to make its long awaited debut in Antigonish’s downtown, following a move from Keppoch Mountain after their inaugural festival in 2019.
After a two-year hiatus due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Ray Mattie, the founder and executive director of Nova Scotia Summer Fest, told The Reporter he’s thrilled to announce a full lineup for the Aug. 19-20 weekend.
“I’m happy we’re within a hairline of feeling normal again. We’re that close,” Mattie said. “Of course, we’re going to prepare ourselves, we’re going to follow whatever guidelines are at the time, but if the pattern stays as it is, then we can expect to have what would have been a normal event like anyone else pre-2020.”
This year’s lineup is a star-studded one with multi-platinum international touring act Walk Off The Earth, Antigonish rockers The Trews, Neon Dreams, Jimmy Rankin, The Ennis Sisters, April Wine lead singer Myles Goodwyn, Pineo & Loeb, Anna Ludlow, Cassie & Maggie, and Ian Sherwood.
The event will once again be hosted by Ana Almeida from CTV Morning Live.
Speaking on the festival’s marquee act, Walk Off The Earth, Mattie suggested he couldn’t be happier that everything worked out in the end after two long years of uncertainty with COVID-19.
“I had that under my hat for two years. Each year, everybody that was involved, you would go back and ask ‘Are you still in?’” he said. “With them it had to do with routing, because, it’s not an easy band to move. If you’re familiar with the band, you see five or six on stage, but they have a very elaborate setup, with so many unique instruments and their crew is up to 18 or 20 people.”
The multi-genre festival also includes a unique songwriter’s showcase that pairs new recording acts with the festival house band for their own evening solo performance spot. This year’s showcase will be hosted by Mattie himself and will feature artists including Nova Scotia songwriters Maura Whitman, Brooklyn Blackmore, and Elyse Aeryn.
Despite not having the full-scale event last summer and wanting to stay current, Nova Scotia Summer Fest chose to embark on a smaller, Kitchen Party Tour, crossing the province with a mobile stage and a cast and crew of 15 that performed across Nova Scotia from Inverness Beach to Lunenburg Boat Yard.
“We didn’t even know if we were going to exist. There are some musicians who have left the industry, there are some people I know across the country and some in the states, where their event has stopped,” Mattie said. “We were in the same boat, and we’re grateful for the funding we got to do the Kitchen Party Tour and to stay in the public realm, to keep ourselves a float because the Kitchen Party Tour was free to the public.”
He explained it was an engagement project with participating communities that included Inverness, Antigonish, Lunenburg, and Halifax.
“It was two-fold it kept us in the public realm and keep the arts industry going, and it also gave these communities an opportunity to have something they didn’t have,” Mattie said. “Each rural community was just as exciting as playing downtown Halifax, and were really happy to have something. Antigonish had nothing for so long, so at least we could have this.”
The Kitchen Party Tour was an outstanding success, and it ended up receiving a nomination for Event of the Year at this year’s East Coast Music Association (ECMA) Awards, while also receiving another ECMA nomination indirectly.
What was meant as a one-off collaboration for five concerts during the 2021 Nova Scotia Summer Fest Kitchen Party Tour resulted in the creation of a new musical group, as Mattie, Ludlow, Decota McNamara, Pete Davison, Scott Ferguson, and John Chiasson joined forces to create the powerhouse Ocean Playground.
The band features three lead vocalists, mandolins, fiddle, acoustic guitars, electric guitar, banjo and a rock-solid rhythm section.
“It was a great experience, all the musicians were in the Summer Fest lineup anyway, and we all got together and played each other’s music and in the end, we didn’t even realize but we started a band, Ocean Playground, which got nominated for ECMA Roots Album of the Year,” Mattie said. “It was wonderful to have something positive, with the two nominations coming out of last summer when many of us didn’t even know if we could play at all.”
He suggested the Kitchen Party Tour worked because the people that were working alongside him were top notch, and noted there was no way he could have done this on his own, highlighting this has been the most fun he’s had musically in a very long time.
“To be honest, it was survival mode. And there’s nobody reading this, that hasn’t at some point this year in their business had their mind on survival mode,” Mattie said. “When you’re in survival mode, I think it forces you out of your comfort zone, and you have to be more creative and try something new and hope for the best and it actually worked.”
Additionally, he explained Nova Scotia Summer Fest is teaming up with Bell Media on a three-part mini-series titled “Songs and Stories” and will be recorded over four days in May at Crystal Cliffs.
So far, The Ennis Sisters from Newfoundland have been confirmed as one of the acts, along with Ocean Playground.
“Bell actually asked me to put our band in it, because of the nominations,” he said. “Even though we’re a new band, each person in the band has all done all kinds of other projects.”
Without the major event, Nova Scotia Summer Fest, Mattie explained none of these side projects could ever happen and notes for only being in their second year, and having a band of Walk Off The Earth’s nature, who has a national and international profile is simply amazing.
“If you look on their website right now it’s really funny because it lists their tour dates and it says Budweiser Stage, Toronto; Carnegie Hall, New York and then it says Antigonish, Nova Scotia,” Mattie said. “They are booked exclusively to Nova Scotia, this is their only show here. They’re ready to re-book their world tour and this is one of the stops.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit: www.nssummerfest.ca.