Maritime Festivals Luring Major Talent To Regional Events

(Left to right) Ben Murphy, Sam Bourgeois( with Blake Shelton), Ray Gracewood, & Scott Ford are promoting a series of music festivals across Atlantic Canada this summer.

By Keith Sharp

Despite the logistical (and financial) challenges of attracting talent to Atlantic Canada, a number of key promoters are all set to entice artists to a series of major music festivals this summer.

Established events like Cavendish Beach PEI Country Music Festival (now in it’s 14th year) and the 38-year-old George Street Festival (with it’s eclectic lineup of talent to perform at one main stage plus several pubs along the famous St John’s Newfoundland George Street) location, have successfully rebounded from the COVID pandemic, John Steele’s Iceberg Alley 10-day soiree (in the big tent in St Johns) are also set to roll. But there are other impressive festivals planned for this scenic region that should also attract large numbers of concert goers.

Saskatoon’s Scott Ford brings his ‘Rock The’ franchise to Dartmouth for a mega- three night show at that City’s Alderney Landing site featuring a who’s who of 80’s Canadian Rock icons, Ray Gracewood continues his highly successful Area 506 Waterfront Concert Series with his three-day event at the Saint John New Brunswick Container Village location, Sam Bourgeois is set to rival Cavendish with an impressive three-day VQM Music Festival in Dieppe N.B, Whitecap Entertainment President Ben Murphy is about to launch a new rock-oriented two-day Sommo Festival to complement his Cavendish Beach Country Fest and two other festivals, Derek Forsyth’s Rock The Hub staged in Truro, Nova Scotia and Adam Mclellan’s two-night Rock The Boat Oyster is set for its 9th year of operation at scenic Tyne Valley PEI.

The most impressive newcomer to the above engagements is Scott Ford’s “Rock The Harbour” which presents an impressive lineup of established rock acts including; Lawrence Gowan, Tom Cochrane, Kim Mitchell, Lee Aaron, Prism, Toronto, The Headpins, Helix and Harlequin August 18-20 at Dartmouth’s Alderney Landing venue.

Lawrence Gowan to perform at Rock the Harbour Festival in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

So, what’s a guy from Saskatoon doing, organizing a major festival in the Maritimes you ask? Well Ford who also serves as Executive Director at Sasktel Centre in Saskatoon and also heads up the Saskatoon Entertainment Group, launched a Rock The River festival nine years ago in his native Saskatoon and the event (featuring a number of the artists listed above) became so successful that he has turned the concept into a Classic Rock franchise which has not only featured his Rock The River event running for nine years (10 if you count a one-year COVID lay-off). But has also expanded to feature similar events in Edmonton (Rock The District), Prince George B.C (Rock The Cariboo), Cranbrook BC (Rock The Kootenays) and Rock Maple Ridge B.C). Plus Ford has joined forces with other Western-based promoters like Classic Rock’s Bernie Aubin and Rob Waloschuk to execute similar events in Ambleside Park Vancouver, Kelowna, Regina and Winnipeg.

“We started doing rock festivals nine years ago and we were looking at bands that had a good catalogue of hits, didn’t cost $2,000 a night to book and had a strong footprint in Canadian markets, Ford said over the phone from his Saskatoon-base. “And it was these bands who said to me that you’ve got to take this concept to the Dartmouth/Halifax region because people there love Canadian classic rock bands.

So, following his established 11-bands in three days model, Ford’s Rock Caravan heads east for August 18-20 dates presented by FM radio station Q-104. Obviously, it’s an expensive proposition to book such a lineup and fly them into the Halifax region while keeping ticket prices affordable. But Ford says it can be achieved by signing his acts to multiple venues each year.

“It’s a challenge to freshen up our lineup each year, we can go into a market three years in a row but we have executed Saskatoon nine years in a row without any serious duplication, notes Ford who says his biggest concern currently are wild brush fires which are threatening his festivals in Edmonton, Prince George and, until recently, the Halifax/Dartmouth region whose Edmonton Rock The District show is set to go June 16-18. “Burning grass fires in Alberta/B.C is really bad right now, but I am optimistic they will be under control before our shows.”

Rivaling Ford’s Rock The Harbour extravaganza is Gracewood’s Area 506 August 4-6 event to be staged at Saint John’s unique Container Village location. This event started in 2016 as a two-day event to celebrate the event’s cultural diversity and has recently expanded to a three-day event which coincides with New Brunswick’s official provincial holiday weekend. Gracewood noted that things had gone well from 2016-2019 and they found a unique way to resolve the COVID-19 crisis.

“We went online in 2020 but it wasn’t the same experience but we did as well as we could with what we had, so in 2021 we moved our show into more of a concert format with a series of 10 concerts for 100 people  and we put the people in specific pods with groups of 10 or six people and we serviced these pods so nobody had to gather at the bar and everyone felt safe in their own groups,” Gracewood explained. “This created a whole area of VIP areas, and the idea was so popular that we continued the same concept last year and we are moving forward to provide a VIP option for this year’s event.

Canadian rock duo Crown Lands will perform at both Area 506 festival in Saint John, New Brunswick & P.E.I.’s new Sommo Festival.

Talent-wise the Area 506 lineup features a host of eclectic artists including the likes of Billy Talent, Crown Lands, Metric, Neon Dreams, The Beaches, The Sheepdogs and Ria May (see website below for tickets and complete lineups).

Gracewood has also announced that his Boxcar Country Festival is set to roll July 28-29 at the same venue with an all-star Country lineup featuring the likes of Dean Brody, The Road Hammers, The Hunter Brothers,, James Barker Band and many others.

Cavendish Beach Country Fest continues with it’s three days of impressive shows July 6-8 scheduled for three stages: it’s Bell Main Stage, Colliding Tides Kitchen Stage and RBCX Emerging Talent. Like previous festivals, Cavendish Beach continues to be an anchor event for Prince Edward Island’s tourism focus.

“Last year we were attracting crowds of 22 – 24,000 people, one of our best crowds yet, they came back in droves” says Whitecap Entertainment President Ben Murphy” “We have built a reputation as a great place to play, a great place to visit so that key Nashville artists are calling us.”

This year’s lineup includes the likes of Chris Stapleton, Kane Brown, Jake Owen and Locash mixed with domestic talent like The Reklaws and Madeline Merlo (go to website for complete lineup) but we also take pride in promoting new talent who start on one of our secondary stages and graduate to our main stage. Eric Church started as an opener back in 2011 and he progressed to our main stage.”

Murphy is also introducing a new two-day, more rock-oriented Sommo Festival July 14-15 which combines diverse artists like Mumford And Sons, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Crown Lands, JJ Wilde and Tegan And Sara with a secondary culinary stage which will feature cooking demonstrations by the likes of celebrity chefs Amanda Freitag, Matt Moore and Alex Hendry.

Cavendish Beach will also face stiff competition from Sam Bourgeois’ Dieppe N.B-based YQM Country Music Festival August 24-26 with an impressive all-star lineup featuring the likes of Keith Urban, Morgan Wallen, Thomas Rhett, Brent Kissel and Washboard Union.

Keith Urban will headline the Dieppe, N.B. based YQM Country Music Festival

“I am from the Moncton area and there’s never been an established festival in this area, so I saw a need for one” noted event President/Promoter Bourgeois. “Moncton is not necessarily a main tourist stop but once people get here, they fall in love with our scenery and our hospitality.”

 Capitalizing on the area’s love of Country Music heritage, Bourgeois also notes his festival is attracting fans from New Hampshire, Maine and from all over Atlantic Canada. Ticket prices are for all three days only with a general three-day pass costing from $399 to $479, a VIP ticket is $799 to $959 with an Executive VIP Table option for eight persons going for $9,999 with special options including complimentary drink tickets, hors d’oeuvres and a dedicated viewing section. Details below.

And with Adam Mcclellan also running his Rock The Boat Oyster Festival August 5-6 featuring Glass Tiger, Chilliwack and local talent such as Ghost Town and Campbell & Johnson, and Derek Forsyth also staging his Rock The Hub July 29-31 with an all-star cast featuring the likes of The Tea Party, Three Days Grace and Monster Truck, 2023 appears to be an exciting time for major music talent invading the Maritimes while also promoting local artists.

More Details and Ticket Information On All Of the Above Festivals and Events:

Iceberg Alley 2023 – St John’s Newfoundland – June 14-24

Cavendish Beach Country Music Festival – Cavendish Beach, P.E.I  – July 6-8 

Sommo Festival – Cavendish Beach, P.E.I – July 14-15

Boxcar Music Festival – Saint John New Brunswick – July 28th-29th

George Street Festival – St John’s Newfoundland – July 27th – August 2nd

Area 506 Music Festival – Saint John, New Brunswick – August 4-6

Rock The Boat Oyster Festival – Tyne Valley, P.E.I – August 5-6

Q-104 Rock The Harbour – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia – August 18-20

YQM Country Fest – Dieppe, New Brunswick – August 24-26

Rock The Hub – Truro Nova Scotia – July 29-31

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