“Absolutely” – that was the emphatic answer from executive director Ray Mattie, when asked if there will be a second Nova Scotia Summer Fest.
The inaugural two-day festival, which took place at Keppoch Mountain in Antigonish County, took center stage Aug. 23 and 24.
“Extremely pleased,” Mattie said, when asked for a thought on how the inaugural festival turned out.
He added attendees gave “rave reviews” for the production and stage performances.
Mattie called the attendance “very pleasing,” noting just less than 1,100 purchased opening night tickets, while more than 2,000 fans came through the turnstiles on day two.
“For a first-time festival [they are encouraging],” he added of those numbers.
Anna Ludlow, one of the myriad talent artists who performed, described her experience as “unbelievable.”
The Antigonish native added her “heart exploded” when she heard the response of the hometown audience.
“It is a long time since I played for such a crowd here,” she noted.
Mattie, also a veteran singer-songwriter and performer, noted the focus on making everything top-notch for everyone who took the stage.
“It is about providing comfort – I know what it is like,” he said, adding the artists provided tremendous feedback regarding their treatment.
Mattie praised everyone who participated in and helped bring Nova Scotia Summer Fest together, including the artists, vendors, sponsors and volunteers.
“How do I fix it?” he said of the attitude displayed by everyone, if any issues came up.
Mattie agreed it was a ‘collaborative effort.’
He noted, with any event of its kind, there were “hiccups,” but everyone rallied to rectify them.
“Everyone did a damn good job,” Mattie said.
To illustrate, he recalled the scene in the hours leading up to the Friday afternoon launch.
“On the ground, it got chaotic, but everyone came through,” Mattie said.
He added the “familiarity” with everyone involved, the connections found in a small community setting, were a key to success.
“I didn’t think that would have happened – gone as well – if we were in a bigger location,” he said.
Mattie, who started laying the groundwork for the inaugural festival more than 18 months ago, talked about his feelings as the event unfolded.
“It was,” he said, when asked if he became emotional.
As a reflection of that, Mattie talked about the evening of the second day, when he “put away his walkie-talkie” as executive director, and moved into his role as an emcee and performer.
“I started to really enjoy it,” he noted.
When host Heather Rankin opened the songwriters’ circle that evening, Mattie wore a wide smile and pumped his fist as he shot video on his phone.
“It was my favourite part,” he said, noting the performers in that show received “an experience they never had before.”
The songwriters’ circle included Rankin performing some of her family’s classics, along with five acts that delivered songs from their newly-recorded albums.
A second-to-none ‘house’ band put together by Mattie accompanied each performer.
“They were exceptional,” he said.
Each artist that took the stage raved about having the chance to perform with that collection of musicians.
“Mentorship, in any profession, is important,” Mattie said, when asked why providing that opportunity to those artists was so important.
He added he “would have given anything to have had that chance” earlier in his career.
“They can sing and write – there is no doubt about that; this gave them a chance to show an audience, and themselves, what they have [to offer],” Mattie continued.
Antigonish native Sheumais MacLeod was one of the featured acts in the songwriters’ showcase.
“I am super, super grateful [for the opportunity],” the singer-songwriter said, crediting Mattie for providing him with the chance to perform at the inaugural festival.
Noting the opportunity he and the likes of Brent Collins received, MacLeod described what Mattie offered as a “great service.”
“It was a really great experience,” he said.
A couple days removed from the first-time showcase, Mattie said the assessment process continues.
“It won’t change – it was bang on,” he said, when it comes to the staging and production.
With an eye on providing variety for concert-goers, Mattie added “we will shake up the line-up.”
He noted, with any such event, there are always operational “tweaks” that need to be carried out.
As for the location, it will remain the same.
“What a spot to have a festival,” Mattie said, repeating the words delivered by headliner Alan Doyle when he took the stage, while quipping “we have it on tape.”
“People were very happy [with the venue],” Mattie said, noting many people had not been at Keppoch since it was a ski hill, so they had not seen the incredible development that has taken place under the leadership of the community group Positive Action for Keppoch (PAK).
He pointed out the picturesque location, with its trees, also creates a “natural amphitheatre,” which helped make the sound spectacular.
With the first festival in the rear-view mirror, Mattie provided a “sincere thank-you” to everyone that contributed to its success.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without any of you,” he said.
Looking ahead to its return next year, Mattie noted, the goal is to make a profit, which will go towards the creation of summer music camps for youngsters.
For more about Nova Scotia Summer Fest, visit novascotiasummerfest.ca