By: B Hartling
Music/Musique NB’s newly rebranded Festival 506 took place in Moncton this year over the weekend of October 15 – 18, welcoming an incredibly talented group of local musicians as well as numerous industry professionals. From the outside the general public sees only one aspect of what the non-profit music industry association does, that being its efforts to increase the visibility and support of local music scenes across the province. For members however; including not only musicians but other individuals and businesses involved in the music industry in New Brunswick; it provides many other vital services such as networking opportunities, mentoring, assistance in grant writing and so much more. The annual festival is a shining example of exactly what the organization brings to the table; being an all-inclusive combination industry conference, awards show and artist showcase, making it an event for both fans as well as the artists.
Things got underway Thursday afternoon with an industry conference and 1 on 1 meetings before the Tide & Boar Ballroom played host to the Awards Gala in the evening, which saw 30 prizes handed out to musicians and industry professionals, interspersed with performances by several nominees. Friday and Saturday as well were filled with conferences and industry meetings during the day with both nights being jam packed with live music in the form of artist showcases at 4 venues throughout the city; leaving many fans, including myself, wishing they could be in 4 places at once. Thankfully the organizers made things easy for show goers and selected venues within a few short blocks of each other.
Friday evening got underway with a songwriters circle at the Empress Theater featuring winner of the Solo Recording of the Year award, Jared Lutes along with Shaun LeBlanc, Paula Tozer, Raphaël Butler and Caroline Savoie. The group delighted a full yet intimate house to several rounds of acoustic tunes and entertaining stories in both official languages which was perfectly suited to the quiet, cozy atmosphere provided by the dimly lit venue. I had a hard time tearing myself away, staying for two full rounds before I headed up to the Aberdeen Cultural Centre to check out the action on the hip hop stage.
With other shows I did not want to miss I was unable to check out much of the lineup which included double award winners City Natives (Aboriginal Recording of the Year and Urban Artist of the Year) however I did catch Saint John rapper RO$H in action. Even that small taste was enough to let one know that, despite appearances otherwise for many years, the urban music scene in New Brunswick is not dead. Rounding out the evening at this venue were Kam Speech, The Cauldron Project and Phakt along with special guests from out of province J Bru and Quake Matthews from Halifax and Winnipeg’s DJ Disspare.
The remainder of Friday night saw me split between Plan b’s Riffs and Chansons stage and Tide & Boar Ballroom’s Indie Rock stage, with Plan b winning most of my attention, beginning with the Tyler Haché Trio’s set. As much as I wanted to see Saint John’s country rock act Bad People (who were first up at the Ballroom) there was no way I could pass up seeing Tyler and the boys again after the impressive performance they gave last month when opening for FM Berlin. I did run down to catch Moncton rockers In Abstraction however (unfortunately missing Kevin McIntyre back at Plan b); and was not disappointed as they tore up the stage and were rewarded by an appreciative audience. Following In Abstraction the remainder of the night at Tide & Boar was filled with Little You, Little Me, Motherhood and Choix du Public award winners Les Hôtesses D’Hilaire; all of which I was unable to witness as I had headed back to Plan b for what were two of the main highlights of the festival for me.
I’ve been a fan of Eastcoast Love Story, this year’s Emerging Artist of the Year, for a while and the performance they gave at Friday night’s artist showcase only proved to strengthen my love for these hometown boys and show everyone in attendance why they came out on top. ECLS was followed up by a Fredericton band that was new to me but blew me away, David in the Dark. I’m very much looking forward to seeing these guys live again and would recommend checking them out. Finishing off the night was another local favourite, Danger Cat who brought the second night of the festival to a stunning finish and, as I stumbled home to my bed, made the aching in my back from running around all night with an almost two kilogram camera and lens rig strapped to my neck all night worth it.
Waking up Saturday I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck, stiff and aching everywhere but eager to grab my camera and get on my way. The afternoon was once again filled with conferences, meetings and an industry mixer with the evening reserved for artist showcases at the 4 venues throughout the downtown core. The City of Moncton presented a free Youth Stage event at the Empress that gave us the chance to see up and coming young artists from throughout the province. At the same time the Aberdeen Cultural Centre played host to a fantastic group of francophone artists, including multiple MNB Award recipient Joey Robin Haché who, along with his band, was both musically fantastic as well as being amazingly funny. Even the Anglophones in the audience found themselves laughing along to his stories despite not fully understanding them. The evening continued on with Sandra Le Coutuer, Cédric Vieno and Jessica Rhaye after I had left for Tide & Boar Ballroom to take in some of the acts on the Scène Folk and Roll stage.
French four piece and Chanson SOCAN de l’année award nominated Cy was first up, displaying some incredible four part harmonies accompanied by three guitars with the occasional keyboard and mandolin thrown in for good measure. Cy was another of those acts of whom I had not previously been aware but found myself wanting more. Tomato/Tomato, celebrated a triple award win by taking to the stage and being as close to perfect as one could hope for from a live performance and also proving to be highly photogenic as well. From the time the lineup was released their set was a must see for me and it more than surpassed expectations.
Saturday provided the hardest challenge in choosing which stage to cover as after Tomato/Tomato the Ballroom featured both The Backyard Devils as well as Earthbound Trio. Despite this, having already missed Kendra Gale Band, I headed to Plan b in time to catch the last song of The Terry Whalen Band’s set. That one song was all it took to realize their Blues Artist of the Year win was well founded! Another new to me act hit the stage shortly after my arrival in the form of Fredericton’s The Waking Nights. I had the pleasure of chatting with them a bit at the end of the night and discovered they were not only seriously talented but also just a great bunch of guys. Definitely a band I will be making an effort to get out to support again soon and would recommend to anyone. The night finished out with Rock Artist of the Year and SOCAN Song of the Year nominees FM Berlin, hitting the stage for one of the best sets I’ve seen them put on to date. I make no secret of my love for these guys and have lost count of how many of their shows I have seen, but this hands down was the best I have seen them and was without a doubt the best performance of the festival for me.
The weekend wrapped up on Sunday morning with more industry meetings and, when it was all said and done Music/Musique NB earned major kudos from most, if not all of the festival participants and attendants. Having not only successfully rebranded but also expanded the annual awards into the event now known as Festival 506, but also in providing an inclusive experience in which both Anglophone and Francophone alike were embraced and celebrated; and where language and cultural divides evaporated for at least a few days.
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Taker of pictures, writer of words, worker of magicks! Based in Toronto!