Regional Music Spotlight: Newfoundland & Labrador

May 04, 2015

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Music Association Name: Music Newfoundland & Labrador (MusicNL)

Location: St. John’s

What are some of the musical highlights from the province over the past year? 

Jen Winsor, Communications/Program Officer at MusicNL: MusicNL brought on Bonnie Fedrau as the new executive director in 2014. Bonnie arriving was a huge highlight. Our whole music association just got flipped on its head. Bonnie replaced former executive director Denis Parker, who retired last year. Denis had been with the organization for 18 years and was an instrumental part of MusicNL since its incorporation in the early-‘90s.

MusicNL Week in Corner Brook was another big one. MusicNL Week is a travelling conference that happens in October. Bonnie was brand new. That was her first big event.

Bonnie Fedrau, Executive Director at MusicNL: That was baptism by fire for me.

JW: Hosting East Coast Music Week (ECMW) was another big one. The MusicNL Showcase during ECMW featured 16 local acts over three nights at The Rock House on George Street. Newfoundland artists and industry people also brought home several East Coast Music Awards during the Gala, including Hey Rosetta! and The Once, along with Fred’s Records, who received an Industry Builder Award.

Hey Rosetta!’s song “Kintsukuroi,” which won Song of the Year at the 2015 ECMAS.

“All the Hours” by The Once, also the recipients of an ECMA for Folk Recording of the Year.

Lawnya Vawnya is a cool new indie music festival that happens in April. That festival brings in a lot of indie acts from across the country. Some of the local acts that played this year included Ouroboros, Katie Baggs, and Boathaus.

What other festivals are you looking forward to in 2015?

JW: The Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival is always a really big event that takes place at Bannerman Park, August 8-10. In central Newfoundland, the Salmon Festival happens July 11. Its 2015 headliners include John Fogerty and Tom Cochrane with Red Rider, among others.

On the West Coast of Newfoundland, there are some really great summer festivals such as Writers at Woody Point, from August 11-16, in the gorgeous Gros Morne National Park, where the scenery is unbelievable.

There’s also the upcoming Trails Tales Tunes Festival, happening May 15-24, which combines writers, storytellers and musicians.

What have been some of the achievements made by MusicNL, specifically?

JW: Bonnie has been an incredible breath of fresh air. It’s so great to have new energy and new ideas. She’s starting up all of these new initiatives, and really putting some work in place.

BF: Myself, Jen, and Patrick (O’Keefe) are trying to metaphorically build a bridge for artists to get off the island without having to move, so that artists can keep their homes here, but still have really healthy careers. Our main focus since I got here is to help create the infrastructure that is missing.

We’re trying to come up with brand new initiatives (workshops, info sessions, seminars, etc.). I have contacts all over the world, so we’re trying to bring in expertise and new export opportunities. We’re in the process of a whole reorganization. We’re trying to find new sponsorships and new partnerships, as well.

Jen and I are exploring new opportunities of funding, so that we can offer a lot more export opportunities and partnerships—whether it’s with CMW or The Great Escape or SXSW. We’re trying to find partnerships to help keep costs down, and allow us to take more artists as a group and as a provincial organization. We really want to showcase the talent here, because it’s unbelievable.

JW: We are trying to be on par with other cultural industries. For example, we are working with the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation to start a pilot project for a music video award. We are working with DanceNL to try and incorporate music with the dancers here locally.

 Who are some of the artists to look out for?

JW: Where do we start? Fortunate Ones are great; we’re big believers in Steve Maloney and the Wandering KindThe Secrets are an incredible country group.

“The Bliss” off Fortunate Ones’ forthcoming debut album of the same name.

Steve Maloney and the Wandering Kind performing “Circle Comes Undone.”

BF: RocketRocketShip are just really growing every step they take; Matthew Byrne is a traditional singer who just has an amazing voice. The Once, Hey Rosetta! and Amelia Curran are doing really well.

JW: We’re really proud. I think that there was a time that people thought that all Newfoundland had was fiddles and accordions, so we’re trying to change that. There’s lots more here. We’ve got some of the greatest trad/Celtic artists here, but there’s also folk music, pop, electronic, there’s rock, there’s punk, there’s loud music. There’s everything.

“I Am the Night” off Amelia Curran’s latest album They Promised You Mercy.


Adam Martin fronts live hip hop ensemble Hear/Say (pictured above during ECMW 2015), and is also the brains behind electronic project PotemTole.

What is the best thing about the Newfoundland and Labrador music scenes? What do you want the rest of Canada to know?

JW: Newfoundlanders grow up with music. Everyone plays an instrument, everyone sings, everyone knows how to sing harmony, and everyone grows up with it. It’s embedded in the culture. We grow up with kitchen parties where all of our aunts and uncles switch off on instruments and songs. It’s just part of what we do. For us, it just seems so normal.

People who come from away will be at a local party, and they’ll be blown away by how a guitar gets passed around to everybody in the room. I have yet to meet a Newfoundlander who can’t play at least one song.

BF: From an outsider point of view, that’s what enticed me to move here. I’m from Saskatchewan via Toronto. When this opportunity came up I thought ‘Wow, what an adventure that would be! I’ve always loved it here. I’ve got a lot of friends from here.

Aside from all of the musical talent that’s here, there’s just this vibe. I don’t even know how to describe it. You feel like you’re in this really special place in Europe somewhere. It has a really old culture with a lot of soul and it’s very unique.

This is the most artistic community I’ve ever lived in. You’re just engrossed in it, and surrounded by it. It’s fantastic—whether it’s visual or it’s musical or dance or theatre.

I sit on a lot of different committees, and my favourite thing about this city is that all of the disciplines sit on each committee, so I get to see and hear what all of these people are doing.

JW: An interesting statistic is that that the AIC postal code, which is in downtown St. John’s, has the most professional artists per capita than in the whole country. We’re all in our little jellybean houses all mashed together making art.

Labrador’s culture is beautiful, too—its music and Aboriginal art and textiles—but completely different than Newfoundland. Interprovincial travel is extremely expensive. It’s actually cheaper to go to Europe than to go to Labrador, so a lot of islanders have never been there.

Fred’s Records supplied the seed money to create MusicNL, and was also the recipient of an Industry Builder of the Year Award at this year’s ECMAS. What else can you tell me about its impact on the local music scene?

JW: It was just a bunch of local artists: Fred Brokenshire, Ron Hynes, Denis Parker, John Hutton, Glen Tilley, and Fabian James. They all knew the talent was here, but there was no association. They got together to form an organization that would support the artists. Fred gave the initial seed money. From there Denis Parker was hired as the executive director and was with MusicNL for nearly 20 years.

About 10 years ago, Denis lobbied Premier Danny Williams—that was huge. Danny Williams was a big supporter of the arts, and since then we get $350,000 per year from the government.

Growing up, I remember piling into dad’s truck because the new Jethro Tull album had just come out. I had to get down to Fred’s and get the new Tull on vinyl. Fred’s has been here forever.

Fred’s Records was honoured with an Industry Builder Award during the ECMAS. Credit: Julijana Capone.

IMG_4825No musical pilgrimage to St. John’s would be complete without a visit to Fred’s. Credit: Julijana Capone.

BF: One of my first associations with Newfoundland was when I was working with EMI. Our president was so in love with the culture here that he brought us down during the JUNOS. We did a distribution deal with Fred, because he had a label as well at the time. Damhnait Doyle was signed to the label, among other artists signed to EMI such as Irish Descendants and Kim Stockwood. We distributed all of the Newfoundland acts, so that was one of my first introductions. It was just such a magical place.

JW: Fred’s was the hub. If you mention Fred’s to any local artist, they’ll talk about the beginnings of their career. Amelia Curran’s JUNO lives inside of Fred’s. Everybody has worked there. Honest to God. It’s funny, Andrew O’ Brien (of Fortunate Ones) always jokes about selling his own album and people not realizing who he is.

Where would you tell someone to go if they were visiting St. John’s from out of town?

JW: I would tell them to hit George Street. Hit each bar and you’ll hear every type of music in almost every single one. There is O’Reilly’s if you want to hear traditional music. The Ship Pub is a very popular venue that has hosted everyone from Sarah Slean to Hawksley Workman, Great Big Sea to Gordon Lightfoot—they’ve all done that little pub. It’s famous. It was nominated this year for an ECMA for Venue of the Year.

For loud music, there’s a whole area and scene in St. John’s—the locals call it The Deck. There’s a place called CBTG’s (a nod to New York punk club CBGB) and Distortion. Those two bars are where you’ll see the heavy scene. You walk up on The Deck, and you’ll see lots of leather and mohawks.


—Compiled by NMC’s Julijana Capone via interview with Bonnie Fedrau, Executive Director at MusicNL, and Jen Winsor, Communications/Program Officer at MusicNL.

For all of the latest updates from MusicNL, go to or follow them on Twitter @_MusicNL_.

About the Author

Julijana Capone

Originally from Winnipeg, Julijana is NMC’s senior publicist and the managing editor of Amplify. In addition to her role at NMC, she is the founder of Light of Day Publicity, a company she formed to promote the work of emerging Canadian artists.

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