Saturday, February 28, 2009

Day 3: Kids Music vs Rock meets Fiddling vs Vodka in ice

In the lobby of Greenwood Hotel, I ran into Fredericton family, Scott and Andy of the children's group Scotty and The Stars who also double as band members of my favourite jam band, Chillin Room. Another Fredericton friend was in the mix, as Courtney Steeves is currently calling Corner Brook home as she attends Grenfall college and working as assistant manager of The Blackthorn Stick Cafe

I quickly grabbed a shuttle with birthday boy Jamie Steel up to the Roots Stage. I unfortunately missed The Olympic Symphonium, but caught fiddling sensation Samantha Robichaud backed by Chris & Lynn of the Colepaugh Crew. There was something inspiring to see NB's best rock outfit connect with NB's best fiddler. The result was energetic, infectious and inventive.

Then I needed to get back to the pad to cook up some moose meat steaks, and prepare for a night of music at the NB stage. While waiting for the shuttle, I noticed a bottle of Vodka frozen in ice. Unfortunately, Tim Yerxa of The Playhouse confirmed it was empty.

Day 3: Myles & Myles of Bandyness

I was late getting to the third and final day of the "Export Buyers Showcase." Nayles gave me a quick drive and I was lucky to catch the last couple songs from Bruce Guthro.

In between performers, they took time out to celebrate birthdays for manager extraordinaire, Bruce Morel, and Jamie Steel of Periwinkle Productions.

1. Bruce Guthro. This folk storyteller knows how to woo a crowd. His songs covered topics from the Blue Jays championship to his website's URL. He's living proof that less is more, ensuring the focus is on the story without distraction.

2. Kendra MacGillivray & Troy MacGillivray. This musical family is known most prominently for Kendra's fiddling ability and Troy's piano playing, but they're always ready to switch up instruments. Kendra was clearly nervous on the mic, but none of that showed in her instrumentation. The highlight had both siblings playing fiddle in unison.

3. David Myles. It seems not so long ago, in 2005, David phoned me to ask for advice on promoting his debut album. Now, in 2009, David Myles is riding a wave of international acclaim. His show has improved immensely since 2005, helped by his move from strictly folk to a more sultry jazz blues sound aided by his backing band, along with some Bruce Springsteen inspired rock. His comfort on stage and crowd interaction brought in the largest crowd of the whole showcase, and with good reason - he provided one of the most impressive performances of the series.

4. MIR. Their light pop sound seemed somewhat generic, but their success is nearly unparalled by any other band of their sort in Atlantic Canada.

And with that, the "Export Buyers Showcase" wrapped up. David Myles and Ennis stood out as the most impressive surprises of the series.

Day 2: Urban Vibes to Music NB

The Roots Room at the Pepsi Centre was pleasantly filled as a crowd of a dozen or so younger folk danced to the reggae/ska sounds of The Idlers. The 10-member band won't be held back by their sheer size, instead they've excelled with plans to follow up their 2008 Canadian tour with another in 2009.

Afterward, I made a brief stop over at Greenwood Hotel, where I had some great conversations with Joe Buck, Adam Gould of Broken Coast, James Boyle of Forward Music Group, Lynn D & Chris of Chris Colepaugh and a young up & coming artist located in Corner Brook named Natalie Tella.

Hunger soon prevailed, as I caught a cab back to the pad where Nayles was still putting together flyers for his printing & pressing business. I cooked us up a hearty supper of fries, hot dogs and tomatoes. The moose meat steaks are in the fridge defrosting for tomorrow. Nayles and Clutch still hadn't slept yet and were into the beers, so there were some funny conversations.

Since it was day 2 of the ECMAs and a Friday evening, I decided it was time to let loose and party a bit. I was late heading out and missed out on my plans to see Carmen Townsend and Christina Martin, so I headed straight to the African Nova Scotia Music Association (ANSMA) Black Vibes stage. As has always been the case, I was greeted with open arms and friendly smiles.

Nadira softened up the crowd with the R&B sound that won her the 2008 ANSMA Rising Star Award. She seemed excited to be performing, which proved infectious, and her last track enticed people onto the dance floor.

The man, the myth, the legend, R$ $mooth made the trek to Corner Brook to DJ the event. He's always full of surprises when he "gets jiggy with it".

Finally, the first official rap act of the ECMAs took to the stage. Hellafactz was born in Massachusetts, is a self-proclaimed hip-hop activist with the goal of promoting positivity and has recorded with KRS-One and Edo G. Fresh off winning the 2008 ANSMA Upcoming Youth Award, he started off slow, but progressively increased the vibe. 'No Qwestion' was a touching dedication to his daughter. R$ $mooth surprised the crowd by taking to the mic on the reggae-laden 'All We Can Do'. In between, he showcased a nice upbeat track reminiscent of Left Eyes 'The Block Party'.

The east coast king of soul, Dutch Robinson, used his smooth ballads to win over all the hearts of all the ladies in Corner Brook, and impress the fellas too. This ECMA award winner is a legend, drawing increased fame from his brief stint with the Ohio Players back in the day.

The half hour wait to get into Whelan's Gate yielded performances from some of New Brunswick's finest. As The Divorcees took to the stage, the crowd was piling up just outside the dance floor. After three songs of their boot kickin country, the flood gates burst to fill the floor with teams of Corner Brook fans. New Brunswick's finest fiddler, Samantha Robichaud joined the Divorcees to up the level, and had guys in life jackets rocking out.

If I could take one item back with me from the ECMAs, it would be one of the big ECMA cut out moose used to promote the weekend. While mentioning this to a fan in the crowd, she quickly made it clear that her grade one class at C.C. Loughlin had painted them. I'll try my best to get some pictures (or maybe take one back)!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Day 2: No shittin the bed: Dave Gunning & others

The pace at the Greenwood hotel was energetic, as the dreary eyed travellers of Thursday were now wide-eyed and ready for a great weekend. It was a full house for the second day of the "Export Buyers Showcase," maybe because there was free food, or maybe because the afternoon featured 4 more great performances.

I situated myself between Duane Andrews and Ed Ward of the Milwaukee Irish Fest, and prepared myself.

1. Vishten. This quartet of musicians from PEI, NB and the Magdalen Islands have been performing their Acadian/Irish/Scottish style for nearly a decade. Their traditional style is reminiscent of what music should be all about - a kitchen party.

2. Dave Gunning. His years of performing, numerous awards and the title as one of Atlantic Canada's best storytellers played true in his performance. In between songs, he regaled the crowd with tales including the expression "shit the bed", which means "to mess things up". Ron Hynes even made a guest appearance.

3. Madison Violet. Touring, Touring, Touring, that's Mad Violet. The years of touring by duo Lisa & Brenley have paid off in a hippy folk feel-good sound evoking emotions of love and "crying". While sharing a shuttle with Bob Paterson of BPA Live Agency in the UK, he named them as his favourites of the festival.

4. The Divorcees. Their gritty, old school honky tonk country sound will have your heals kicking. Their debut album might have had people wondering if they were a tongue-and-cheek outfit, but the fun simplicity of the songwriting quickly captured fans by the truckloads. The simplicity shines bright on "Red Truck", while they also delve deeper into the Grand Manan drug dealer fiasco and blue ribbon uranium staking.

Day 2: Moose Meat Raps

At 8 am, Nayles and his hypeman arrived. They regaled in stories of a drunken girl on the ferry who'd lost her boyfriend, and knocking on a rundown shack, thinking those were our accomodations. But they made it and were greeted with gifts of moose meat and fresh fish from the bed & breakfast owners.

Having not slept in more than 24 hours, Nayles drove me in town in time to catch KillA Clown on the Discovery Stage at the Legion. As one of only five rappers with a showcase over the weekend, I was curious to hear his style for the first time. Unfortunately, he was a no-show, being replaced by PEI's The Sidewalks. Their horn section was impressive, but I left disappointed with KillA Clown's no-show.

On the trek back to Greenwood Hotel, I met Halifax's Joe Buck for the first time. Breaking the cliche's of halifax underground backpacker sound, the singles from his new album 'Up' have impressed me with their catchy mainstream appeal.

Of the nine artists nominated for a 2009 ECMA award in the Rap / Hip-Hop Single of the Year category, Joe Buck is the only one who made it. The reason for the lack of hip-hop artists was re-iterated by Joe Buck.

"There just aren't many opportunities for hip-hop artists. The director of the celtic festival from Glasgow isn't interested in my music."

Fortunately there are still opportunities. On Thursday, Buck jumped on the open mic at The Backlot and took part in the 'Export Readiness Training Pitching Workshop.' He was one of 3 artists at the session chosen to pitch to some top names in the industry.

"I met face-to-face with David Hayman of Vapor Music Group who has selected music for everyone from the Blue Jays to car & beer commercials."

In today's industry, Joe Buck's approach to the conference is the best possible for a hip-hop artist.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day 1: Back to the hotel ... err... Bed & Breakfast

Last November, I decided I should look into booking a room for this year's ECMAs. After all, Corner Brook has a population of 20,000, which means limited accomodations.

After discovering that most of the spots listed on ECMA accomodation guide were booked full, I turned to the tourist booklet I picked up when I toured through Corner Brook last summer. I quickly found a cozy Bed & Breakfast situated on the bay.

The place is quiet, isolated and with a beautiful view. Not to mention it's basically a fully furnished 2-bedroom apartment with a grocery store only a 15 minute walk away. It's a 45 minute walk to the main drag, but only a $7 cab ride - now if only my Rogers cell phone worked so I could call a cab! :)

Oh, and Gary Kelly just let me know where I can find a liquor store.

With that said, it's now 8:30 pm... I'm debating whether to trek out, or take it easy and plan out the next 3 days of partying!

Day 1: Damhnait Doyle to Hey Rosetta before sunset

Some of Atlantic Canada's most export-ready artists were invited to perform during three afternoon sessions. From Thursday through Saturday, intimate crowds composed of international delegates, buyers and media get to see Atlantic Canada's finest. There were seats for everyone, and front row wasn't a problem - just my style these days. At least until a couple bands had me wanting to get up and dance.

So just who are the most "export ready" artists? Today's lineup included 4 great performances.

1. Damhnait Doyle - The darling of the ECMAs, she'll be co-hosting the awards show on Sunday night. Of the 4 performers, her sound seemed the least unique, blending folk, rock and pop. When technical difficulties were causing problems, she moved into the crowd for an up close acoustic session.

2. Duane Andrews. Duane fuses jazz and folk on his acoustic guitar, in an upbeat instrumental style paralled by the legendary Django Reinhardt.

In 2005, I exchanged CDs with several ECMA nominated artists and his quickly became my favourite. We hung out at the after party that year, and have kept in touch ever since. Last year, he introduced me to Neil Conway, a great St. John's based artist. While catching up today, I found out his brother plays in the great ska/funk/jam band, The Idlers.

3. Ennis - The duo of Maureen & Karen Ennis, whom you might remember from Ennis Sisters, provided the most impressive performance of the afternoon. Karen's stage presence rolled smoothly through jokes, singing, step dancing and playing of the tin flute and drum, with each talent more impressive than the previous. It was a breath of fresh air - it's ashame people weren't dancing.

4. Hey Rosetta!. Anyone in touch with the Canadian indie rock scene has been hearing more and more about this St. John's band. Frontman Tim Baker fits the bill, providing a rock steady stage presence, strong voice and impressive songwriting. The hypnotic melodies of the lows perfectly offset driving "get up and dance" energy of the highs. Think Wintersleep on an energy drink.

Day 1: Deer Lake to Corner Brook with Rawlins Cross

I was up at 8 am for bacon and eggs. I enjoyed a good chat with the owners of the Birchview bed & breakfast. They’ve been running it for 9 years, and told tales of many visitors - actors to doctors, from places as far and diverse as Africa, Australia and Russia. But they swore I was the first rapper to stay with them. They got me to rap for them, but I didn’t have time to get them to show me their accordion and banjo skills. I got them to pose for a picture.

Then Fred picked me up in his Star Taxi, and I headed back to Deer Lake Airport to catch the shuttle. I had an hour wait, giving me time to take in the ECMA fanfare posted by the baggage pickup.

At 11 am, Fred arrived again, this time as the "shuttle" driver. He picked up 4 of us destined for the ECMAs. Fred regailed us with stories of his years, including having to pick up a guy from Russia named "Kunt" last week. I also found out who I was sharing the drive with: Editor of the Newfoundland Herald, Kevin Kelly, and none other than 2 members the infamous Rawlins Cross.

Rawlins Cross, an Atlantic Canadian celtic rock legendary band, is reuniting for an awards show performance on Sunday night. In the van were founding members Ian McKinnon (pipes & whistle) and Dave Panting (guitar & mandolin). They took time to pose for a picture:

It's now almost 2 pm. Check-in time at my bed & breakfast isn't until 3 pm, so I'm stuck hauling my luggage around. I'm hoping to stash it somewhere so I can go see media-only performances from Damhnait Doyle, Duane Andrews, Ennis and Hey Rosetta! from 2-4 pm.

Day 0: Ottawa to Deer Lake

Being the naive air traveller that I am, I decided to wear my 2006 ‘Under Pressure’ t-shirt purely for comfort. Forgetting that it depicted someone being handcuffed by police, I had to answer some questions about it as I passed through security at the Ottawa airport.

The flight from Ottawa to Halifax was uneventful. I sat next to a jittery young lady who kept to herself.

In Halifax, I had a few minutes between flights to catch up with Zaz Nomad, who painted my CD release poster a couple years ago. She’s doing illustrations for children’s books these days, including the newly released Adriana Gets a Real Little Baby

As I started in line for the flight to Deer Lake, I ran into the man I’ve seen more than anyone else over my years of music festivals - Bob Breen. He’s the face of OIART (Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology) and tends to hand out the ECMA award for engineer of the year on annual basis. My brother, Colin, attended OIART and that’s how I first met Bob.

Then I saw an old classmate, Meghan Scott. We graduated together, and she’s now managing Newfoundland’s Chris Kirby and my long lost blues brother Ross Neilsen. By day, she works at The Playhouse in Fredericton and filled me in on how construction of the E-Plex has shut down the Rogue. Even better - construction is 3 meters from her office window.

Unfortunately Ross won’t be making it this year to follow up on his 2008 ECMA shenanigans (a la Gordie Johnson at SXSW) - see picture below. This year was just "too much of a hassle" said Meghan.

On the flight, I sat next to a friendly Newfoundlander from Smiths Harbour. He was one of about a dozen truck drivers who work for Sun Corp in Fort McMurray and fly back and forth every 18 days. He pointed out 2 of his co-workers a few rows away, who are Uncle and cousin of the Canadian Idol finalist Rex Goudie.

After picking up my luggage, I was approached by a man asking me if I needed a drive. I said ‘yes’ and followed him to a van. I couldn’t see any signage on the van to indicate it was a taxi. I was a bit nervous, but this is Newfoundland after all. It turned out to be a taxi after all, and he gave me his cell number to call him for pick up the next day.

By 1 am, I’d arrived safe and sound at Birchview Bed & Breakfast in Deer Lake. I was informed bacon & eggs were served at 8 am and checkout was 10 am. It’d be an early start to my ECMA weekend.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Packed & ready to go

Day -1: Ottawa to Halifax to Deer Lake

I'm all packed & ready to trek to Corner Brook, Newfoundland for the ECMAs.

I decided to get media accreditation this year, so I'll be a bit more behind the scenes and down with the all access insight. Besides this blog and the Brockway newsletter, I'm hoping to write an article for, and David F at FYI Music has asked to post my blog coverage on his site.

Oh, and keep an ear on CBC Radio 3 on Thursday, as host Lauren Burrows shares my answers to some of her questions regarding Corner Brook and the ECMAs.

When I toured through Corner Brook this past summer I remember trying to find a liquor store (to buy some authentic Newfoundland Screech). It was a Thursday and my time was short, but I didn't have any luck... There's got to be one there somewhere!

So tonight, I'm staying at a small bed & breakfast in Deer Lake. $45 per night - can't beat that. Tomorrow I'll be taxiing into Corner Brook to my weekend destination - another bed & breakfast. Moncton rapper/graphic designer/beatmaker, Nayles, is staying in the room next door. It'll be nice to catch up...

I wish Rogers provided cell phone coverage in Corner Brook. This is one of the few times I wish I was a Bell/Telus customer :)

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