Last weekend the inaugural Area 506 Festival was held in Saint John. Part music festival, part celebration of all things New Brunswick, the event was held at Saint John’s perennial ‘What to do with this next?’ property: Long Wharf, in a fairly unique venue built using a structure much esteemed by the port, and hipsters alike: the humble shipping container.
The festival took place over three shockingly beautiful and fog-free days of the New Brunswick Day long weekend, allowing festival-goers to enjoy the city, and the cloistered venue unencumbered by even the lightest of traditional summer sweaters.
Friday night commenced with a soft kick off for the festival: the Passport Event encouraged participants to visit a number of Uptown businesses, many of which featured specials for the event. In scavenger-hunt style, Festival-goers were able to collect stamps on their Area 506 issued passport, which once full, could be redeemed for a strange and magical reward at the main venue, but we’re guessing they’re limited to mostly pins and t-shirts.
Area 506-proper began on Saturday morning, when Container City was opened to the public. People were welcomed into the large shipping container village, like some scrappy post-industrial marketplace from Mad Max that featured a number of vendors and groups from around the province. The village showcased New Brunswick products and services: you could buy and sample Covered Bridge Potato Chips, Mrs. Dunster’s Donuts and King Cole Tea, among others. Representatives from a few New Brunswick tourist groups were also on hand to encourage festival goers to explore, including Perth-Andover and the towns of Charlotte County, who held down the corner of Long Wharf Loop and Fiddlehead Way.
Family friendly shows took place throughout the day at the Sabian Community Stage, while parents were invited to pop in for a nip at the beer tent, or have a ‘Taste of NB Experience’, being offered by the folks at Uncorked Tours.
The vendors of Container City shut their doors each day by mid-afternoon. Perhaps it was an effort to make space for the rush of evening concert goers, but just maybe it was their plan to teach Saint Johners a lesson about waiting until the last second to check something out. Throughout the evening, as the show echoed around them, the containers became a minimalist ghost town – literally empty shells, eerie monuments to taunt those who came too late.
Saturday night featured a great lineup of New Brunswick artists, including Art of the Possible, The Backyard Devils, Chris Colepaugh & The Cosmic Crew, 1755 and Matt Andersen & The Bona Fide. With so much local talent on display, those in attendance did not go home disappointed. From Colepaugh’s rockin’ O’ Canada guitar solo to Andersen’s soulful vocals, the night showcased New Brunswick’s incredible depth of talent.
Sunday night’s shows boasted some big names, and included Vogue Dots, Wintersleep, a performance by July Talk that could have been mistaken for burlesque if it weren’t for all the clothing, Big Sugar and headliner Grace Potter, followed by a fireworks show over the Harbour.
For an inaugural event, Area 506 Festival was very well done. Container City was well organized, had good flow from beer tent to washrooms and plenty of space in between. The venue had a kind of industrial magic that seemed appropriate, given Saint John’s industrial roots.
There’s always a few areas for improvement with any festival, however. Obviously, not every first time event can be a winner. While Area 506 had more ups than downs, a number of people commented on the shortage of food available on site, something Festival Committee Chair Ray Gracewood says they were already aware of, “Most of the improvement recommendations we received – more food trucks mostly – were comments we knew already, we just couldn’t get more participants after multiple requests. I’m sure the thinking will change in advance of next year and we’ll be able to improve the selection.”
Overall, Gracewood says he is very happy with the success of the event. “The entire event far exceeded our expectations, both in terms of numbers & good vibes. We had more people through the gate than expected, had amazing weather, and the bands we lined up played amazing sets.” As far as the impact of such a festival on the city and the province, he says, “Killer festivals and great product drive the economy through tourism. Although we did it through a network of incredible relationships with incredible sponsors who wanted to see this happen, my hope is that the public support is there to make Area 506 a reality for next year.”
We hope to see Area 506 Festival bigger and better next year and can’t wait to see what Gracewood and his team have got planned.