FREDERICTON — Music filled Fredericton's Aitken Centre Thursday night as the East Coast Music Awards were held before a live audience for the first time since 2019.
"Covid might have shut down the music business but it never stopped the music," host Maestro Fresh Wes told the audience. "It never stopped the creativity, it never stopped the will to continue going forward."
The annual awards show is a celebration of singers, songwriters and musicians from across the Atlantic Provinces.
Awards' CEO Andy McLean said there's no substitute for gathering and having music live onstage.
"It's all about bringing fans back to live music and celebrating the incredible place where we live and the incredible music that comes out of this region," McLean said.
"We would like to express our sincere gratitude to each and every artist and industry professional, as well as our staff, contractors, and partners, who pulled together this incredible event after two years online."
Halifax pop band Hillsburn captured Album of the Year and Group Recording of the Year honours with their latest recording "Slipping Away."
Band member Rosanna Burrill said the album was a group effort but thanked Paul Aarntzen for writing all of the songs.
Newfoundland's Justin Fancy won Fans' Choice Entertainer of the Year.
"I started this journey long ago," he said. "But I decided to start a recording career during a pandemic."
Fancy said much of the recording process occurred remotely.
The evening included live performances by many of the nominees and special guest performances by Lisa Leblanc and Patsy Gallant.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs presented Gallant with the Director's Special Achievement Award.
There was also a tribute to Acadian songwriting as 1755 performed their newly inducted Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame song "Le monde a bien change."
Chloé Breault had this year's Francophone Recording of the Year with "Plage des morons."
Morgan Toney won Indigenous Artist of the Year, and Kelly McMichael's "Waves" was the Rock Recording of the Year.
"Releasing an album during a pandemic was an interesting experience," McMichael said. "It has been a hard couple of years."
Other award winners included Quote the Raven with the Contemporary/ Roots Recording of the Year for "Can't Hold the Light."
"We've always sort of struggled with what genre we are, and we're still not sure. Sometimes our songs are a bit poppy and sometimes they're a bit country, but I think we are rooted in roots, so this is meaningful for us," said Kirsten Rodden-Clarke as she accepted the award along with Jordan Coaker.
The African Canadian Artist of the Year award went to Zamani. Accepting the award, she said it was a special honour and thanked fans for showing up to her shows.
Fans' Choice Video of the Year honours went to Mallory Johnson and Twin Kennedy for "Wise Woman."
One8tea captured Rap/Hip-Hop Recording of the Year for "Ventilation 2" while Andrew Waite's self-titled album was the Solo Recording of the year.
"This is pretty cool," Waite said.
Song of the Year honours went to Breagh Isabel for "Girlfriends" and to Dylan Menzie for "A Heart that Doesn't Want Mine."
And Rube & Rake was named Songwriter of the Year.
On Sunday, the festival's honorary awards will be presented during a luncheon. Cutting Crew will receive the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award.
Aside from the awards ceremony, the ECMA schedule includes performances on 14 stages around the city, plus other industry events.
Fredericton Chamber of Commerce CEO Krista Ross said it means $3 million to $6 million in business for the city.
"Businesses are experiencing a lot of people coming to the restaurants, the bars, staying in hotels and so on," she said.
"There's a financial impact for sure. But in addition, I think there's a real impact on how people are feeling, and having that positive vibe is really encouraging and supportive to the business community."
The schedule of events wraps up on Sunday afternoon with the Songwriters' Circle at the Fredericton Playhouse.
Organizers announced that Halifax will host the 35th annual East Coast Music Awards in 2023.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2022.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press