The countdown to the 30th anniversary edition of May's East Coast Music Awards, and the accompanying annual East Coast Music Week festival and conference in Halifax, began in earnest on Monday morning with the announcement of the ECMA nominations.
A Monday morning crowd of artists, media, music industry figures and local politicians gathered at the Halifax Central Library was treated to heartfelt performances by Rising Star Recording nominee Daniel Walker from Owen Meany’s Batting Stance and country recording nominee Makayla Lynn. The live music bookended the unveiling of the nominees and more info about the event itself which, according to ECMA executive director Andy McLean, is expected to generate $6.5 million in economic impact in the region around its May 2-6 celebration of all sounds Atlantic Canadian.
On the heels of her Grammy Awards weekend in New York City, Maritimes singer-songwriter Rose Cousins is at the top of the list for the 2018 ECMAs, to be handed out at the all-star gala on Thursday, May 3 at Scotiabank Centre.
The P.E.I.-raised, Halifax-based performer’s Natural Conclusion — which was nominated for the best engineered album, non-classical Grammy — placed her in eight ECMA categories. Besides appearing in the album and Fans’ Choice Entertainer of the Year lists, Cousins is also up for song of the year (for Grace), songwriter of the year, solo recording of the year, folk recording and Fans’ Choice Video of the Year.
Another P.E.I.-bred performer who makes her home in Halifax, Jenn Grant, saw her latest release Paradise nominated for six awards while fellow Islander Kinley (a.k.a. songwriter/violinist Kinley Dowling) is up for four ECMAs.
“We were just all texting each other, it’s really nice,” said Grant, currently preparing for a West Coast tour that starts this week. “(Rose and Kinley) are two of my best friends, so it’s really cool to share that experience with them.
“We’re excited to see Kinley perform at the awards on Thursday night. . . . Plus, I’m going to play a lot that week and Dan (Ledwell, Grant’s husband) is up for producer of the year, so I’m rooting for him, too.”
Joining Grant on the list as quadruple nominees are Halifax
modern pop performer Ria Mae and Dartmouth rocker Joel Plaskett, who was joined by his father Bill Plaskett in two categories for their folk collaboration Solidarity.
Triple nominees include David Myles, Measha Brueggergosman, pop/hip-hop group Neon Dreams, Indigenous ensemble City Natives, and Nova Scotia songwriting trio Port Cities, whose decision to join forces has clearly paid off over the past year.
“The music business is a hard enough business as it is,” says Carleton Stone, who forms onethird of Port Cities, with Breagh Mackinnon and Dylan Guthro. “But being able to create music with two of your best friends and share all the trials and tribulations, travelling and hectic schedules and all that has been great.
“As far as the past year has been, it’s been great, we’ve started to make some inroads in Europe, and we’re heading back in a few weeks. We did 110 shows there and across Canada. Busy is good in this business, and we’ve had a really busy year.”
After the announcements, McLean attributed a large share of the success local acts are having abroad to the East Coast Music
Week conference’s Export Buyers Program, which he estimates generates more than $1 million in business for East Coast artists every year.
“Atlantic Canada has the best talent, and it just needs more industry infrastructure to get this talent out there in the world and allow them to make a living,” said McLean, who notes that the growing diversity of the East Coast music scene is also attracting a wider range of music event bookers and other figures to scope out the talent. “I think we do a much better job now of reaching out into some of the communities who traditionally didn’t feel like they were being represented at the ECMAs,” said McLean, noting the 2018 nominees’ higher range of gender parity and the representation of African-Canadian and Indigenous artists.
“I’m very pleased with that. We really take the messaging from the communities themselves. This region is incredibly diverse, it changes from place to place, but for example there’s a really strong urban/hip-hop scene in Halifax, and we need to reflect that when we’re here. The focus may be slightly different when we’re in Newfoundland, but that’s the beauty of the event when we can move around and do that.
“But the perception that we’re just about pipes and fiddles, those days are well, well gone, and we continue to show that.”
Other announcements made on Monday included an all-ages outdoor kick-off concert downtown on Wednesday, May 2, and a special focus on mental health in the music industry during the conference.
The 2018 East Coast Music Awards Show, hosted by Jonathan Torrens, will be available live on Bell Aliant Fibe TV1 on May 3, and streaming free of charge at ECMA.com, which will also feature select showcases on the website. Event tickets and passes are available at ecma.com/festival/ tickets.