ECMA Day 1 - Controlled Chaos

The awards weekend gears up

Here we go. It’s the start of the 2007 ECMA Weekend and the city is abuzz with musicians, media, and industry folk, gearing up for another edition of the best sounds the Maritimes have to offer.

My day starts with a visit to the ECMA media centre. Personally, I think the organizers of the weekend like to have fun with media folk, making the centre nearly impossible to find. Little did I know that the early confusion would be a sign of things to come.

I walk into the World Trade Centre only to find workers setting up. There is no one here. The gentleman at the information desk tells me the media centre is located at the Metro Centre, which I guess makes sense, seeing as the awards show will be held there. During my walk to said Metro and media centres, I see a Trailer Park Boy on the street joking around with staff. You always can tell something big is going down in the HRM when you see Trailer Park Boys in random places.

I find the media room in the bowels of Metro Centre and run into fellow Coast writer Chris McCluskey, who can hardly contain his excitement for the weekend ahead. To my dismay, there are only three computers in the entire room, forcing me to think up a contingency plan for the Sunday night awards show when I have to file a freelance story for the New Brunswick paper, The Telegraph Journal. That and they’re playing CMT Television on the big screen, which is a little unsettling.

Another sign that something big is going down? Mayor Peter Kelly makes an appearance. After my brief stay in the media room, McCluskey and I head to the New Palace for the kick off of the 72-Hour Jam. Kelly gets up, says his thing about having fun, spending lots of money, etc., to a room of 20 or so industry folk that all looked dazed by the fact that they’re in the Palace at 4 p.m. Man, this place looks small in the daylight. The Palace staff are still trying to set up, which only adds to the disorder.

Best inter-song banter of the day comes from the first 72-Hour Jam act Carmen Townsend and the Shakey Deals. Townsend, who sounds great with vocal pipes straight from the classic Seventies, asks the crowd “Is it 1 a.m. or 4 p.m.?” The beers in the hands of the industry folk force me to ponder it for a second.

A quick note about the 72-Hour Jam: this is the single most insane thing about the East Coast Music Awards. Three straight days of bands and the bar doesn’t close down. Ever. Rumour has it that former Coast writer Stephanie Domet reported on the event at one ECMAs without ever leaving, sleeping under a table at night. Now she’s hosting CBC radio shows, showing you that dedication and a little insanity really pays off.

I’m really tempted to hit the Palace at 7:00 a.m. this weekend just to see what it looks like. I envision an explosion of guitars, runny mascara and tight black clothing. I always pity the poor bastards who get the 5 a.m.-9 a.m. slots. The fact that the 72-Hour Jam is at a dance bar raises the sympathy factor somewhat.

After a pre-show beer at Tribeca – why are there chairs upstairs for the Music Nova Scotia showcase later that night? – I head down with a photographer friend to St. Matthew’s Church on Barrington to see Down With The Butterfly and Jenn Grant perform. The church is an amazing venue with bright acoustics and lighting that produces huge shadows of the performers on the walls behind the gothic style altar.

Down With The Butterfly, who in my opinion has the second-best drummer in Halifax with Jason Burns (Wintersleep’s Loel Campbell is the runaway best), plays a set of mostly Neil Young covers. It’s a refreshing and bold move. A band who usually plays earnest roots-rock songs, DWTB close out their set with a Interpol-ish number that has me curious to hear their newer stuff.

Jenn Grant, who is always charming and generally has a brilliant live show, seems a little scatterbrained during her set with her band the Night Painters. Perhaps it was the innumerable guest appearances by other musicians, the technical difficulties, or maybe the bad use of space. Five of the six members of the Night Painters are crowed together on the edge of the stage, so much so that at one point Grant says, “We’re all at the front!” which prompts Burns (who also performs in the Night Painters) to point out he’s all alone at the back of the stage, garnering the most laughs of the night. Honestly, I spent most of the set waiting for bassist Sean MacGillivray to take someone out with his instrument.

What she lacked in organizational skills, Grant made up with songs, with a replay of her Music Nova Scotia Awards performance that saw Tanya Davis doing a spoken-word breakdown in the middle of her fantastic single “Dreamer.” Add to that a great new tune, “Unique New York.” If I had to put my money on which Maritimer will be the next Sarah McLachlan, Grant would be it, only better.

The rumbling in my belly meant we bail early. I really wanted to stick around for Tanya Davis and hey rosetta!, but the show was running late and I had to race to the next venue after some much needed grease. Unfortunately, like four years ago when the ECMAs were last held in Halifax (the coldest I’ve ever experienced in Hali), the temperature has dropped and the wind makes one feel as though they’re traipsing through the city streets in their underwear.

Next up, snafu at Tribeca and the Music Nova Scotia Showcase. I love the bar, I really do. And I’ve seen some good shows there. But why, Music Nova Scotia, why would you have chairs and limit the upstairs portion of the venue to only 50 people? I understand that the night was for largely acoustic-based performers and you wanted to cut down on talking, but it left dozens of people straining to hear what was going on from the ground floor restaurant portion of the bar. I missed some probably amazing performances from current Coast cover star Rose Cousins, Ruth Minnikin, David Myles, and Tanya Davis, who I had hoped to catch at Tribeca, explaining my pizza run earlier in the evening.

I stuck around long enough to say hello to the In-Flight Safety boys – sure things to be carrying truckloads of awards home on Sunday – and hear Myles play a song from the bottom of the staircase. You know things are bad when one of the ECMA chairmen won’t even let his girlfriend upstairs.

Slightly dejected, I head to the Marquee to see the end of Brian Byrnes’s set and a rousing show by Caledonia at the Rock Showcase. Although it wasn’t even half-full, it was nice to see the Marquee being used again (the Marquee’s outside billboard still had a Nov. 10 performance listed earlier this week).

It was here that I realized why I love the ECMAs so much. Within the space of 10 minutes, I talked with Joel Plaskett manager and all-around nice guy Mike Campbell, Craig Mercer from award-nominated Jimmy Swift Band and the In-Flight guys who came over from Tribeca. This wouldn’t be possible on a regular weekend. The ECMAs are a great way to celebrate with the people you work with individually over the year. It’s moments like these that make me feel like I’m a part of a community and one of the best scenes in the country - not to mention the great music associated with it.

-Johnston Farrow

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