With the release of his tenth studio record, High Water Mark, Saint John music scene staple Brent knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
Mason has consistently proven himself to be an integral cog in the much larger wheel of the Port City’s music scene for the last 25 years. A multiple East Coast Music Award and Music New Brunswick Award nominee and winner, Mason has toured the United Kingdom, and has performed in China while also touring throughout North America.
Through dizzying highs and assumed soul-searching lows, he’s seen it all through a Saint John lens.
“This year marks the 25th year of me being in the city, which is pretty remarkable, all things considered,” Mason says, speaking in advance of a performance at Sanctuary Theatre on Saturday evening.
“I actually feel like the luckiest guy because I’ve been so intimately involved with the scene and the community for so many years. Having that ability to look back, I can definitively say that what’s happening in the city’s music scene now is unprecedented. Especially in terms of venues, shows and the music being created. There is a neat, palpable energy in the air.”
Born in Halifax, Mason grew up just west of Sussex, in Belleisle Creek. After successfully completing his history degree at the University of New Brunswick, the then budding singer-songwriter blew off a scholarship at York University to accept employment with a travelling carnival.
After brief stints of living in California and New York, Mason came to call Victoria, B.C. home for four years. He returned to New Brunswick in 1992, for what was supposed to be a summer stay, but hasn’t sought refuge in another city since.
“When I arrived back in New Brunswick, I wasn’t really a performer. I had limited live experience behind me, but I made a record and next thing I knew, CBC were playing it and I was booked on a bill with the Barenaked Ladies. It was all very surreal,” Mason says, laughing.
In addition to his work as a solo artist over the last 25 years, Mason has busied himself on a weekly basis hosting an open mic night at O’Leary’s Pub on Princess St. By his own account, Mason estimates he has hosted upwards of 1,300 weekly jam sessions, having welcomed both up-and-coming talent as well as bigger names such as New Brunswick’s own Matt Andersen, Charley Pride, and Jimmy Rankin to the stage.
“I had hosted an open mic in Victoria, but upon my return to Saint John, found there wasn’t really anything comparable happening in that regard so I started one up, and it really ended up taking off. It’s been amazing to see people using the stage to cut their teeth, whether they are armed with a guitar, or trying out comedy, or poetry. I’ve been fortunate to see some great talent take that stage.”
Nowhere is Mason’s standing in the Saint John community better reflected than on his new album High Water Mark. With backing from Peter Doyle, Bob Fitzgerald, and Aaron Gunn, Mason welcomes an impressive list of local guests, including Mike Biggar, Tomato Tomato’s Lisa McLaggan, Jessica Rhaye, Tim Davidson, and The Honeyboys’ Grant Heckman.
Of course, the guest appearances would mean less if these songs couldn’t stand on their own. But from the bouncy opening track “Where Your Love Lives” through the reflective “The Other Side Of Blue,” to bluesy undertones of “Can’t Quit You,” and shades of Tom Petty that abound in “Get It While You Can,” Mason’s latest record brims with a confidence that can only be attained after a tenure such as his.
“I feel this new album is the most concise and pared down record I’ve made,” he says. “We’ve gone with just the essentials, and that feels really good in a lot of ways. Having performed so regularly over the last three to four years has helped give me a level of confidence that I don’t necessarily think shone through with previous records. On top of that, it is also the most stylistically-diverse record I’ve made, but I still find there is a cohesive thread running through it. This isn’t just a random collection of songs I’ve amassed over the last three years. It’s the culmination of 25 years of perpetual growth.”
What: Brent Mason Album Release show for High Water Mark
When: Saturday Sept. 30, 8 p.m.
Where: Sanctuary Theatre, 228 Germain St., Saint John