Quality Block Party was an inspiring celebration of grit, determination and hometown pride.
Saint John has always occupied a special place in my heart, from its old buildings and ridiculously slanted streets to its overflowing poster boards, its back alley graffiti and the incredibly diverse cast of characters who occupy the uptown district. The city has always felt real to me. No smokescreens or big-budget attempts to hide its true colours. That’s something I’ve always admired.
There’s also a strong sense pride that is instantly noticeable when speaking to someone from Saint John – especially those involved in the city’s art and music communities. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced – a knowing that what they have is unlike anything else seen around these parts.
A friend from the city summed it up perfectly as we made our way up King Street East towards Germain Street last Saturday to check out some of the events happening under the Quality Block Party banner.
“Moncton has its own thing and Fredericton is almost perfect,” she said, “but Saint John has to really try to impress people.”
Her words stuck with me over the next 12 hours as we made our way from one unique venue to the next, not just to hear some great music but to experience the city in a way I’ve never experienced it before.
Calling Quality Block Party impressive is only scratching the surface of what the organizers, the venue owners, the musicians and the volunteers were able to achieve last week over five days of programming that, at least from my experience, truly encapsulated what a quality Saint John experience could be. It was an ideal mix of art, location and people.
First of all, let’s talk about the events that took place. 59 bands spread over 16 different shows, with seven in-store performances, a zine fair, art installations and an engaging panel discussion. All this with little to no budget.
Running simultaneously alongside this year’s East Coast Music Awards, Quality Block Party was very much a celebration of the industry’s flipside – those creating original, powerful, meaningful music and art with little regard for traditional structures, industry gatekeepers and the obstacle courses commonly associated with making art of the sonic persuasion.
And then there’s the venues, a collection rooms big and small (and smaller still) that represent a city in the midst of renewal. From the improvised stage at Elwood’s Wood Lab – literally atop a carpenter’s work bench – to the dimly lit corners of Yuk Yuks and the Five and Dime, their exposed brick and original wooden beams reminded us all of just how old those buildings really are, the things they’ve seen and more importantly, the experiences yet to come.
And finally, there’s the people who made it all happen – folks from all walks of life who believed in the idea, who believe in their city, their province and the art it’s responsible for. People who willingly took a big chance and won by conceiving and then successfully delivering a full festival’s worth of programming at the same time, in the same place, as the East Coast’s largest annual music convention.
Hats off to everyone involved and thank you for welcoming us all to your beautiful city. Let’s hope this event becomes an annual experience.