-He did not strive to be a star - Matheesha was the star of the show, holding the hearts of each and everyone in his little palm as he shot along the aisle between the audience, up the ramp and onto the stage.

Grabbing the ukelele lying on the floor, expertly donning the strap over his shoulder, pranced around he did on stage in perfect rhythm, in a performance that stole the show from none other than Keith Potger of New Seekers' fame.

It was one of the highpoints of many poignant moments in a three-day fiesta of Country and Folk Music, all to raise funds for children's projects across the country, organized by the Country Music Foundation (CMF) headed by Feizal Samath on March 17 and 18, reaching a crescendo at the 'Country Roads' 29th anniversary concert on March 19.

The Friday night of March 17th witnessed very well-known personalities in Colombo at a four-course meal elaborately planned by the Mount Lavinia Hotel in the State Room cozily enveloped by the seductive glances from portraits of stunning mestizo dancer Lovinia Aponsuwa and across from her lover and second Governor of Ceylon, Sir Thomas Maitland. It was their secret alliance that led the Governor to name his mansion 'Mount Lavinia', now the hotel with all its old-world charm.

'Music, fireside chats & dinner' was the theme on March 17, in an event organized by the CMF in association with tea giant Dilmah, with Keith Potger from Australia, Mavericks Duo from Germany and Astrid Brook from the United Kingdom giving a taste of what would follow in the next two days. Their performances were preceded by a guitar solo by Anish Wijesinghe, not only strumming his guitar but also drumming on it.

Saturday morning (March18), the scene moved from that of being stately the night before to the rambunctious 'Special Edition' of Country Roads at the M.J.F. Centre at Moratuwa, as the audience erupted into clapping, singing, dancing and swaying, some even in their wheelchairs when the musicians got on stage once again, enhanced by the performances of none other than Sri Lanka's own home-bred but immensely popular Sunil of the Gypsies and comedian Ronnie Leitch.

And it was here that little Matheesha got into action, escaping his mother's embrace to emerge on the stage with Keith Potger.

The MJF Centre for Dignified and Sustainable Empowerment established in 2011, is fulfilling the vision of Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando to make business a matter of human service. Its multifaceted projects, combined with technical expertise to spread love and affection, are aimed at addressing the foremost challenges faced by marginalized communities including women, boys and girls, the differently-abled, youth and elderly.

Once the show was over, everyone was served omelette burger buns, all prepared and temptingly displayed by the trainee chefs of the centre along with delicious iced tea.

The audience comes alive to the music

The grand finale, of course, was Sunday, when as the sun dipped into the Indian Ocean, twos, threes and groups, the young, the middle-aged and the ever-greens who do not grow old, walked into the Mount Lavinia Hotel's ballroom, up the grand staircase which took the shape of a wagon-caravan, past cacti and other reminders of the wild west.

Filled to capacity, the ballroom was, with the audience humming, tapping their toes and singing out loud the country songs very much a part of their lives sung by the artists from abroad as well as the Cosmic Rays and the Country Revival Band.

As is usual and looked forward to, the curtain came down on the 29th anniversary 'Country Roads' - South Asia's and Sri Lanka's longest-running children's charity show - with the well-loved 'Country Roads take me home'.

Please click here to view the Article in The Sunday Times.

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