Twenty-five musicians in 35 shows, with an audience of about 130,000, in a location more than 17,000 kilometres away.
Shelley Chase has her work cut out for her.
Chase, a children’s entertainer, show producer and talent manager with Garrison Hill Entertainment in St. John’s, left Christmas night with a group of local musicians for the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, Australia.
It was a chance meeting with the festival’s programmer at last spring’s East Coast Music Association (ECMA) conference in Charlottetown, P.E.I., that led to the trip, during which the artists are performing in the festival until Jan. 1.
Chase was at the ECMA conference representing some of Garrison Hill’s roster; the Woodford festival programmers were there for the conference’s international buyers’ program.
She had seen and heard some Atlantic Canadian artists and approached Chase with the idea of them showcasing at the festival.
All of them.
“She would provide 35 concert opportunities and the work visas, and I had to get them there,” Chase explained.
The musicians on the trip are The Once, The Dardanelles, Ron Hynes, Ennis, Duane Andrews and Dwayne Coté, Sherman Downey and the Silver Lining (formerly Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case, but apparently no one could spell it correctly), Chase’s own act, called Shelley Bean and the Duckety Muds, and Richard Wood and Gordon Belsher, of P.E.I.
Garrison Hill doesn’t represent all the acts, said Chase, but they were brought together as a “dream team” at the festival’s request. They’re showcasing at the festival, as opposed to getting paid for their performances.
It’s all about promoting Newfoundland and Labrador culture abroad, explained Chase, who’s organizing the trip as a volunteer.
“We cannot work as artists full-time playing Corner Brook, Gander, Grand Falls and St. John’s,” she said. “There’s not as many accordion or fiddler players as there used to be. We have to develop export roots so that Newfoundlanders can maintain their traditional culture and they can live here at home and work abroad and come back.
“We’ve been told by the programmer that she’s really excited about the shared story of the two countries — we have a similar story of immigration from the same countries. We’ve maintained our traditional instrumentation a lot more than they have, so she was really excited about the jigs and reels and tunes and that whole traditional, Celtic infusion that’s still very strong and prevalent in our music.
“As far as the songwriting goes, the songs are about a different country, so we’re basically telling stories about a place far, far away.”
Other Atlantic Canadian acts will be performing at the festival, too, not connected with the group trip, including St. John’s native Amelia Curran and Nova Scotia’s David Myles.
The Woodford Folk Festival is an annual six-day, six-night event featuring Australian and international musicians, dancers, actors, writers, comedians, practitioners of folk medicine, circus performers and others. This year’s event includes about 2,500 performers in more than 580 activities. Chase’s delegation will be performing together in a “Newfoundland Ahoy!” concert, as well as in collaborative shows with some of Australia’s best-known artists.
The trip represents, to Chase’s knowledge, the biggest delegation and the farthest destination that has ever been exported from Newfoundland and Labrador’s music industry.
Putting the trip together hasn’t been easy, she admits, and the group is still fundraising to cover the costs. Flights, hotels, cargo, ground transportation and everything else together for the 25 performers cost almost $120,000. With the help of funding from FACTOR (the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings), they’ve raised about $70,000 so far. To that end, the group has set up a Kickstarter website, where the public can donate to the cause, in exchange for something from the artists, ranging from MP3s from the musicians, an autographed Goldtone banjo and a quilt handmade by Teresa Ennis, to a custom written and recorded song.
“If people at home want to donate and help us promote Newfoundland culture abroad, we can reward them,” Chase said, adding the Kickstarter site features different supporter levels, from the “Canadian Koala Hug” to the “Newfoundland Iceberg Rock Star.”
“They’ll actually receive souvenirs from Australia from us. We’ll bring them back, if they want to help support the trip.”
The group’s Kickstarter site can be found at http://kck.st/vf6DeE.
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