A Brief History of Summers End Folk Festival

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How a love for music and island life led to the creation of New Brunswick’s most unique destination festival.

Matt Carter

What comes to mind when you think of Grand Manan? Lobster boats and lighthouses? How about dulse and whale watching? As the province’s largest island community sitting just a short ferry ride off the south-western corner of the New Brunswick mainland where the Bay Of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine, most of us undoubtedly associate the tiny island community with fishing and coastal life. That’s almost a no-brainer.

There are also probably many people who immediately associate Grand Manan with vigilante justice in reference to the now famous incident involving the 2006 torching of a drug dealer’s house. The well documented event inspired The Divorcees’ song The Boys off the group’s 2009 album, Last Of The Free Men.

Nets, gum boots and torchlight parades aside, music is one thing that rarely comes to mind when thinking of Grand Manan. Yet for the better part of a decade now, the island has been home to one of the most intimate music festivals in Atlantic Canada. Founded in 2009, the Summers End Folk Festival has become a beacon (or maybe a lighthouse?) for music lovers seeking one last end-of-season escape before settling back into a familiar fall routine.

Held each year in late August, the festival has hosted performances by some of the country’s most recognized and celebrated folk and indie performers including Joel Plaskett, The Weather Station, Daniel Romano, Bernice and Old Man Luedecke to name just a few.

The simple fact that this festival exists is a remarkable one when you consider the island’s well documented independence. There are stories about businesses looking to develop land and setup resorts on Grand Manan only to be met with fierce local opposition. Grand Mananers, so it appears, may be one of the few remaining New Brunswick populations committed to maintaining a way of life free from outside influence as only islanders can. It’s a beautiful and highly admirable stance for any community to take, and one that makes the past near decade of Summers End Folk Festivals a bit of a mystery. How exactly is it that a young musician from Manitoba could make the 2500 km journey to Grand Manan, set up a music festival and keep it going for nine straight years? As it turns out, not every outside influence on this tiny island’s way of life is met with resistance.

“I’m not originally from Grand Manan, and I didn’t grow up here, but my grandparents did before they uprooted and moved their family to Manitoba,” said festival founder Carly Maicher. “For that reason alone, the place has always been mysterious and quite romantic to me.

“Before coming to the island I was a pretty avid Winnipeg Folk Festival goer and really believed in the community that grows and circles around music. It’s really powerful. It’s so powerful. And beautiful. And important.”

“About ten years ago my family bought a summer home on the island and at the time I was living in Winnipeg and fantasized about coming out to the summer home to spend time near the ocean in solitude writing and recording my own songs.”

And that’s exactly what happened. After spending the summer of 2008 on the island, Maicher was surprised to learn there wasn’t already a summer festival in place. She soon set out to appease this unfortunate circumstance.

“Before coming to the island I was a pretty avid Winnipeg Folk Festival goer and really believed in the community that grows and circles around music,” she said. “It’s really powerful. It’s so powerful. And beautiful. And important. I thought it was needed and totally insane it wasn’t already happening here. So, I started a festival.

“It’s literally the perfect place for such a magical gathering to occur.”

Maicher was 20 when she decided to start the Summers End Folk Festival.  She had no experience with organizing a larger scale event of any kind and even less experience with the local community – both minor obstacles for a determined artist.

“The first year was targeted directly towards island residents,” said Maicher. “I never thought for a second that people from away would visit the island to attend the music, but over the years, and as it has grown, it has naturally become what I think could be identified now as a destination festival.”

Svein Sveinson has lived on Grand Manan for the past 32 years and sees the festival as an important annual event that really brings the community together.

“I think having the Summers End Folk Festival on Grand Manan is such a blessing,” he said.  “Grand Mananers have often had benefit concerts with one or two acts, or local variety shows, and occasionally a mainland band hired for a dance, but SEFF is unique in the number of artists and caliber of the talent brought to the island.  The geographical barriers and lack of venues – especially in the winter – means we don’t get the tour stops even communities like St. Andrews get. I credit SEFF with bringing some the best musicians from the Maritimes and across Canada to my dooryard and introducing me to bands I would never had been able to see live otherwise.

“I also feel SEFF is a highlight of the summer for many Grand Mananers,” said Sveinson. “I see more and more locals coming to the performances, and I know local businesses appreciate the increased number of visitors just as the tourism season is winding down.  If there is one thing Grand Mananers are passionate about, it’s Grand Manan. We love to showcase our island and an evening on the shore with the moon reflecting off the harbour as you listen to some of the best live music you can find anywhere shows Grand Manan at its best.”

Fredericton resident Greg White has been bringing his family to the festival for the past four years and finds the journey there and back just as enjoyable as the event itself.

“This will be our fifth summer attending SEFF and it is always one of the highlights, for us,” said White. “The ferry ride is like going to another planet for the kids. Last year it was like a free whale watching excursion.

“The vibe at SEFF is very relaxed as you would expect in such a beautiful setting, looking out over the beach and the Bay of Fundy.  It is family-friendly and the kids will run around the large field next to the stage area. We have been lucky to see The Olympic Symphonium, Michael Feuerstack, and an awesome acoustic set by Joel Plaskett. I’m really looking forward to seeing Laura Sauvage this year! Her LP Extraordinormal has been in high rotation at our house.  It is a must-attend event and is so worth it.”

For Maicher, the festival has become a chance for islanders to enjoy a weekend of music and an opportunity for festival goers from throughout the Atlantic region to experience an event and an island like no other.

This year’s festival will take place August 17-18 and includes 10 performances programmed over two days.

“This year’s lineup is a bit whacky compared to other year’s and I’m pretty excited about it,” said Maicher. “My friends and I keep joking that I’ll have to rename it Summer’s End ROCK Fest 2018. But, we’re just kidding. I think there’s a bit of everything in there for everyone with different tastes.”

This year’s lineup includes performances by Basia Bulat, Jim Henman, Julie Aube, Keith Hallett, Laura Sauvage, Mike Trask, Sam Salmon & The Grand Manan Bandits, Piper Burns, Tampa, and Walrus.

“I have a lot of respect for everyone who is playing and it is an honour to host them,” said Maicher. “There is so much genuine talent and all of these people possess the willingness to journey over to this magical land to be a part of this tiny little event I scrounged up out of my dreams. For that reason alone, it is already a success.”

Ticket and pass information for the 2018 Summers End Folk Festival are available now at www.summersendfolkfestival.com

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