It's the image of the deluded dreamer: Halifax's place on the musical map, a destination for big concerts. But the the city has been there, at a smaller scale, all along.
"We're the end of the road here," says Heather Gibson, who this week is bringing Ani DiFranco to Halifax for two nights at the Rebecca Cohn, which holds almost 1,000 people. "All you're doing is turning back around and going back the way you came."
That's how a tour bus rolls in these parts.
DiFranco's 2010 winter tour, as posted on righteousbabe.com, began in her old home base, Buffalo, on November 2. Then it's on to Toronto and Ottawa, followed by a long overnight drive---more than 12 hours---to Sackville, New Brunswick, the entry point to the short Maritime leg of her tour. After Halifax, DiFranco and company drive off this peninsular province to Fredericton. Then they cross the border for Rutland, Vermont.
This excerpted itinerary of one touring musician gives a sense of the lengths music travels to get here. According to Gibson, promoters usually pitch artists to play Halifax by pointing musicians and their management to other cities they can play, and other promoters who can set the stages there. "To get people to come east of Montreal they'll be looking for other dates," she says. "She's travelling by motorcoach so she needs to have the routing make sense. There's no way, by motorcoach, that I could just get her to come here."
Whether in soft-seaters or festival grounds, one-off shows can and do happen in Halifax, says Gibson, but they're more costly and riskier for both artist and promoter.
Sonic Entertainment Group, which is organizing DiFranco's New Brunswick shows, brings bands and performers, such as Wintersleep's appearance tonight (November 4, The Palace) to Halifax by land and air.
"It's not the easiest location to get to by ground," says Sonic president Louis Thomas.
But still they come, taking to the road. "The reason most groups are in a tour bus is to adhere to their own schedule," says Thomas, estimating the vehicles cost "$1,000 to $1,200 per day, all in." Flying, while more convenient, is also more expensive.
In NSCC's Music Business program, a class of 50 students taught by longtime promoter and Pop Explosion co-founder Waye Mason, takes different angles on the situation, including the trumped-up rivalry between Halifax and other cities, such as Moncton.
"The best thing for Halifax would be for those other markets to get bigger," says Chantal Caissie. "Then you'd feel like you're not driving just for Halifax."
Tiffany Spencer, one half of Broken Chord Promotions, believes some promoters apply for provincial funding for one reason: "All they want to do is make up what they lost," she says.
Spencer has applied for financial support from the province to attend national music conferences, where she can meet other promoters from across the country to make plans to bring their bands to Halifax and send her local talent to their cities. Broken Chord also has been partnering with venues, such as the Paragon and Seahorse, businesses (Propeller Brewery) and radio stations (Q104) to co-present.
The class often returns to the themes of a strong local market and a focus on smaller-scale shows as more practical ways to make Halifax a home to touring bands, despite the distance involved.
Another student, Andrew Foster, offers an appropriate metaphor. "You have people working so hard to build a mansion when they can have a bungalow and be just as well off."
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