Following the tremendous success that Saint John’s Area 506 festival saw in its inaugural run last year, it should be little surprise the festival is returning to the city’s Long Wharf this coming New Brunswick day weekend.
With 20 musical acts slated to perform on the festival’s two stages, this year’s Area 506 lineup has a little something for everyone: Sibling pop duo Tegan & Sara, The Strumbellas, Stars and Halifax’s Matt Mays, will be performing, as will a number of homegrown acts such as Moncton’s Les Hay Babies, David Myles, Hampton’s Jessica Rhaye, and Fredericton’s The Hypochondriacs.
What sets Area 506 apart from many of its peers is the fact that it is all about celebrating the province of New Brunswick. Bolstered by a team of more than 100 volunteers, the festival’s grounds will feature a number of provincial food and beverage vendors, in addition to representation from cultural groups such as St. Mary’s First Nation and the Saint John Multicultural and Newcomers’ Resource Centre.
“The idea of holding a festival to celebrate New Brunswick is, really, our reason for existing,” Area 506 President and Committee Chair Ray Gracewood explains. “When you think about occasions where people get together to celebrate a summertime long weekend with their friends, there always seemed to be a big white space around the New Brunswick civic holiday. We felt as though there was no clear identity behind the holiday.”
Gracewood acknowledges that capitalizing on the momentum from last year’s inaugural festival is no small feat, and that the expectations are high heading into this coming weekend.
“We had upwards of 4,500 paid attendees for the concerts last year, and had another 20,000 or so people pass through the site during the day time. For the last 11 months, we’ve been feeding off the momentum generated by the festival, especially among those who weren’t able to attend. That’s a lot to live up to.”
This year’s festival will kick off on Friday Aug. 4, with events slated to run through Monday afternoon, including a fireworks display on Sunday night.
In addition to the musical talent that will grace the festival’s stages on Saturday and Sunday, the Stewart McKelvey artist pavilion will serve as a temporary home to several provincial artists and studios. Meductic-based cymbal maker Sabian is offering a ‘meet the makers’ international tour where patrons can see how cymbals are made, while a partnership with Moosehead Breweries will offer attendees craft beer samples from local breweries.
There will also be a family-friendly section, with activities including face painting for those with smaller children.
“When you think about New Brunswick-made products, there isn’t often a soapbox for people to promote their wares,” Gracewood says. “Supporting local- and provincially-run businesses is much easier than everyone probably thinks it is, but helping give those products a showcase platform helps benefits everyone.”
The festival comes on the heels of a significant publicity campaign that has seen the city of Saint John, its citizens and artists, showcased on both a regional and national scale. Gracewood insists the success of the festival is not a means to try to sway the cities in the province into an inadvertent competition of which is better, but rather is meant to highlight what the city has to offer.
“I feel that for a long time, citizens of Saint John didn’t feel very confident about the city,” he says. “From my experience though, the tide has been changing: The food scene throughout the city has been evolving quickly, while the Uptown core and its revitalization has been seeing success as well. I’m a firm believer that the reputation of a city comes from the people in that city. Festivals like Area 506 should stand as an example of the potential of what Saint John and New Brunswick can be. In a lot of ways, I don’t think we tend to give ourselves enough credit.”
For a complete schedule, or for more information on Area 506, visit the festival website at www.area506.ca.