Report by Katie Marti
The Maritimes are bursting with hometown pride and small-town hospitality on any given day, so a week dedicated to rejoicing the region’s booming music industry simply can’t miss as an entertainment choice. Halifax hosts Eastlink’s East Coast Music Week from March 6-10, making the next several days a celebration of Atlantic flavours and culture.
The grand finale is the 25th annual East Coast Music Awards Gala at the beautiful Cunard Centre on March 10, hosted by local favourites David Myles and Rose Cousins, and featuring nominees such as George Canyon, Jenn Grant, Joel Plaskett and Matt Mays. Leading to the main event, artists of every make and model — from country to gospel to rap and R&B — will be featured on festival stages across the city. Naturally, you can expect folk and fiddles to feature prominently among the representatives of the four Atlantic provinces.
Whether you’re a newcomer to Halifax or have spent the better part of your adult life stumbling up Spring Garden Road after a late night of foot stompin’ and sociables, the following tips and hints will help you navigate and maximize the boatload of good times to be had during this year’s ECMW.
Best Halifax Music Venues for Food or Drinks
1. The Seahorse Tavern. Being the oldest bar in Nova Scotia means that the Seahorse has had plenty of practice at showing Halifax a good time. It has tons of beer on offer as well as pub treats like deep-fried pickles ($10) and Mars bars ($5). Friday and Saturday night shows start at 9 pm but you’ll need to get there early to secure a seat. (Pre-show tip: Head next door for an early bite at the Economy Shoe Shop — best nachos in the city, by far.)
2. The Company House. This spot is a music venue first and foremost, winning ECMAs Venue of the Year award in 2010 and 2011. It’s a bit more intimate than many of the larger stages and, likewise, the music a bit more mellow. Friday night is a jazz showcase while Thursday and Saturday nights feature a songwriter’s circle. Shows start at 8 pm on all three nights and tickets are $20 each. (Warning: The CoHo doesn’t have a kitchen, but it does offer light snacks on occasion. Best not to arrive on an empty stomach.)
3. Waterfront Warehouse. This is the spot to go for fresh seafood and a bit of finer dining during ECMW. Start with Solomon Gundy, pickled herring prepared the Nova Scotia way ($6), but save room for the rich and delicious lobster crêpes with smoked bacon cream sauce ($27). As for music, check out Jennah Barry on Thursday night as part of the RBC Breakout Stage performances. Show starts at 6:30 pm and tickets are $20. (Deal of the ECMW: There’s a free show at 3 pm on Friday afternoon featuring the equally fabulous Jenn Grant and Thom Swift.)
Where to Dine During ECMW
1. Pizza Corner. This is not the official name of the corner at Blowers and Grafton Street, but ask anyone in Halifax for directions and they’ll know exactly where to steer your hungry, weary soul. There used to be three pizza places at the intersection, the fourth corner being a church and, therefore, understandably exempt from selling $3 slices to drunken university students at 4 am. King of Donair, arguably the best late-night pizza in all of Halifax, left the trio in 2011 and now there are only two, the better of which is Sicilian. Whichever way you go, however, slices are as big as your head and cost less than a bus ticket, so if it’s late and you’re hungry, you really can’t miss. (Inside Tip: If you’ve never tried one, go for a donair. Distant cousin to the shawarma and gyro, it’s a delicious wrap made of questionable meat products and some sort of garlic-infused dressing that falls somewhere between local tradition and local legend. I’m not saying it’s healthy, but I am saying it hits the spot on the way home from a show like no slice of pizza ever could. When in Halifax …)
2. The Lower Deck. For a truly authentic taste of the Maritimes, head to the Lower Deck in the Historic Properties downtown and seat yourself amongst the locals who are bound to be spinning yarns and playing spoons before the night’s out. Hungry? Go for the fish and chips, right off the boat and outta the ground! ($12 for two pieces of fresh haddock, battered in Halifax’s very own Alexander Keith’s beer.)
3. The Palace. If you really have your party pants on and simply can’t bear to call it a night, the Palace Nightclub serves alcohol and pumps jams until 4 am.
Best Music Venues Period
1. The Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. Dalhousie University’s performing arts centre and home of Symphony Nova Scotia, the Cohn has been presenting live music shows and special events for more than 40 years. While it doesn’t have the historic architecture or significance of some opera houses and theatres, the acoustics are second to none making it the ideal and obvious location for Saturday night’s CBC Celebration of Sound with Symphony NS, featuring east coast music darlings Lenny Gallant and Rita MacNeil. (Show starts at 7:30 pm and tickets are $56.50.)
2. The Cunard Centre. This year will mark the first time the ECMA Awards Gala will be held at this renovated waterfront cargo shed located at Pier 23 behind the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel. The versatility of this open space lends itself well to large-scale events and makes it a more exciting choice of venue than the usual arena-style layout of the Halifax Metro Centre, where the awards show was held last time the city hosted the ECMAs in 2007. Expect large screens and multiple stages to facilitate awards presentations and live performances throughout the evening.
More About East Coast Music Week and East Coast Music Association Awards
Dates: March 6-10, 2013
Schedule and ticket information: Check out the ECMW website for a full schedule of events as well as a complete list of nominees.