Quality Block Party is no ordinary festival: it’s something Saint John has needed for a long time. The city has been nursing its fair share of underground music and art for years, it just needed someone who was willing to take a chance on it.
Enter Peter Rowan, Abigail Smith, Corey Bonnevie, and Cole Savoie. Together they created a festival shaped by the music, the city, and its people – rather than force an image onto it. What started out as a way to showcase independent artists, underrepresented by the ECMA’s, became so much more. It was honest, explosive, at times emotional, and a true Saint John experience.
The line up for Quality Block really showed how diverse, and plentiful, music in New Brunswick can be – with only 5 of the, roughly, 60 acts coming from out of province. Acts ranged from introspective singer-song writer to unhinged rock performances, and from the semi-traditional to the absurd; that being said, it was a welcome transition leaving such a personal performance by Jon Mckiel at the Five & Dime to seeing Young Satan in Love at Taco Pica – where one of the performers was giving an audience member the sleeves, from his suit jacket.
Although it was the focal point of the festival, there was more to it than just the music. Saturday had Third Space set up a pop-up video gallery at the white room – full of thought provoking animations, shorts, and music videos created by local artists – as well the zine and print expo at Port City Royal – which was full of folk-lore, forward thinking, and fresh takes on classic mediums. The variety kept things fresh and got festival go-er’s excited for whatever was coming next.
If you’ve ever wanted to cross seeing a show at: a barber shop, a retail store, a woodshop, or a taco restaurant off your bucket list Quality Block Party had you covered. Each venue brought its own personality to the table. Shows at the Five & Dime made use of dim lighting and a quiet PA system to create an intimate atmosphere perfect for the festivals more delicate performances. If you found your self craving more decibels than ears can handle, you could get your fix across the street at Taco Pica; a vibrant venue with a Central American flair, and not to mention its signature Green bathrooms. The White Room allowed visitors to Saint John a chance to explore the uptown landscape and showed some of the locals, myself included, that they don’t know the streets as well as they’d like to think they do; shows at this venue were surreal, sometimes dance-y, and always managed to make up for the walk.
Sure, most festivals brag about their “community” atmosphere, and many of them do it well, growing them organically. But fewer can take a pre-existing community and throw it all into one place for a span of five days; a seemingly difficult, but rewarding task. Quality Block Party did just that and, in doing so, went from being a counter festival of sorts to a celebration of independent culture in New Brunswick and whether you were a musician, artist, volunteer, or just someone supporting the music you care about, it felt like you belonged on the Quality Block.