Happy Birthday, Mount Allison University. You don’t look a day over 174 years old.
Sackville’s Mount Allison University, consistently ranked as one of the best in the country, celebrates a big milestone this year, commemorating its 175th birthday.
This Friday evening, at Sackville’s Jennings Hall, some of their best-known and musically inclined alumni are getting together to help mark this momentous occasion. Performing will be Fredericton native David Myles, indie rock band In-Flight Safety, as well as Nova Scotian Celtic music heroes The Barra MacNeils.
According to Mount Allison Communications Officer Nadine Leblanc, the university wanted to put together a special celebration to commemorate the school’s 175th birthday.
“Our alumni director knew they wanted to do something special for our 175th birthday, and to hold the event during reunion and convocation. Thoughts turned to hosting a big concert, featuring an all-alumni lineup,” Leblanc says.
“Fortunately for us, we reached out to David, the Barras and In-Flight Safety and all three of them were eager and happy to have been invited to help the school celebrate.”
Leblanc says tickets for the event have been moving so fast that the bulk of the 800 tickets available for purchase have been sold well in advance. She attributes a big part of the event’s success, and the overall, ongoing popularity of Mount Allison University, to the “Mount A bubble.”
“Sackville is such a small community, and because of that, everyone becomes really close,” she notes. “Our alumnus consistently tells us that the experience of attending school here is so much different than what they would get in a big city.
“At Mount Allison, it doesn’t matter what program you are enrolled in or studying. People grow close in the years they are here. I think they plays a big part in people being so fond of coming back.”
Stewart MacNeil of The Barra MacNeils couldn’t agree more with Leblanc’s statement. While the band doesn’t play the Sackville community as often as they might like to perform these days, returning to their old stomping grounds is always a pleasure for the close-knit family group.
“It is always a real homecoming for us to make our way back to Mount Allison,” MacNeil says. “Especially at this time of year. Sheumas, Kyle, Lucy and myself all attended the university as students in the Bachelor of Music program, which gave us the foundation to build a career in music. It is a remarkable school.”
Asked why he believes friendships that begin at the university have the ability to endure well into adulthood, MacNeil credits the school as well as the community.
“There seems to be a real emphasis on families there. Anytime we return, we find ourselves catching up with friends from days gone by, while also meeting the new guard of students. There is an incredible energy in the community. It definitely puts a spring in our step to be returning to perform,” MacNeil says.
Having travelled from one corner of the world to the other, pop musician David Myles says that the personalized and personable experience of Mount Allison is one of the university’s finest attributes.
“You know it’s a special place when you can return years after you’ve initially left and encounter professors who remember your name when they see you,” Myles says.
Because the town is where he met his future wife, Sackville, and Mount Allison specifically, continue to hold a special place in Myles heart.
While he was enrolled as a student in the school’s political science program, his ties to his successful career in music began, somewhat prophetically, at Mount Allison.
“My first shows ever were performed in China, but my first Canadian shows were right there in Sackville, on campus and at Ducky’s Pub,” he says. “It is a pretty amazing thing to be asked back to play such a special occasion.”
Sackville didn’t prove to be a place of musical beginnings for Myles alone. After graduating from Mount Allison in 2000, Moncton native John Mullane was looking to assemble what would become In-Flight Safety, but upon not finding the right mix of members in the city, he returned to Sackville, hoping to change his fortunes.
“I had the idea of starting a band in Moncton, but just couldn’t find the right people in Moncton,” Mullane begins. “I knew my friend Jon Sheen was living in Sackville, and so I decided to move there to see if I could drum up the interest in forming a band. Within a couple of weeks, the core of In-Flight Safety was assembled.”
With former Eric’s Trip member Julie Doiron, various members of the Constantines and Shotgun & Jaybird milling about the town, Mullane says it was tough not to find artistic inspiration in the community.
On the heels of a successful Canadian tour as well as acclaimed appearances at the influential SXSW Music Festival in Texas, In-Flight Safety’s performance this Friday evening should prove to be a full-circle kind of moment for the group.
Although the group aren’t exactly strangers to Sackville, being asked to perform at the university’s 175th birthday still holds a special kind of meaning.
“To be considered a commodity that could appeal to the good people of Sackville and the students at Mount Allison is nothing short of an honour,” Mullane says.
What: Mount Allison University’s 175th Kitchen Party featuring David Myles, In-Flight Safety and the Barra MacNeils
When: Friday May 8, 8:00 pm.
Where: Jennings Hall, Mount Allison University, 147 Main St., Sackville
Tickets for the general public are $30, available at Tidewater Books, 4 Bridge St., Sackville and online at tickets.moncton.ca