After a lengthy recovery period, I can say with confidence that I successfully made it through the four-day marathon of music and madness that was version 1.2 of Saint John’s Quality Block Party.
Just a matter of months ago, the Quality Block Party sent a message by booking its first run parallel to the ECMAs. The line up consisted primarily of New Brunswick artists and the shows, held at venues in Saint John’s historic Quality Block, were well attended. Version 1.2 was a steady progression from its predecessor, bringing in bigger acts, trying new venues, and having a stage all its own.
Staying true to its roots, Quality Block Party v1.2 was mostly composed of bands from New Brunswick but it also brought in groups from Ontario and Quebec as well as across the Maritimes to join local favourites. With around 70 different acts, Quality Block Party had a diverse lineup that covered it all — rock, punk, hip-hop, electronic, singer-songwriter, etc. Considering the last run featured 60 acts and had one extra day to squeeze them all in, version 1.2 was noticeably busier, which meant two things: excitement and tough calls as far as which shows to see.
Venues remained a stand-out part of the festival, much like in its first iteration. Many were returning venues such as Taco Pica, Yuk Yuk’s, Five & Dime, and Elwood’s. But there were a few new faces on the Q. Locavore was one of the most notable new additions and was the only venue where events were consistently all ages while also charging pay-what-you-can entrance fees. Shows at the restaurant started early, around 7pm, and were not loyal to any one genre, luring attendees in to experience something new. Port City Royal returned as the location for the Zine and Print Expo as well as various workshops while also making its Quality Block Party debut as a live music venue. It hosted a variety of electronic acts and, provided you were not scared of the dark or claustrophobic, made for one hell of a party. Other new venues included Callahan’s and Boyd Gallery.
I came away from Quality Block Party v1.2 with a better understanding of the slogan “Keep Saint John Ugly”. The festival is refreshingly stripped back: no absurd gimmicks, no BS, just great music coupled with a welcoming atmosphere. That being said, Quality Block Party still retains an image: it makes use of Saint John’s charm and some of it’s pitfalls to give the most authentic version of the city possible through the means of a music festival. While all of this was apparent when the festival ran alongside the ECMAs in April, it needed that bit of extra room to really come into its own.
Around any corner of the Quality Block you were sure to find people smiling and dancing—possibly through a bubble machine. From venue to venue you could see bands not only from New Brunswick, but also from lots of other places as far as Toronto. Artists varied from ear assaulting punk rock to trance inducing electronic music. Everyone could find their niche with the option to explore new sounds and styles. For those outside of Saint John, the exploration didn’t stop with the music. The festival provided a way to get to know the city through its venues as well as through its unique approach, which makes the city and the festival inseparable.
For obvious reasons, it’s difficult not to compare Quality Block Party v1.2 to the first Quality Block Party—they were under four months apart, after all. But in doing so, their respective directions seem more apparent. It is no longer a festival shouting “We exist!” for independent artists during the ECMA induced bedlam that was uptown Saint John, but rather a festival dedicated to supporting these artists and the important community they foster.