Fredericton music scene: A work in progress

Ben Burnett – The Aquinian

Promoters say scene is still growing as venues dry up

Fredericton's Capital Complex offers a venue specifically for live music. (Kyle Albright/AQ)
Fredericton's Capital Complex offers a venue specifically for live music. (Kyle Albright/AQ)

Cars driving down Quinpool Road are not worth trying to outrun. The street is one of Halifax’s busiest, and unlike Queen or King Street in Fredericton, there is no point in risking a sudden jay-walk.

This is evident by the large crowds at every street corner, waiting for lights to turn. Trendy girls wearing patterned tights and tall boots wait with their skinny-jean clad and multi-scarved boyfriends.

Halifax is a culture hub in Canada, and in particular the Maritimes. That’s why the Halifax Pop Explosion is the largest indie/rock festival in Atlantic Canada.

Craig Mercer is in charge of booking at the Paragon Theatre in Halifax. He thinks the Pop Explosion is one of the best things Halifax’s scene has going.

“Things like the Pop Explosion help cultivate a live scene of concert-goers,” he says. “They help inspire creative young people to get into music and sort of help the scene survive.”

Mercer’s been touring Canada for a while. He remembers 15 years ago when Halifax was considered the “Seattle of the East.”

“It’s no secret that the live music scene in Canada is slowly withering away,” he says. “Every so often when you’re on tour there’s sort of a glimmer of hope – and I feel like Halifax might be that glimmer for some people.”

“That sort of an ‘indie’ Halifax crowd comes out. They don’t dance. They do enjoy – immensely, but they don’t dance.”

Zack Atkinson is in charge of booking at the Capital Complex in Fredericton. He prides himself on keeping the Capital competitive in a scene where venues are slowly drying up.

“We’re offering an environment for artists to showcase their music,” he says. “The difference between (other venues) is the Capital is focused specifically on music.”

That can be difficult in a political landscape that has declining support for the arts. But Atkinson approaches it the same way he always has: try and make the best line-up possible with what he is given.

“We like bringing in hyped bands,” he says. “But we also try to maintain a good local scene. I personally try to keep an ear out for local bands and make sure they know they can approach me about how to book a show.”

Atkinson says sometimes Fredericton’s student population dictates the success of a show.

“Because Fredericton is just a giant student town sometimes it doesn’t matter how big a band is,” he says. “When it’s mid-term season or exam time it doesn’t matter how much they like the band, they won’t come out.”

Sprengjuhollin are an Icelandic band who recently toured through Canada for the third time. This was their first Maritime venture.

Having toured through Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, Sprengjuhollin wanted to tour Canada’s more rural areas.

They played at the Paragon during the Halifax Pop Explosion and the Capital the following Monday.

“Canada is very adventurous touring,” says keyboardist Atli Bollason. “We drove through a time zone today! You never drive through time-zones in Europe.”

Atkinson appreciates that the smaller population of Fredericton can sometimes affect show-going, but he argues that the Capital has no problem attracting touring bands.

“I’ve had lots of bands come through that were excited because either the last show was great or they heard so many great things from other bands that came through,” he says.

But the magnitude of some of the big name bands that Halifax attracts can’t be ignored altogether. Fredericton was passed over by Cadence Weapon and Japandroids, two larger Canadian acts who flew in for the Pop Explosion with no surrounding Maritime tours planned.

“I don’t think we could support something on the same scale as the Pop Explosion,” he says. “But we could definitely support something like it.”

Mercer agrees, and thinks it would be beneficial for the Capital to explore that option.

“Fredericton is around one-tenth the size of Halifax, so if you had a festival one-tenth the size of Halifax Pop you’d do well,” he says.

Still, Atkinson thinks the Fredericton scene is well-maintained and still growing.

“Like any music community there’s always room for growth, but you can’t ask the world of anybody,” he says. “It’s not perfect, but there’s lots of stuff going on.”

He lists all-ages shows at Crumbs, major shows at the UNB SUB, and the Playhouse as some of the attractions of the Fredericton scene.

“People are going to see shows, and there’s not much more you can ask of people,” he adds. “(The scene’s) grown in a lot of ways, and it’s still growing.”