The First Annual Bluegrass Festival- May, 2010
Sackville will be hosting a Bluegrass Festival for the first time this June in The Music Barn, an 150 year old barn in Middle Sackville. The Music Barn, owned and operated by Brian Doncaster, is fast becoming one of the best known secrets of bluegrass musicians.
Pat Ann Hicks of Rustic Harmony, a group from the Sackville area that will be playing at the upcoming festival, says that the Music Barn is a great place to play, “ It kind of reminds me of the Grand ol’ Opery”, says Pat Ann, referring to the wood interior and high ceilings.
Brian bought the farmland in 2007 because he had remembered it from his childhood, “ I always liked the property, it is highly elevated so it gives us a great view of the Tantramar Marsh”. The fifteen acres of land offer plenty of solid dry land for RV parking as well, and Doncaster is expecting a lot of campers to come out to the festival.
When Brian began the renovations of the old barn he did not know that he would be hosting a huge bluegrass festival a mere three years later. He built the stage initially for his daughter, well known Maritime fiddler and Bluegrass musician, Naomi Doncaster, “We put in a nice big stage in and it has just grown from there”.
When Doncaster heard that the Memramcook Valley Blue Grass Festival was closing up its barn doors, he realized that he had an opportunity to host the event. “We thought, why not try it here at The Music Barn”?
The advantage that The Music Barn offers is a large inside space; it can seat at least three hundred people with a large hall, balcony and reception area, “so that takes away that chilly air, rain showers or wind that can happen this time of year and be very uncomfortable” says Doncaster.
Although Doncaster has a full time job running his company Fundy Bay Tractors in Nova Scotia, his weekends and free time have been dedicated to running The Music Barn. With fifteen shows scheduled for this summer and 5 weddings pre-booked, it could almost be seen as a full time job. Doncaster says that this spring has been especially busy with the recent renovations of another wing of the barn.
Doncaster says that he gets a lot of feedback from musicians about the good acoustics of The Music Barn. “It is a great place to play music in. It is a totally wooden structure, and it has been left open inside so you have the old beams and no ceilings. The acoustics are second to none according to the experts who have played there”.
Eddy Poirier, who has been playing Bluegrass for sixty years, says that The Music Barn is one of his favorite local venues, “That is one of the best places I have played around this part, because of all the old wood. There is no echo and you don’t need a great amount of volume because of the good acoustics. The balcony in the back part absorbs a lot of the sound, which keeps it from echoing back to the band.”
Eddy will be performing with his wife Roslea, son, Robert, and grandson Bryan, as well as on outside member, Laurie Beaman from Sussex. Each band will play four times over the week end and Eddy will also be offering fiddle and guitar workshops on Saturday. A multi-instrument musician, Eddy plays the fiddle, accordion, mandolin, guitar and five string banjo.
The line up for the weekend includes, Janet McGarry and Wildwood, (Janet has won the ECBA female vocalist five times) from Prince Edward Island, and the Spinney Brothers, from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, who have played their traditional southern-flavored bluegrass music throughout Canada and the United States.
Also playing at the festival will be The Fiddling Landry’s, made up of thirteen year old Allison and fifteen year old Alexander, great grand children of Canadian fiddling icon Ned Landry. And representing the Sackville area is Rustic Harmony, a band that has been nominated three times for their recordings at the ECMA’s.
The weekend festival will bring many new visitors to Sackville, says Doncaster, “we have many visitors from the States. We have more U.S. money coming in to the admission box, it really does draw people, we have people booking motels for the weekend, we have other people who are stopping at the camper place in town to get things fixed or fueling up and eating out, it is an absolute economic boost”.
Pat Ann Hicks, of Rustic Harmony, a group that has been together for twenty years, says that Brian has done a lot of work to restore the place and “He saw the opportunity knocking when Memramcook stopped, and he was ready. He has been working at the barn and working at that business and he was ready for it. It was his time to take a crack at it”.
“We are hoping it works because it is a great opportunity to have a festival right in your own backyard” says Pat Ann, “It would be good for the whole area in general as far as tourism, because the people that go to bluegrass festivals, boys I am telling you, they buy groceries and go to the liquor store and gift stores. It is an opportunity for everybody”.
Pat Ann says that the groups are looking froward to playing, and hoping for good weather even though the venue is indoors. But it does not matter what the weather is like, because bluegrass fans and musicians “They go no matter what, if you could see some of the old footage of bluegrass festivals, some of them are sitting out there in the pouring down rain listening to the groups, they are hard core!”