Peter’s Players Continues To Bring Music To Muskoka After Selling Gravenhurst Venue

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Peter's Players: Peter and Michelle Swanek in front of their former venue and inn
Peter and Michelle Swanek in front of their former venue and inn. Photo courtesy of Peter and Michelle Swanek

Peter’s Players Owners Peter And Michelle Swanek Will Continue To Host Shows After Selling Gravenhurst Venue

Peter and Michelle Swanek have officially sold Peter’s Place theatre, their music venue in Gravenhurst known for its unique atmosphere and intimacy. But despite saying goodbye to the venue, they’re far from finished offering memorable musical experiences to the people of Muskoka.

Along with being a celebrated concert space, the Swanek’s Gravenhurst venue also included a four-bedroom inn and acted as Peter and Michelle’s home for a decade. The pandemic expedited their plans to sell, and though they hope the change will give them more time with their grandchildren, they will also continue hosting shows at alternate venues. The Swaneks are keeping details about the new owners quiet in hopes of giving them time to determine their plans for the building, but they said the buyers have expressed interest in continuing the operation of the inn. Michelle said the reality of the sale hadn’t fully sunk in during the interview on Sept. 2, just one day after they closed on the sale of the building.

“Today just feels like a day off, but it is going to be strange to not have your car automatically turn into that driveway when you’re driving down Muskoka Road South,” Michelle said. “It’s a bittersweet feeling really. It’s great that we can move on and do some new projects, but we put our heart and soul into that building so I feel like a little piece will be missing every day when I drive by there.”

From Moe’s Garage To Peter’s Player

Before becoming one of Muskoka’s most beloved concert venues, the building at 830 Muskoka Road South was home to Moe’s Garage. Moe Draper ran his auto shop and raised his family there before Peter bought the building and moved in during December 2006.

“I am so grateful for you and Michelle for buying my childhood home and my father’s shop after his death where your talents created a beautiful and historical musical structure, home, and inn that enhanced the Town of Gravenhurst for the better,” wrote Moe’s daughter Dee-Anne in response to the announcement of the sale.

Dee-Anne said Peter’s Players “allowed many to witness the magical rebirth of music in Muskoka” and described the experience at the theatre as “a highly sought after, classy, up-close, personal, & one-of-a-kind backstage pass.” 

A COVID-safe concert at Peter’s Players. Photo courtesy of Peter and Michelle Swanek

She also said the venue played “a crucial role in defining the history of Gravenhurst” and the area’s music culture, but creating the local landmark wasn’t an easy task, Peter said. He lived in the building during the construction of the theatre, which first opened for its first show in April 2008. 

“We opened up with a show where the ticket price was $150,” Peter said. “I just didn’t know if anybody was going to buy the tickets, but that’s what we needed to [charge] for that size of a show, and thankfully it sold out because we could have exhausted on the start line.”

Grateful for the success of the first show, they moved forward cautiously and worked to build up their audience, in part through an email list that continues on to this day. They also put in many hours bringing musicians to Muskoka and dealing with agents that were more focused on the money than the music.

“One of the first questions out of their mouth is, ‘What is the capacity of the room?’ and as soon as I tell them that, they shut down on me and want to move on,” Peter said. “It took quite a while to instill in them that it is a quality venue with that kind of a capacity, and after we started getting some stellar artists in there, it just got easier and easier to get more.”

Making Music History With Peter’s Players

Peter’s Players tagline “Great show always” is a philosophy that extends back to the early days of the business. Their 88-seat offering eventually grew to 115, and the intimacy of the space has offered a special experience from the start.

“I remember saying to our volunteers there, ‘Let’s never get complacent because when people come to the venue, it’s all about joy and happiness,’ and we see that after every single show, including the artists,” Peter said. “We felt very fortunate to be in a business that just washed us with this music art culture.”

Since then, their venue in Gravenhurst has hosted many Canadian artists and icons, including the Cowboy Junkies, Garth Hudson and Jim Cuddy, as well as international artists like James Cotton, Johnny Winter and Carole Pope. Michelle said artists have complimented their hospitality, the sound quality in the venue and the intensity of having a smaller audience. One notable artist that came through Peter’s Players even helped inspire them to open the inn portion of the business.

Peter's Players: Peter and Michelle Swanek with Kiefer Sutherland
Peter and Michelle Swanek with Kiefer Sutherland. Photo courtesy of Peter and Michelle Swanek

“I remember when we had Kiefer Sutherland there, and we were still living in the front at the time,” Michelle said. “His comment was one of the reasons we thought, ‘Hey, we should turn this place into an inn at the front,’ because he came in, in this giant tour bus, and was so down to earth and brings his bags in and thought he was staying in the house part [of the building].”

Sutherland was disappointed to find out he was staying at a hotel rather than at the venue itself, she said. The Swaneks ultimately decided to buy a property in Bracebridge and convert their other half of Peter’s Place into a four-bedroom inn. While they were building their home and renovating the inn, they slept on a bed they pulled out in front of the bar every night. 

After a decade of living in the building, they moved to their new house and the inn became a home away from home for travelling musicians. They ran the Inn at Peter’s Players for about four and a half years and the Peter’s Place theatre for over a decade, so now they’re saying goodbye to their inn, venue and past home.

Planning For The Future While Appreciating The Past

Before opening Peter’s Place in Gravenhurst, Peter was bringing shows to nearly 30 different venues across Ontario, so he’s excited to return to his roots by finding alternate venues and continuing to host shows through Peter’s Players. The excitement comes with many other emotions as they say goodbye to their venue and see the response from those inside and outside the music industry. 

Along with kudos and well wishes from industry professionals, the Swaneks were taken aback by the community’s outpouring of love and support when they announced the sale of the building. Some comments even brought Michelle to tears.

“It really, really solidified for me the impact that we had on this community and the people in it,” Michelle said. “It was really enlightening… You know people enjoyed it, but you didn’t really realize how much of an impact you had on the local community.”

Music cruise with Peter's Players
Music cruise with Peter’s Players. Photo courtesy of Peter and Michelle Swanek

Peter and Michelle will continue on with their Music Cruises hosted on Muskoka Steamships and they’re investigating other locations across Muskoka for future shows. In the past, they’ve hosted all-inclusive music-filled vacations in Jamaica, and since they haven’t been able to do the trip for the past two years, they’re hoping to create a staycation version of the event.

No matter where they end up next, they’re excited to continue providing an amazing time for all in attendance.

“We’re still going to be active in the community, and wherever we present shows, it’s always been our tagline, ‘Great shows always,’” Michelle said. “We really feel we’ll be able to recreate that Peter’s Players feel no matter where we put the show on.”

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