Living room concerts are a thing of the past for this year's East Coast Music Awards.
The five-day event with concerts, workshops and the long-awaited gala recognizing east coast talent will start in Fredericton on Wednesday and end on Sunday.
The event is returning to Fredericton 14 years after it was first hosted by the capital city.
And the 34th annual event will be a special one.
"The most important thing is we're here live," said Andy McLean, CEO of the East Coast Music Association.
The event will take place all around the city at 11 venues, 14 stages, and will include 150 bands, translating to about 500 artists.
The main event will take place Thursday evening and will be hosted by Maestro Fresh Wes at the Aitken Centre.
The 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled, delayed, then done virtually because of COVID-19 spread and restrictions. With these restrictions removed, artists and listeners can gather face-to-face.
One of the musicians recognized is Monika Ouellet, also known as Lazermortis. She's a Saint John funeral director and embalmer who also makes 1980s synth-wave electronica, and is nominated in the ECMA's electronic recording of the Year category.
She described her music as an imagining of what happens after death — but for machines.
"It's kind of my imagining of what an afterlife might look like to artificial intelligence," she said.
Musically, she was inspired by what her mom listened to: 1980s synthy music like Gary Numan and A-Ha. Her interest in death care also came from her mother, who wanted to be a medical examiner. Mixing those two, Ouellet came up with a concept that marries the two parts of her life.
Another artist who will be part of the ECMAs is Lisa LeBlanc, whose new album, Chiac Disco, was a product of pandemic silliness.
She said "desperation" is what prompted her to come up with this new, high-energy, disco and funk inspired album. It started with bingo events she was hosting online when she couldn't perform live.
LeBlanc needed songs to go along with the bingo events, so she wrote a few fast-paced, easy and fun tracks. And suddenly, it was an album.
"I had such a blast writing these tunes because the stakes were so low," she said. "It was fun to write again … and so I was, like, well let's not force it, this is really fun, let's see if we can do an actual album."
LeBlanc will be performing at the main event on Thursday.
'You've got to be resilient'
McLean said pandemic challenges have forced some people to give up on the craft, deciding on a more conventional lifestyle. But others have held on, hoping for a day when they can see their audience again.
"You're talking about musicians, you're talking about creative people, that are born to do this," he said. "It's a difficult road, let's be honest, the rewards are incredible ... it's also very difficult, so you've got to be resilient.
"I have to salute the resilience, tenacity, dedication and the sheer guts to actually go out and do this," he said.
McLean said in the last two years the event has developed skills to adapt and bring content online, so the team has become good at it.
"We've actually become kind of in-house TV production company," he said.
And because connecting with an international community is important, the association will continue to have virtual elements.
New Brunswick has removed all COVID-19 restrictions, including indoor masking and proof of vaccination. McLean said the ECMAs follow each province's rules, and are mirroring the province's stance of not mandating masks or vaccination proof.
"We follow what Public Health recommends," he said, noting organizers won't be objecting if anyone wants to wear a mask.