening all summer.

The West Coast Lions Club encourages everyone to come, and ask that you please pay what you can to help with the costs.  The Lions will have their popcorn cart on hand, with the freshly popped treat on sale.  “Bring your lawn chair and enjoy the beautiful Lake Huron sunset,” Alderson adds.  On Wednesdays, Beach Parking is free after 7:00 p.m. and Main Street Parking is free after 5:00 p.m.  In case of rain, the concert will be moved to Huron Shores United Church at 25 Main Street.

Photos:  Michael Vanhevel and Theresa Wallis-Kneale

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