From Teacher to Concert Promoter: Al Rankin Brings in the Big Names

As I help Al Rankin to spread the word about his Live Wire Music Series and Rankin Productions shows and I administer the Live Wire Facebook page, I thought I’d post this article originally published in Kingston This Week for my readers.

Reprinted from Kingston This Week

His love for Canadian roots music has opened up a second career for retired-teacher-turned-music-promoter Al Rankin of Inverary.

Rankin retired as a high school teacher six years ago, but continues to promote emerging new talent as owner of the Rankin Gallery in Inverary and as a longtime volunteer with the Live Wire Music Series. He also brings in established award-winning artists through his company, Rankin Productions.

On April 22, Rankin Productions presented [sic] An Evening with Judy Collins at Sydenham Street United Church. In February, Rankin brought The Arrogant Worms to Kingston, and last year he presented Mickey Rooney at the Grand Theatre.

Rankin never set out to be a music promoter. As a theatre arts teacher and founder of the Theatre Complete program at Queen Elizabeth Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Kingston, Rankin often brought in theatre and musical performers. In the 1990s, he served five years as artistic director of the Blue Skies Music Festival north of Sharbot Lake, where artists such as Serena Ryder, Kathleen Edwards and David Francey made their festival debuts.

At around the same time, he built at addition on his 150-year-old house near Inverary, that was originally intended as an art gallery, but that instead became an intimate concert hall featuring up to a dozen concerts a year.

His skill?

He catches the acts on the road.

Rankin invites touring musicians travelling to or from gigs in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa to fill a mid-week spot in their schedule at his place. Since opening, the Rankin Gallery has hosted artists such from across Canada and around the world, including Valdy, The Wailin’ Jennys, Bill Bourne, Coco Love Alcorn, Kate Reid, Rick Fines, Lynn Miles, The Marigolds, Dala, Fruit from Australia, The Pacific Curls from New Zealand, Jez Lowe from the UK, Maeve Mackinnon from Scotland, The Carolina Chocolate Drops and, most recently, Amelia Curran and the Good Lovelies. Next up is Oh My Darling on May 15.

“People bring something to drink, maybe a snack, and a donation for the musicians. The audience loves the intimacy of the space and getting to talk to the artists. The musicians love it too, as it allows them to connect in a way that is different than a large concert hall. It is open to anyone on my mailing list and works on a first come first served reservation-only basis. I have 50 spots and room for about 10 more standing and it usually fills up very quickly.”

Rankin has become well known to agents through his work with the Live Wire Music Series and Blue Skies and the Rankin Gallery is so popular that he has to turn down most of the requests he gets to play there. Musicians, particularly solo musicians, like it because they are guaranteed an audience of 60 people and they can spend the night in the Rankins’ limestone house, enjoy breakfast with Al and his wife and then be on their way.

Rankin Productions is the name he uses for bigger, riskier shows that are beyond the scope of Live Wire.

Arlo Guthrie was the very first big show I did,” Rankin recalls. “I found out he was playing at Massey Hall and I saw he had a Thursday night available en route to Montreal. He had never been to Kingston.”

That was in 2006. A couple of years later, Rankin brought Pete Seeger to Kingston.

“Now the agents know we’re here and we get far more requests than I can handle.”

Ever the teacher, Rankin still brings young performers such as Ariana Gillis, The Good Lovelies and Welsh guitar phenom Gareth Pearson into schools with the support of the Limestone District School Board and Live Wire.

“They are such role models for these kids,” Rankin says. “And they are spectacularly talented.”

Pearson, whom Rankin describes as one of the best guitarists in the world, spent two weeks at Rankin’s house. Each day they would load up his sound equipment in Rankin’s car and visit different high schools.

“A lot of artists are uncomfortable going into schools,” Rankin admits. “They don’t just perform, they talk about what music has done for them. They play a few songs and the kids ask questions and they always love it. Gareth, for example, was dyslexic and barely passed high school. So he talked about struggling and finding his passion and turning his life around.”

Rankin says he has no “dream list” of artists he would like to bring to Kingston. “I’m happy with the quality of the musicians we do get and the performances are always so great.

“Pete Seeger was 89 when he was here – I love that – and he and his grandson put on a great show. I love the brand new acts too; I get a kick out of introducing people like Serena Ryder, Kathleen Edwards and Ariana Gillis. It’s fun to do both ends of the spectrum.

“I guess retirement gave me the opportunity to get more involved in music. I hadn’t anticipated that.”

Copyright © 2011 Kingston This Week

Kingston Arts Council Presents How To Work With Local Media For Better Arts Communication

Last night, (November 9, 2010) I attended How to Work with Local Media for Better Arts Communication, a workshop presented by the Kingston Arts Council (KAC) at The Residence Inn at 7 Earl Street in Kingston. The Kingston Arts Council’s objective was “to create an open dialogue between artists, art organizations, and media members to better understand how to create more symbiotic communication between the groups” with the hope that this will result in less arts events being missed in media coverage.

Greg Tilson, Program Coordinator for KAC hosted the workshop that featured panel members comprised of Kingston media professionals including:

Ally Hall – Arts & Entertainment Editor of The Queen’s Journal
Greg Burliuk – Arts & Entertainment Editor for The Whig Standard
Tori Stafford – Reporter for Kingston This Week and The Gananoque Reporter
Danielle Lennon – Publisher & Editor of
Melissa Duggan – Videographer and Weather Anchor for Newswatch @5:30 on CKWS TV
Jef Johnston – Sales for CKWS, FM96 & CKWSFM
Jane Deacon – Editor of Kingston Life magazine
Alec RossFreelance Journalist (Kingston Life)
Meredith DaultFreelance Writer for The Globe and Mail, CBC Radio and Words and Music magazine
Irina Skvortsova – Business Manager for CFRC 101.9 FM Radio Queen’s University
Bonnie Golomb – Editor & Publisher of Profile Kingston (couldn’t attend but sent her comments)
Brian Johnson – General Sales Manager for CHUM FM (couldn’t attend but sent his comments)

and special presenter:

Colin Wiginton – Manager, Cultural Services, City of Kingston (Kingston actually has a cultural development agency and a Culture Plan, and is working towards greater communication and support of the media as well as audience development and cultural tourism.)

Workshop participants were asked by the media reps to remember that as arts promoters the question we should always ask is, “Why should I care?” Why should the media care about your press release? Kingston has such a rich cultural, arts & entertainment scene that the competition for attendees at events is fierce and it is impossible for the local media to cover everything. In fact, there are probably more producers of events in Kingston than there is an audience for them so promoters have to KNOW their audience and SELL their event.

The general consensus among panel members was that promoters should:

• Be unique
• Know what your angle is
• Make it easy for the media
• Be prepared
• Correspond by email
• Write a great press release that will grab the media’s attention
• Send a photo or EPK with your email
• Give them video to use if possible
• Follow up all communications with phone calls to ensure receipt
• Time events to avoid double booking (i.e. if three new plays by different theatre groups all open on the same night, Greg Burliuk cannot possibly review them all!)
• Time events that you want covered by CKWS TV away from 5:00, 6:00 and 7:00 pm
• Research the publications you’re interested in: know their audience and when they publish
• Use
• Use The Whig’s Events Calendar online –
• Contact –
• Use the Kingston Arts Council’s Arts Directory –
• You’ll need more than one radio commercial per day to get your message across
• TV advertising doesn’t have to be expensive
• Be your own media and use your website, email list, videos, social media and all the current technologies that are available to you

Above all, don’t be afraid to get to know and network with your local media! They want to help raise awareness about arts & entertainment in Kingston!

Great Local Press For Kingston Author, Cheryl Hiebert


Posted By Emma Taylor of Kingston This Week on June 24, 2010

There is something powerful and lasting about the bond between a pet and its human. When this bond is broken through the death of that pet, the loss can be just as devastating as losing a human loved one.

Cheryl Hiebert, Master’s of Divinity, is the founder of Sacred Journeys Healing Centre which offers holistic therapies and guidance both in groups and one-on-one to help empower people to find their own healing path.

Hiebert lost her dog Willow to lymphoma, an experience that led her to start work on a book about pet loss and working through the grieving process. The book, Losing Willow — Grieving The Loss of An Animal Companion, deals with celebrating an animal companion, the types of loss/grief, the stages of grief, how and when to let go of a pet, treasuring the memories and a grief journal to record feelings and thoughts.

Hiebert says the book is for anyone who has experienced this kind of powerful relationship or perhaps would like to explore it.

“Our evolution as a human /spiritual being may be this: If we can love that way, if we can love our animal companion so deeply and so unconditionally and learn from the lessons of life and loss, and can we then extend that love to all humans, perhaps that is our challenge and ultimately our success,” she said.

She has entered her book in The Next Top Spiritual Author Competition, developed by James Twyman and Robert Evans, creators of the Messenger Mini-Book Program, who recognized how difficult it was for emerging authors to get their work published. The winner will be offered a publishing contract from the California-based Hampton Roads Publishing Companywhich specializes in new age, spiritual, holistic, healing and alternative material.

Voters read sample chapters online and cast their vote, a process that advanced Hiebert to round two based on her high combined voter and assessment scores. She is now one step closer to becoming the Next Top Spiritual Author.

Writing a book about healing is second nature to Hiebert, who has studied holistic therapies for more than 15 years. She is accredited with many different organizations dealing with wellness and healing including the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario, The Canadian Reiki Association, Canadian Association of Specialized Kinesiology, and Touch 4 Health Education (Dr. John Thie). She is also an AngelTherapy® Practitioner certified in spiritual counselling and healing techniques, and after further training with Dr. Doreen Virtue is now a certified medium.

She shares her extensive knowledge in a variety of workshops she teaches at St. Lawrence College, and CKWS TV is also running an ongoing series of TV segments featuring her entitled: “Your Health and Wellness Tips.” She is also launching a series of workshops for women entitled, “Awaken Your Inner Goddess.”

Hiebert believes that all healing is self-healing and everybody has the ability to tap into that ability to both heal and empower themselves. She also believes that you must take responsibility for your own health and wellness; physically, mental, emotionally and spiritually. She uses this philosophy to guide and treat clients with a variety of health issues including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, cancer, depression, weight issues, and chronic pain.

For more information on the Sacred Journeys Healing Centre visit The voting for round two of The Next Top Spiritual Author Competition ends on Monday, June 28. To vote visit the website at [or go to].


Posted Jun 24, 2010 By Craig Bakay

When Cheryl Hiebert’s beloved Willow was diagnosed with lymphoma and had three months to live, she was devastated.

But then she found Catherine Pokrywa.

Pokrywa runs Sheba’s Haven Rescue, a hospice for dogs in need of palliative care. Hiebert credits Pokrywa with getting her through her lose and she’s prepared to do whatever she can to repay the favour.

That’s a big part of why Hiebert was at Eastern Cowboy near Parham Saturday for the 2nd annual Charity Ride.

“Catherine helped me take care of Willow and was with me the day he died,” she said. “I love her and try to fundraise for her as much as I can.

“She gives a voice to the voiceless.”

The experience also led Hiebert to examine the grieving process involved with losing a pet. Through her work with her Sacred Journeys Healing Arts Centre in Kingston, Hiebert is well versed in such things but after helping others deal with such things for so long, she was somewhat unprepared for what she’d begun to experience herself.

“I began to journal about the process,” she said. “I knew our time was coming to an end and I wanted to love him in detail.

“I began to go through the process of grieving and felt people didn’t understand it.

“I felt alone.”

Then a strange twist of fate happened.

Hiebert learned of a writing contest on the internet and the next thing she knew, she was writing Losing Willow: Grieving the Loss of an Animal Companion.

And, after the first round of 2,500 entrants, her book was chosen to advance to the next round of 250. The eventual winner gets a book publishing contract.

“It’s not really about the contest,” she said. “It’s about the human-animal relationship bond. What do you do when it’s ending, how will you know when it’s time to end it?

“I wanted to help people feel empowered in their healing process.”

When she realized there didn’t seem to be a resource for this process, she decided to write her own.

If you’d like to help Hiebert in her quest to get her book published, or to read sample chapters, visit or follow the link from to vote for Losing Willow.