LEWISPORTE, NL – The chair of the East Coast Music Association (ECMA) says there’s never been a shortage of musical talent in this province.
Rather, there’s an abundance, not only in traditional music but also in what Lewisporte’s Dean Stairs describes as “cutting-edge, unique musicians.”
Now in its 30th year, ECMA is a regional collaboration of people in the music industry in Atlantic Canada.
“It’s a successful, growing organization,” said Stairs, who notes the music industry has transitioned a great deal over the years.
“When ECMA started it was built around fairly large corporations, record companies, publicists, publishing houses,” he said. “Gradually all of those things, through the digital age, a lot of those businesses have changed what they do, and indeed live performance was made more important within the industry.”
ECMA promotes artists not only in their own backyard but around the world.
“The tourist artist program has been, what we consider, the crown jewel of what we do. It’s been most responsible for keeping the organization relevant throughout the transition in the music industry,” Stairs said.
In November, the National Arts Centre (NAC) awarded ECMA its 2017 National Arts Centre Award for Distinguished Contribution to Touring in the Performing Arts. The centre recognized ECMA for its long-standing commitment to promoting touring by musicians from Atlantic Canada, both at home and abroad.
A NAC news release about the award noted that, over the past 30 years, the ECMA has been a catalyst, bringing music industry representatives from all over the world to the east coast to discover both established and emerging musicians.
By doing so, the association has helped build a robust regional and professional music industry in Atlantic Canada, the release continued.
NAC also commended ECMA on its East Coast Music Awards: Festival and Conference – touting the five-day musical celebration as an internationally recognized event and one of Canada’s premiere music gatherings for both the public and for music industry professionals.
Music Industry in NL
Stairs commends music MUSIC NL and executive director Glenda Tulk for its role in promoting musicians from this province.
“Music NL has been extending and solidifying its role in what it does. ECMA partners with all of the music industry associations throughout the region,” he said. “If you become a member of Music NL you are automatically granted a membership, at no cost, to the ECMA.”
Both Music NL and the College of the North Atlantic, through its music program, are helping artists find success within the music industry, Stairs said.
“I’m seeing some pretty strong musicians coming out of that (CNA) program,” Stairs said.
Stairs said it’s important to establish infrastructure support for musicians.
“We need more managers. We need more people who work behind the scenes – more small companies who work to support musicians.”
Stairs mentions, among others, Mary Beth Waldram, Bob Hallett and Michelle Robertson as those who are working in such roles.
Young musicians in this province are both smart and capable, Stairs said.
He mentions that Music NL’s former executive director, Jen Winsor, started a youth talent night as part of MUSIC NL’s annual conference. Such events go a long way in helping young artists, he said.
As well, he said, Paul Heppleston should be commended for starting Open Stage for the Underage on the province’s west coast. Stairs also holds similar performance events at Citadel Housein Lewisporte.
“This helps people from ages 13 to 18 getting comfortable in presenting music on a professional stage… and encourages artists, at a young age, to start writing their own music and presenting things in that type of environment,” he said.
When asked about individuals who are making a name for themselves in this province and beyond, Stairs is hesitant to offer names.
However, he did mention Rube and Rake – Josh Sandu and Andrew Laite – a folk/roots duo based out of St. John’s, and Ouroboros – Greg Bruce, Susan Evoy, Nicole Hand, Chris Harnett and Ash Chalmers – as bands that are making waves in this province and beyond.
Bluesmen Nick Earle and Joe Coffin are also musicians to watch, he said. The teens have already won awards, he said, including Young Performers of the Year Award from the Canadian Folk Music Association.
“The Once,” Sherman Downey, and the duo Bridget (Swift) and Dahlia (Waller) are also names of musicians making waves, he said.
“If you want what we could consider traditional Newfoundland music done in a more contemporary manner, ‘Rum Ragged’ is a pretty fantastic example of that,” Stairs said, “and Matthew Byrne presents a great show and is an incredible performer.”