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Surviving the East Coast Music Association weekend

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Catherine MacLellan accepts ECMA Award for Folk Recording of the Year (Silhouette)I have now survived yet another ECMA week, although I must say that now that the conference is held in April, it is much easier to survive. I remember when it was held in the dead of winter, always (somehow) the coldest weekend of the year. We would all be tramping through giant snowbanks with arm-fulls of gear and instruments, shielding our faces from the north wind. This time around, in Moncton, we were sitting on patios in t-shirts with cold drinks in our hands.

As always, the East Coast Music Association conference and festival is a great time to catch a ton of music in a very short period of time and also an opportunity for musicians to all get together in one place. Upon arrival, I felt completely overwhelmed by this great social experiment, I wanted to run back to the car and hide there for the week. I slowly warmed up to the over-exposure to society and got into the swing of things.

My goal at the conference was to see some of the bands and musicians that I haven’t had a chance to catch, especially PEI acts. Being a mom and on tour much of the time, I have missed a lot of what is happening in our local scene. It was so great to finally catch the North Lakes as well as Two Hours Traffic with their new line-up of members. They both floored everyone on the Saturday late-night stage.

I remember a number of years ago when the indie bands never really got the attention that they deserved, the whole event completely out of balance from what was really happening in the scene. It was mostly traditional based music which gave the east coast an identity which the national eye could see. This year it was quite obvious that now the reverse has happened. There was much less traditional music, and some would say it was almost non-existent, whereas every event was dominated by indie bands. I wonder if we will ever find an appropriate balance where every niche in our very diverse scene can be heard and seen.

This was the first year that I had taken it pretty easy, with only one or two performances a day. Chris and I played a couple official showcases, the odd radio and internet recording and then the gala on the Sunday night. One of the highlights of the gala was seeing David Myles perform with Classified, I had been waiting to see that. Catching up with David is always a beautiful experience, as he is perhaps the most positive and non-cynical performer on the east coast. He brings such enthusiasm to what he does and it is truly contagious. It was also touching to see the emotional honesty of host Roch Voisine as he received his award (a total surprise to him) for special achievement in the arts. Catherine MacKinnon received a lifetime achievement awarded, handed off by her daughter (another surprise) and played her signature tune, Farewell to Nova Scotia.

One great thing about this year’s awards ceremony was that it was not in a giant concrete arena and instead held in the Casino NB Ballroom. This created a much cozier atmosphere and the quiet acts sounded good for once. That included the Once and the Olympic Symphonium, whose beautiful harmonies and subtle musical arrangements would have been somewhat lost in an arena.

I suppose a smaller room for the gala is a sign that our beloved ECMA event is shrinking in magnitude, but in my mind it is not such a bad thing. In fact, it may bring around a more sincere and honest approach to what has become an overblown and overly-commercialized event. Perhaps it is time to remember what the East Coast Music Association is all about—the music itself.

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