The music scenes in the Maritimes are very diverse and unique, with each province offering up a different collection of roots and modern interpretations. From the East Coast Hip Hop and Battle Rap scene birthed in Nova Scotia and the unique music from Cape Breton Island to New Brunswick’s Roch Voisine and Prince Edward Island’s own Stompin’ Tom Connors, there’s a wide selection of sounds coming from a relatively isolated location. Prince Edward Music is the marriage of the modern and traditional, buoyed by organizations like Music PEI and the Prince Edward Island Council for the Arts.
There’s a variety of music festivals held each year, including the PEI Jazz Blues Festival, the more traditional Festival of Small Halls, and the more adventurous Island Fusion. But by far, the festival with the widest recognition is the Cavendish Beach Music Festival.
The following entry will detail some popular musical acts with a strong regional following, and some that have made a mark outside of The Island.
Acts Focusing on PEI
Gordon Belsher is as good a place as any to start due to his work with more traditional styles of PEI music. As a vocalist, he has done numerous shows with fiddlers Richard Wood and Stephanie Cadman and done solo work with guitar, banjo, and other stringed instruments. Gordon has toured extensively across Canada, in the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Japan and Australia, and was recently awarded the 2013 MUSIC PEI Roots Traditional Recording of the Year.
Jon Matthews is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has been cultivating his fan base onstage in pubs, theatres and festivals all over the country since moving to PEI in 2002. Along with his exhaustive touring on The Island, he has made national and regional television appearances on CTV’s Canada AM and Breakfast Television. Jon also does lots of production work in his own studio, Big Grey Sound Studio, winner of the prestigious Music PEI Studio of the Year.
Fiddlers’ Sons can be found performing all over PEI, particularly in the summer when this group seems to pop up at every festival and benefit. Their own concert series – Close to the Ground – brings in featured performers every week during the summer, and usually sells out. Their music defines the modern Island sound, influenced by Celtic and country sounds, with lyrics telling the story of life on PEI.
Acts Reaching Outside of PEI
Tim Chaisson has deep musical roots on PEI, with multiple members of the renowned Chaisson Family having entertained and developed Island music for many years. Recently, Tim has broken out of the Island scene, hitting #1 on the Much More Music countdown, in the process developing a world-wide following. He had toured across Canada and as far as Australia, and has also performed with popular artists such as Serena Ryder and sharing the stage with Johnny Reid, and the Goo Goo Dolls.
Boxer the Horse is an indie-rock band that has had great success breaking into the mainstream, having been named the best new band in Canada by CBC Radio 3 at the annual Bucky Awards in 2010, and Music PEI’s 2011 Rock Recording of the Year.
Paper Lions (formerly the Chucky Danger Band) is a Canadian indie rock band, formed in Belfast, Prince Edward Island in 2004.
Paper Lions have been featured on CBC Radio, having their video for their single “Lost the War” nominated for a 2010 CBC Radio 3 Bucky Award, and “Best Pop EP” at the Independent Music Awards in 2013. This commercial interest has paved the way for television interest including performing on September 29, 2010 on MTV Live and having the track “Lost the War” featured in several episodes of the ABC show “Greek.” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0976014/)
Brief History of Traditional PEI Music
Some of the most popular music in PEI still has Celtic or folk overtones, so it only make sense that we dedicate a little bit of time on this aspect. As you could imagine, this isn’t a new development.
The roots of PEI music lie in Celtic music, which today highlights the fiddle, piano and step dancer (examples of which can be found above, under Gordon Belsher.) Celtic music can also be found in one form or another across the rest of North America with bands like Flogging Molly (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flogging_Molly) and the Dropkick Murphys. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dropkick_Murphys)
The musical culture of PEI is changing rapidly in Prince Edward Island at this time as traditional Celtic musicians, while in some ways more prominent than ever, are not as common in small rural communities as they once were. Celtic music is still very much around and can be heard at festivals, pubs, and ceilidhs. A ceilidh – meaning “gathering” – has long been the most common place for this type of music to be found. Examples of ceilidhs can be found here.( http://www.tourismpei.com/pei-celtic-music) These places are the best places to find authentic step dancing other traditional PEI music.
Broadly, Celtic music was imported straight from the Highlands of Scotland and remained unchanged in its birthplace for centuries. On Prince Edward Island, however, it mixed with Irish and Acadian musical tradition, as well. It is this collision of cultures that defines and influences much of the Island’s music landscape.