Sackville Wakes Up For Stereophonic Festival

Rich AucoinAEvery January for the past 10 years, Sackville becomes a little louder, even if only for a little under a week.

The reason? The Stereophonic Music Festival, New Brunswick’s longest-running independent music festival.

Traditionally, the festival has hosted some of the finest independent musical talent from Atlantic Canada. This year’s festival is no different: Halifax native and electro-pop master Rich Aucoin, Moncton’s folk darlings Les Hay Babies and Chester, N.S.’s Old Man Luedecke are three of the more than two dozen acts that will be performing over the course of the festival’s four nights.

And while the festival is all about promoting a wide variety of music, it also serves as one of the major fundraisers for Mount Allison radio station CHMA. The 50-watt campuscommunity station serves the students and faculty of Mount Allison University as well as the surrounding Tantramar Region. The festival is the celebration of a small community rallying around the continued vital link the terrestrial radio station provides to those in its vicinity.

Along with Jess Palmer and Joe Chamandy, Kevin Braiser is one of the organizers of the Stereophonic Music Festival.

While the fundraising goals of Stereophonic are modest, the funds serve a vital purpose in keeping CHMA rocking year-round, Braiser says.

‘The goal going into each festival is to go above and beyond the previous year’s festival,’ he says. ‘We are always looking to attract better bands, have better accommodations for our artists, better show production. And of course we are always looking to increase awareness and promotion of what we do to help raise the necessary funds to support CHMA.’

Braiser says the bond between CHMA and its surrounding community goes above and beyond anything he has experienced before. While traditional radio outlets are fighting for advertising dollars to keep them moving forward, CHMA instead relies upon its student body and volunteers, and maintains close ties to the community.

‘I feel that community radio continues to thrive in due part to the closeness between the station and the artists,’ Braiser says. ‘In a town as small but as creative as Sackville, the community’s relationship with CHMA is much more direct than perhaps any other town in Canada.

‘There are many different ways that the community is involved with an event like Stereophonic, whether it is the venues hosting the shows or people in the town volunteering and billeting bands during the festival. It is a very special thing that we have going on.’

Andrew Neville of Negative Circles (performing at Pickles Deli on Wednesday evening) says what attracted his group to Stereophonic is the close relationship between the radio station and the community.

‘Community radio is a great alternative to commercial radio and is a far more accessible venue for independent artists,’ Neville says. ‘The relationship between community radio and the artists is definitely more of a symbiotic relationship than the relationship between artists and commercial radio. With campus and community radio, nobody has ulterior motives.’

By his own estimate, 2013 marks the seventh or eighth time that Saint John native Adam Mowery has performed at Stereophonic. Asked what keeps bringing him back, the Halifax resident says it’s a mixture of the music, the fans and the organizers.

‘CHMA is a station that consistently plays my music while audiences in Sackville are among the most receptive that I have played for,’ Mowery says. ‘Going back to Sackville for a CHMA fundraiser is a bit of a no-brainer. The station is one of the finest campus stations on the East Coast and that gets reflected in the lineup they manage to wrangle in each year.

‘Musicians like me need outlets like CHMA for our work to reach an audience. While it is true that a lot of folks discover music online or through means other than the radio, in my mind I write songs to be heard on the radio. CHMA isn’t afraid of homemade, experimental, low-budget, audio folk art, and they also aren’t afraid of catchy tunes and homemade hits, either.’

While volunteers comprise the bulk of CHMA’s staff, Braiser says operating costs such as equipment maintenance, summer jobs and a few full-time staff will all be served by the funds raised at Stereophonic.

On the cusp of Stereophonic’s 10th anniversary, Braiser says he has learned a number of lessons over the past few years. First and foremost, he says, is to enjoy the music and try to make the festival an experience that will make people want to come back in subsequent years.

‘We really try to make every show something special; something that people will bring back to others, that the festival is something that shouldn’t be missed,’ Braiser says.

Article published in the January 14, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript