East Coast's biggest music star? It's Lisa LeBlanc

East Coast's biggest music star? It's Lisa LeBlanc

They start handing out the trophies tonight at the annual East Coast Music Awards, being held this year in Saint John.

Some of the stars up for the big honours include Classified, Old Man Luedecke, Ria Mae and Ben Caplan.

And the biggest of the bunch these days will be playing at the awards show.

Surprisingly, it's her first time at the ECMAs.

Lisa LeBlanc, from Rosaireville, N.B., has not only taken the Acadian music scene by storm in the last five years, she's become a huge star in Quebec and well-known in Europe as well.

Her self-titled debut album, music she described as trash-folk, has sold 140,000 copies.

"The album just kind of worked," said LeBlanc, back in the province for a few days of relaxation before the ECMAs.

"We had some great press, and we were really lucky and we have such a beautiful following in France and in Switzerland and Belgium, and some people are like, 'Hey I heard your song on the radio in France the other day.'

"And for me, that's totally weird, because I feel like such a black sheep going there, you know? Because the first album was in French, and it's a lot of Fringlish, a lot of Chiac, a lot of dialect from New Brunswick that most people don't understand."

Acadie a hot commodity

LeBlanc has made the sound of Acadie a hot commodity and opened the door for more Acadian artists to break through in Quebec and Europe.

The key for LeBlanc was hitting the Quebec market at a time when being Acadian was cool.

"In Quebec, people love New Brunswick," she said. "They're used to Acadians, and know about the Chiac, the Fringlish, and the accent that goes with it, and people love New Brunswickers in general, so it's just that we have a good rep, it's pretty cool."

The person who first helped LeBlanc break into the Quebec market is Moncton agent, manager and record label owner Carol Doucet.

"Right now there's a hype, because of Lisa," said Doucet. "She really opened all the doors for most people. The media, first of all, and then the big events. I used to book Lisa when she started in Montreal, and she went to all the big festivals, and the year after, those festivals would be calling me, saying, 'who can you send us this year?'"

There were more Acadian artists ready to follow LeBlanc, including Les Hay Babies, Les Hôtesses d'Hilaire, Joey Robin Haché, Caroline Savoie and most recently, country singer Menoncle Jason.

Confidence boost for Acadian musicians

LeBlanc has provided a huge boost in confidence for the new generation of Acadian artists.

"Everybody is saying it," said Doucet. "Joey Robin Hache for example, he said, 'When I saw that Lisa was doing her stuff, and it was going great, it said to me, I can do that too.' Everybody is saying it, she's an example for all the other artists."

Another newcomer is Dieppe's Simon Daniel, a singer-songwriter who has released just one EP of his work so far.

Thanks to the strong interest now in Acadian music, he has spent most of the past year and a half playing major industry showcases in Quebec and Ontario and even overseas.

"Everywhere you go, I've played in Europe a few times as well, and that's the name that always comes up, Lisa, when you speak of Acadie, it's always Lisa or Les Hay Babies, and those groups have definitely paved the way for us," said Daniel.

Those showcases and the media attention are what most anglophone New Brunswick artists would kill for to boost their careers.

But even with the success of David Myles, Matt Andersen or Measha Brueggergosman, there's never talk of a New Brunswick sound for the English musicians.

English music needs an image

It's a quandary that Music New Brunswick's Jean Surette is trying to solve, as he attempts to find more opportunities outside the province for English artists, while watching so many Acadian ones do so well.

"That's been one of the challenges, there isn't an image right now," said Surette. "And that's been one of the ongoing questions poking around in my head, because we're working on an export strategy. Because when we go to a market, or we go somewhere and we want to talk about New Brunswick, what do we talk about?

"It's easy to talk about Acadian culture, but how are you going to talk about an artist coming from Saint John or Woodstock?"

In marketing terms, anglophone New Brunswick's music scene is still searching for a brand.

"It's a tough one," Surette said. "I think that the way that anglophone artists are going to make a difference or be able to break through, is through their perseverance, their talent, and not being afraid of saying they're from New Brunswick."

Lisa LeBlanc may be the one to help the anglophone artists in the province too, just as she did to boost the Acadian sound.

Her last two releases have been in English, the latest nominated for a Juno Award this year, and she has just returned from a tour of Western Canada.

Maybe the music brand for all New Brunswick will come from a self-professed trashy, crazy, banjo-playing, bilingual, life-loving young woman who sings about Kraft Dinner and covers Motorhead's heavy metal anthem Ace of Spades.