Catherine MacLellan and Tara MacLean grew up together, consider themselves family, have the same job, and by coincidence, both had the same goal for 2017.  They desperately wanted to spend the whole summer in the place they love and call home, Prince Edward Island.   And independently, they both came up with the same solution.  They each spent the summer presenting theatrical shows on the Island, both of which proved to be huge hits with audiences, and career highlights for each singer-songwriter.

Who wouldn’t want to spend the summer on P.E.I.? Especially with its coastline covered in amazing beaches, its many restaurants out-doing each other, serving up all manner of seafood delicacies, and a relaxed, life-is-good attitude everywhere.  Even with tens of thousands of tourists arriving from all over the world, it’s still surprisingly un-crowded.  But you can’t stay at the beach all night, and those tourists are always looking for some evening entertainment.

Catherine MacLellan

Catherine MacLellan (Photo : TC/Dave Stewart)

MacLellan lives in P.E.I. year-round, and is always faced with a dilemma. She loves being home, but has to leave for most of her work, especially touring the summer festival circuit. “Living in P.E.I., you want to be here as much as you can,” she says. “Especially in the summer, because you wait all winter long for the summer… Somebody like me, who’s touring all the time, never really gets to enjoy it.”

MacLean had a different problem.  Although she was born and raised in P.E.I., life had taken her to Salt Spring Island, BC, to raise her family.  She’d actually gone on hiatus from music in 2008, but was feeling the urge to start performing again, her three kids having grown a little older.  Also, she felt the call of home, especially after her grandmother had taken sick, and wanted to be around her family.

It’s not surprising that they both came up with the same plan.  MacLellan’s father, Gene, and MacLean’s dad, Marty Reno, were best friends and musical partners from 1971 on.  Marty backed Gene on his tours, they made a gospel album together, and had a band together, Refuge, in the ‘80s.  The families have always been close, and even lived together for a time in Burlington, ON, when the girls were little.   “I remember sitting at their feet so much, just listening to them sing together,” says MacLean.  “It seemed to be that they always had their guitars out.  Their music was the first real music that I knew, that moved through me.”

Prince Edward Island’s arts scene is as vibrant as its weather, and every small hall on the Island has been turned into a cultural space, with theatre groups, cèilidhs (traditional Irish/Scottish community dance parties), comedy troupes, music acts offering no shortage of entertainment for the tourist trade.  MacLean and MacLellan both came up with bold plans to each combine their music skills with a night at the theatre.  Even though they both made their names as songwriters, MacLean for her adventurous solo albums and pop songs with the band Shaye, and MacLellan for her own JUNO Award-winning folk music, for these shows, they’re performing the classics of other songwriters.

“She sends people to my show, and I send people to hers. It’s a family business we got going here!” – Tara MacLean

MacLean is paying tribute to the great songwriters of the East Coast, who influenced her, like Ron Hynes, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Sarah McLachlan and Lennie Gallant.  In a show called Atlantic Blue, playing at the Guild Theatre in Charlottetown, she and her band perform songs by each artist, along with short films she’s prepared to tell their stories.  Just right for East Coast music fans, and tourists ready to learn about some local heroes.

“It’s been half and half, locals and tourists,” says MacLean. “There’ve been people coming up from the southern States.  Most of my career was spent touring the U.S., so it was really wonderful to see that people were still devoted and would make the trip.”

Tara MacLean

Tara MacLean (Photo : Sarah MacPhee)

Across the city at the P.E.I. Brewing Co., MacLellan has been performing If It’s Alright with You – The Life and Music of My Father, Gene MacLellan.  For years, Catherine avoided her father’s legacy, wanting to make her own name in music.  More recently, she finally felt ready to explore his work and created the show (and an album of the same name), which features his iconic hits – “Snowbird” and “Put Your Hand in The Hand” –  and tells his life story through anecdotes and photos.  Catharine was only 14 when her dad passed away in 1995, so she shares her search for him with the audience.

“They go in with no expectations, and think it’s kind of interesting that my dad wrote these big songs,” says MacLellan. “That might be all they know at that point, but by the end they seem to come out with a clear picture of who he was, and they’re interested in that story. For me, it’s great to talk about his accomplishments and the funny little path he trod all the way along. But at the end, my dad took his own life, and to be able to talk about mental health is really important.  So that has been really resonating with people.”

While both SOCAN members admit to enjoying a bit of beach time, what’s really been satisfying is the complete success of each show.  “It’s been everything and more, it’s been so wonderful, and the audiences have given me such great feedback,” says MacLean.

“We started this not knowing if people were even going to like the show, and then people have been coming back two and three times to see it,” says MacLellan.  “It’s been sold out since July, and it looks like it might be until the end of the run [in early October].   It’s pretty exciting, and I just feel so grateful.”

The Guild has already announced it will be bringing back MacLean’s show for 2018.  MacLellan hopes to do the same, and also plans to tour the show to the rest of the country this fall, and the spring of 2018.

And no, there’s no semi-sibling rivalry going on. “I love that Catherine is doing the show as well, and it just feels so good to know that we’re both home,” says MacLean.  “She sends people to my show, and I send people to hers. It’s a family business we got going here!”


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Richard Desjardins Homage

Richard Desjardins Homage

Every song that I’ve ever heard / Is playing at the same time, it’s absurd” The lyrics from Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” perfectly describe a festival-goer’s mindset in the aftermath of the countless concerts – both official and unannounced – presented during the 15th annual edition of the Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue that rocked Rouyn-Noranda (population: 42,000; location: 630 km. Northwest of Montréal) from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, 2017. But let’s start from the end, if you please. An end that’s also something of a beginning. You’ll see…

On the last day of the festival, the main closing event was a tribute to the region’s greatest and most renowned poet, Richard Desjardins. One by one, the majority of the artists featured on the album Desjardins took the stage, which was set up over the water at Kiwanis beach, to play his classics for 12,000 of his peers… and Desjardins himself, who transmogrified the already emotionally-charged event into a memorable happening by singing, unannounced, three of his songs at the tail end of the concert.

Talk about going out in a blaze of glory: a whole new generation of artists – Klô Pelgag, Les sœurs Boulay, Fred Fortin, Safia Nolin, Émile Bilodeau, Bernard Adamus, Stéphane Lafleur d’Avec pas d’casque, Yann Perreau, Philippe B, Saratoga et Matiu – celebrating the poet in his hometown, as he watched. The previous presentations of the concert “Desjardins, on l’aime-tu ? ” (“Desjardins, Do We Love Him?”, a nod to the title of one of his best-selling albums, Tu m’aimes-tu ? [Do You Love Me?]) at the FrancoFolies de Montréal and Festival d’été de Québec were merely rehearsals for the “real deal.” A big moment.

Hardly mentioned was the fact that the closing event of the 2017 FME echoed the one of the inaugural edition, back in 2003, when Desjardins – a famously unpredictable man – expressed his desire to play this newfangled “youth” festival. The FME was created by a handful of passionate people from the area, who wanted to present the best emerging talent from home and abroad to their neighbours, to all music lovers and to industry professionals. The beginning-like end.

Antoine Corriveau

Antoine Corriveau

Full circle. Festivalgoers – including the author of this story – with their bellies full of music, and exhausted by the FME’s notoriously short nights, could slowly drift back to reality, all those melodies mingling and looping in their minds, and their ears.

Just how did an event with such humble beginnings establish itself in such a brief period of time? How did it manage to become an epicentre of local, national and international musical discovery? One where not only do the music lovers from major urban areas converge, but where artists absolutely want to be a part of it every time the Labour Day weekend rolls around? Just ask someone like Antoine Corriveau, who played the festival for a third time, and whose show at the Agora des Arts was particularly intense, which he followed, at noon the next day, with a more intimate performance at the Parc Botanique À Fleur d’eau, a perfect bucolic setting for hung-over festival-goers…

 

 

Obviously, there’s also the warm welcome of the Abitibi people, the party atmosphere, the charm of a human-scale city, the late night romps at Bar des Chums, a most quaint and authentic watering hole, where beer is sold in king-size portions and karaoke is king. But above all, there’s a pervasive, positive energy that stems from the generous involvement of the area’s civil and business communities. Obviously, there are also major national sponsors, without whom many of the FME’s wildest ambitions would remain nice blue-sky ideas – SOCAN has contributed for many years now. But the difference lies in the sense of ownership of the whole community for an event that’s often been honoured – it has won the Félix Award for Event of the Year several times – and that promotes their corner of the world.

To wit, a Rouyn-Noranda-born singer-songwriter like Louis-Philippe Gingras not only plays his songs during the festival, but busies himself with power tools days ahead of it, making sure all the infrastructure is ready on time. This year, Gingras played one of the many Happy Hour sets that occur simultaneously all over town – his was at the local Knights of Columbus hall – but that same morning, he also played a set in a retirement home for elders who also wanted to take part in the FME. One can hardly get more community-oriented…

Unannounced shows are another one of the attractions, and they’re the cherry on top of a large programming sundae. Initially improvised on the spot, nowadays these surprise, pop-up gigs are greatly and excitedly anticipated by festival-goers, notified at the last minute through the FME mobile app.

Most of the time, these as-we-go performances in odd venues yield magical moments that sometimes surpass the official presentations in post-festival anecdotes. We’re betting that’ll be the case of the performance by Montréal-based duo Heartstreets, who play a mix of rap, electro-pop, soul and R&B. They were all smiles, as was their audience, as they played in the parking lot of Scène Paramount, where a rap concert featuring Alaclair Ensemble, Lary Kidd, Eman & Vlooper and local artist Mathew James had just ended. Here are the girls’ impressions immediately after their coup d’éclat:

Barry Paquin Roberge

Barry Paquin Roberge

The case of Heartstreets offers a perfect example of the FME’s ability to create a buzz for artists still largely unknown by the audience, the media, and industry professionals who attend in droves, accredited by a festival whose mission as a talent developer is at the core of its philosophy. Others who benefitted from the positive word-of-mouth include Montréal’s South Shore rock band Zen Bamboo, Le Bleu, the highly original Barry Paquin Roberge, and the finalists of the 2016 Francouvertes, Mon Doux Saigneur.

Amid such a sea of young talent, it’s even more surprising to spot an established veteran like Pierre Flynn programmed for a Happy Hour at Club Chimo, which is actually the mess hall of the Canadian Armed Forces 9th Combat Engineer Squadron! Then again, when one takes a closer look, there’s almost always a “veteran,” recognized for their artistic process, programmed during FME. For Flynn, who expressed his desire to play the FME this year, being “emerging” isn’t linked to the age of the artist, but rather the reflection of artists who are willing to go off the beaten path and re-invent themselves as a matter of principle. We interviewed him a few hours before his show:

 

If there’s one thing that can be said about this 15th edition, it’s that the venues and lodging options were saturated. One can hardly imagine how the FME could host more people – both artists and festival-goers – with 92 concerts, in 31 venues, and 37,000 admissions recorded this year! According to festival president and visionary co-founder Sandy Boutin, the next development phase for FME will occur on the creative side. He’s championing the idea of an artist-in-residence program that would give them carte blanche to present an original creation during the festival. We met him on the last day of the fest, and he took a look back at the past, and offered his own explanation for the FME’s success. He also looked forward, imagining the future of what everyone now calls Québec’s biggest small festival.

Watch the FME 2017 summary produced by the festival team:


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Editorial Avenue - Daniel Lafrance, winner of the Publisher of the Year Award at the Montréal SOCAN Gala 2017.

Editorial Avenue – Daniel Lafrance, winner of the Publisher of the Year Award at the Montréal SOCAN Gala 2017.

Daniel Lafrance’s is a forward thinker who seldom looks back. When ask to recount his career path, he’s a man of few words. What stimulates Lafrance clearly lies ahead. Making Éditorial Avenue ever more active, relevant and versatile has been his modus operandi since he founded the company in 2000.

Daniel Lafrance’s ties to the world of music go back to 1969, when he was a musician in a jazz combo, and many other things. Early on, Lafrance played such roles as album producer, venue booker, artist manager and music publisher, while also taking on distribution and promotion duties. “That’s how I learned the ropes,” he says. In 1976, while he’s a member of Solstice, Lafrance also produced Conventum, L’Orchestre Sympathique and Pierre Moreau. Although he played less and less, he kept himself busy being a Jack-of-all-trades for various artists, including Francine Raymond and UZEB.

But when UZEB split up in 1992, Lafrance opted to focus entirely to publishing. “I decided to go all-in and do what I like most,” he says. “When I look back now, I think I really had a visionary moment.” Lafrance left for France alongside Daniel DeShaime to develop a rights management software called Ze Publisher! which was bought by more than 50 European music publishers.

“Being a music publisher is being a developer, first and foremost”

Éditorial Avenue

When Rosaire Archambault and Michel Bélanger contacted him in the year 2000 to offer him the opportnity to run a new publishing company, Lafrance accepted the challenge posed by Éditorial Avenue, and moved back to Québec. From that point on, his man-wearing-many-hats career path served him more than well. “When you accompany an artist from the get-go, when they generally are without a manager, it’s quite useful to have a perspective on record contracts,” he says. “You’re in a better position to advise them and negotiate on their behalf, when necessary. In short, it gives you a wider scope on artist development. And being a music publisher is being a developer, first and foremost.”

Looking to head Éditorial Avenue, Lafrance came back to Québec with a desire to re-invent the music publishing model. He set up preference pacts, a way of doing things inspired by his stay in France. These contracts bind an artist and the rights to their songs over a period of time in exchange not only for advances, but also for musical instruments and other work tools.

“Obviously, you need to be financially solid to offer such contracts.,” says Lafrance. “But the objective is to support the artist and bring them what they need to reach their full potential. We take risks here. And that when it becomes interesting. It’s to our advantage to sign young artists looking for that kind of support. That’s where a publisher can make a real difference, at that stage. Later on, they get more experienced and many artists, nowadays, leave publishing houses to become publishers themselves. It’s a global trend. However, those artists often come back for rights management services, an expertise they don’t have.”

For Lafrance, success is a multi-faceted thing. Publishers can be satisfied with critical success or with a one-radio-hit artist, whereas a record company might find that situation dire because a radio hit doesn’t necessarily translate into music sales. “To be a publisher, you need to be in for the long run,” he says. “We don’t operate in the here and now, like record labels. We’re visionaries.” A publisher’s support also applies to supporting their artists’ career paths, such as was the case for Jason Bajada, Aliocha and Matt Holubowski, all of whom recently took part in a songwriting workshop in L.A.

For all of his vision, Lafrance is not a fan of tight yearly plans. Éditorial Avenue doesn’t have catalogue acquisition, artist signing or European sub-catalogue targets. “We don’t really control the number of catalogue signings,” he says. “It’s quite like real estate. Some years are good and we get nice offers. I’m thinking, for example, of the acquisition of such catalogues as those of Claude Léveillée, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Marcel Lefebvre’s – the ’70s Luc Plamondon – Laurence Jalbert, or Jean Lapointe… But I never set a number of signing per year.”

What he does have a say on is the diversification of his activities. This year, Éditorial developed two new sectors: a neighbouring rights department and international rights clearance. The latter’s latest negotiation was for Nintendo Japan to clear the rights for songs by Katy Perry and Taylor Swift for two video games.

It’s these new playgrounds that re-kindle the flame in Lafrance’s eyes. “I want to be here at Éditorial in five years. In 10 years,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I hope to work until I’m 90, if my health will let me. Because all this isn’t actually work, for me.”

 


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