Best gig at ECMA's: The Flocase

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Best gig at ECMA's: The Flocase

Best gig at ECMA's: The Flocase

The East Coast Music Awards feature dozens of spectacular performances over the five-day long festival, but as seasoned delegates know, often the very best shows aren't on the schedule.

They happen in the wee hours, in hotel rooms, lobbies, supposedly-closed restaurants and any place two or more musicians can gather.

For at least 15 years, back to the last time the ECMA's were in Saint John (I know, because I can blearily remember), the best show of them all is what has become known as the Flocase.

It's not mentioned in the official literature or website, and until the first night, nobody even knows where it will be held.

Eventually Flo Sampson of Big Pond, Cape Breton, will find a piano, and when the official showcases wind down each night, hers is just beginning.

Flo ("Gordie's Mom," as she proudly introduces herself) is an accomplished pianist who does plenty of gigs the rest of the year back home.

Human jukebox

Once the ECMA's begin, she becomes a human jukebox, ready to play any kind of style, and pull out old favourites to surprising hits — Saturday night featured everything from "New York, New York" to "Love Potion #9" to "Flip, Flop & Fly."

If you bring an instrument, as many do, you'd better be prepared to join in, it's expected. That's included bagpipes and horn sections.

There aren't microphones or P.A. systems, this is a kitchen party, just without the kitchen.

The crowd, and there always is one, is a cross-section of every province, every age, every culture, and it's the true melting pot of the ECMA's.

World-class performers

It's also not the kind of place a reporter pulls out a microphone and starts doing interviews, but in a casual chat with Matt Andersen, he relayed some knowledge he's picked up from years of international touring.

He agrees that it's this kind of gathering that makes the East Coast special and different from anywhere else, and it's this talent on display around Flo's piano that is truly world-class.

Flo doesn't hog the keyboard either, and she moved aside Saturday for the fantastic r'n'b singer Reeny Smith from Halifax, who was joined by her sisters Mahalia and Micha.

They did three gospel songs with full, flying harmonies that left the crowd speechless, people glowing and smiling at their friends.

At one point, a voice spoke up from the crowd to wish Flo regards, and the sax blew the strains of "Happy Birthday," with everyone singing along in her honour.

She wasn't too keen to acknowledge the date, but was more than pleased when her present was revealed.

Serge Brideau, lead singer of Les Hôtesses d'Hilaire, came to sit next to her on the piano, to join her on "The House of the Rising Sun".

The audience wavers between paying close attention, chatting with old or newly-made friends, and for a few, nodding asleep.

Everyone came to a hush though when Dave Gunning sat down with Flo, one of her favourite artists.

He sang an unaccompanied version of his ECMA-winning song "These Hands," that brought tears to a few eyes.

Flo has a trophy of her own as well. In 2014, she was chosen to receive the Stompin' Tom award, which goes to a person whose work behind the scenes has been the bedrock of the East Coast music scene.

Hotel room gigs

The Flocase may be the most famous unofficial gig at the ECMA's, but it doesn't take a lot of work to find more.

Often they are on your own floor at the hotel.

If there's a guitar playing in the room, it's pretty much considered fair game to knock on the door and come in to have a listen and a chat and something to drink.

That's what was going on in the shared quarters of The Mike Bochoff Band.

The Halifax group just had a small acoustic and a shaker, but three-part harmonies made their non-album cut "Halifamous" sound terrific ('I'm not Halifamous so I'm moving out west').

They had a showcase Friday night but stuck around for the rest of the event.

"For moments like this," said Bochoff. "We had three, four, five people in a room, and now there's, what, 12 or 14, because people heard music. They were walking down the hall, they were next door, they came in, they were interested. You're networking, you're meeting new people, you're having a good time. That's what it's all about, it's a lot of fun."

It's hard to turn the fun off with so many late-night/early-morning gatherings.

The Carleton Music Bar & Grill's Mike Campbell said he was finally heading back to his room at 9 a.m. Sunday morning when he ran into Flo Sampson, doing the same. "Wimp," he said she called him.