5 bands to see at East Coast Music Awards in Saint John

The East Coast Music Awards get underway tonight in Saint John and while much of the attention is on the trophies, there are dozens of concerts and showcases, plenty of them free and most open to the public.

Every year, there are new artists that capture the buzz at the event with their great live show.

We asked ECMA insiders from each region who they think might be the buzz band this year.

1. Menoncle Jason - Memramcook, N.B.

Old-fashioned country just like Acadians have loved for decades.

"The talk of the town right now is Menoncle Jason," said Carol Doucet, who runs his record label, Le Grenier. "He's been doing all the big TV shows in Montreal. He's crazy, and the music is very, very good, everybody is impressed."

Marc "Chops" Arsenault of the Moncton band Les Païens is a fan. "I think he's doing well because it's refreshing to hear something that's well crafted, but not trendy, and not pretentious. Like enjoying a schooner just as much as a craft beer, you know."

2. Fairgale - St. John's

A four-piece rock band which has only been together since Sept. 2014, with one album, Own The Light. The group has become known for big three-part vocals on top of their pop-rock, so we asked producer Chris Kirby what made him want to work with them: "That would be their chilling vocals and harmonies. And the songs are just fresh and exciting," said Kirby. "For four guys, they make a lotta racket."

3. Ben Miller & Anita MacDonald - Cape Breton

Dawn Beaton of The Beaton Sisters and artistic director of the internationally-renowned Celtic Colours festival actually came up with a top six of Cape Breton artists she wants to see this year. In alphabetical order, they were Ben Miller & Anita MacDonald, Coig, Dave Sampson, Kyle MacDonald, Pretty Archie and Villages.

"There's a little something for everyone in this list," she said "Traditional fiddle and dance-inspired music, great vocals and songwriting, pop-mainstream artists, it's all there! I have them all in my music playlists to feed whatever mood I'm in."

We'll highlight Miller and MacDonald, since they formed after a chance meeting thanks to Beaton, both performing at Celtic Colours in 2013. Miller is originally from Queensbury, N.Y., but his mother's Canadian, and he started playing Highland bagpipes as a youngster. MacDonald is from Little Narrows, Cape Breton, a fiddler, dancer and Gaelic singer. Together they have taken their sound from Colorado to Edinburgh to Denmark.

4. Atlantic String Machine - Charlottetown

Take five of the best string players from P.E.I., and let them loose in any genre they want, and you get the playful Atlantic String Machine. On their own, or working with artists visiting the Island such as The Once and Matthew Byrne, they have developed a big following on their own.

"This ECMA first-time talented string quintet from P.E.I. is regularly filling 300 and 400 capacity halls, and blend classical with pop covers and original tunes," said Rob Oakie, executive director of Music PEI. "They have shown a real ability to collaborate with a diverse number of artists ranging from country to pop, folk and jazz, and are much in demand."

5. Hillsburn - Halifax

"Everybody is talking about Hillsburn," said Trevor Murphy, who handles public relations for the ECMAs through the company Pigeon Row. Not the next big thing, because they already are a pretty big thing with three ECMA nominations for their debut album In The Battle Years.

But the group has been working hard at reinvention, with drums, synths and electric guitar replacing some of the softer elements. They've released a strong new single, Low Light, and have a new album coming soon.

For a list of showcase artists, times and venues, visit here.