Music NB tries to bring a little optimism to an industry hit hard by the pandemic

·4 min read

It wasn't supposed to be this way, but in the end the people behind the annual Music NB awards and industry conference decided to stay optimistic and do the best they could for the people who make and promote music.

So, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Festival 506 conference, essentially the ECMAs for the New Brunswick music industry, is going on this weekend in Moncton and around the world on the internet only.

Music NB's executive director, Jean Surette, said the decision was made in April to just assume a virtual conference was the only way Festival 506 would happen this year.

"We just decided to be optimistic, and say things are going to get better eventually, and artists and agents still need to develop contacts," Surette said of the decision to hold the event online.

And Surette said there were some advantages to the decision.

"When people are coming from afar, they have to take four and five days off to travel," he said.


Surette said some people from Ontario, Quebec, Maine and the U.K. found it easier to take part knowing they could do it from the comfort of their own homes.

But COVID still had some surprises for the organizers.

As New Brunswick's restrictions relaxed over the summer, the decision was made to include live performances in the annual award show by artists from across the province.

Then, just two weeks or so before the show was scheduled, there was an outbreak in Moncton.

The region was put back into the orange phase of recovery, and travel to and from the region was not recommended.

Les Hay Babies
Les Hay Babies

To solve the problem of an awards show without music, Surette said they used pre-recorded performances taken from artist showcases that will be played in full through the conference.

And Surette himself provided incidental music for Thursday night's awards show, improvising "sometimes a little beat, sometimes a chord sequence" on an electronic Omnichord.

Surette said he was pleased with the diversity of artists who picked up awards Thursday.

Saint John's Jamie Comeau & the Crooked Teeth picked up three awards, including one for their self-titled roots-rock debut album.

Indie-folk trio Les Hay Babies also picked up three, including for their 2020 album Boites aux lettres.

Kill Chicago
Kill Chicago

Song of the year went to Fredericton's Kill Chicago for the song Two Drinks Behind.

Frontman Greg Webber says the song is about arriving at a party late and two drinks behind everyone there, and the choice is to leave or to try to catch up.

"It's based on conversations that actually happened at my cottage down in Shediac," Webber told CBC News. "You know, like a lawn dart tournament and things got messy."

Moncton's Jason Leblanc, who goes by the pseudonym Menoncle Jason, picked up the francophone song of the year award for his twisted lounge music tribute to Florida.

Indigenous artist of the year went to Marian, fronted by Eel Ground First Nation's Dylan Ward, who runs a recording studio in Fredericton.

And the breakthrough artist is Saint John singer-songwriter Kylie Fox.

Innovator of the year went to electronic artist M3D14, a.k.a Dawson Sacobie of Fredericton.

Music NB
Music NB

Surette said the region's music industry is becoming more diverse because there are more producers and more studios in New Brunswick, which means it's easier to make a good-sounding record.

For Webber and Kill Chicago, it took almost a year to make their record, mostly because there were three babies born into the band members' families over that time.

Being able to make it at the Recordery studios in Fredericton was vital to the project.

"We took the approach that if we never make another one, let's make sure we're happy with this one," Webber said.

Awards help

"Little nods like this help," Webber said of winning the award.

"It's pretty easy to be in a band in your 20s," he said, but the bandmates are in their 30s now, with jobs and growing families.

"We're really tired," he said with a laugh.

"It shows how much we like being in a band."

Webber said the three months of lockdown last spring were pretty hard on the band.

"So when we finally got together and banged out a song nice and loud, it felt great."

He's just hoping he can do that in front of a live audience soon.