Heather Gibson doesn’t do small apparently.
Her first programmed season as the executive producer of NAC Presents starts with a fall lineup that will feature about 60 concerts when everyone is signed to a contract. Last season’s entire lineup was 67 shows.
There are big names: Bruce Cockburn, Whitehorse, Sarah Slean, local favourite David Francey, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Jesse Cook, two nights with Diana Krall and Jann Arden for Christmas. There will also be several francophone stars including Kevin Parent, Klô Pelgag and Pierre Kwenders.
And there is a clear effort on Gibson’s part to bring in new and emerging performers to the National Arts Centre.
“This is the first swing at my own half (season). A lot of the shows will be in the Fourth Stage,” said the executive producer of NAC Presents. That’s a refurbished Fourth Stage that will open once all the renovations of the NAC are complete by July 1.
The renewed venue will become more of a place “to hang and come and see some new music,” Gibson says, reflecting her Halifax club roots. “There is a mix there. On Saturday nights, people will know many of the artists. But Friday nights (dubbed Fridays at the Fourth) are meant to offer stuff that is new to the market. Or at least when we booked the acts they were.”
An example of an artist who has caught fire after being booked to NAC Presents is the indie-soul singer Ahi who has erupted into prominence with hundreds of thousands of Spotify hits, Gibson says.
Ottawa’s BLAKDENIM, an eight-member hip hop act, will open the Friday series on Oct. 6.
Fridays at the Fourth will see the doors open early with performances at 8:30 p.m. Tickets will be $15 or $10 for students. Gibson hopes Fridays at the Fourth will become, a “great way to see the next thing, the next hot act.” Another example is the New Brunswick based band TomatoTomato which she says seems poised for a breakout nationally.
“I think that the National Arts Centre has to play its part in developing talent and not just taking the approach that its (only showcasing) the best Canadian talent, which I believe that we do. We can be presenting the best of emerging talent in this country. And that’s what I want to do.”
Because of her role with the NAC, Gibson is often on the road at showcases or at award presentations and she sees the struggles of smaller venues, where the good young artists often get their start. Gibson believes the NAC needs to help this process by offering a spot to emerging talents in a place such as the Fourth Stage.
“The trick is that we are playing a part together with the smaller venues” not in competition with places like The Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec. She says she doesn’t want to knock the other guys out of business. Gibson says she’s also open to allowing young artists to play elsewhere in Ottawa before the NAC gig. That’s the case with Manitoba singer Kayla Luky, who will be at Irene’s in advance of her Fourth Stage spot.
“She’s at a point in her career that she needs to perform more, in front of more people” to get better at her craft. That doesn’t mean Gibson won’t defend her turf with big name acts coming to Southam Hall, she most definitely will.
“I’m hoping that playing at the National Arts Centre is part of a musician’s career plan not a special occasion (like a CD release).”
The lineup is really varied, but there are some acts that Gibson is pleased will be coming to the NAC including Halifax native Erin Costelo, P.E.I. traditional Acadian music masters Gadelle, and blues artists Shakura S’Aida, Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar and the Cecile Doo-Kingue Trio.
She also brought up the Irish-Canadian Irish Mythen as a singer who may be about to break through here. Mythen has been performing in the U.K. and Australia (where she opened for Melissa Etheridge) so often she hasn’t been on Canadian soil much.
Gibson believes larger venues across the country will need to be more involved in their local communities to help buttress the local music industry.
A big part of her job is listening to bands on the side side stages. She was recently at a music conference where show estimates she listened to about 80 different acts, most of whom were not ready for the NAC. But she took some notes and has some names to watch out for going forward.
The increased lineup means a bigger dollar commitment, but Gibson says, “I operate in a net scenario. I have to hit a number on the bottom line at the end of the year and how I get there is my challenge,” she said. “My budget is not static. It’s like booking a club not a festival.”
She hopes that the larger shows such as with Jann Arden or Diana Krall will help pay for the kinds of marketing that will need to be done to help sell the smaller, less-well-known acts. At a $15 ticket, shows in the Fourth Stage likely aren’t “making the nut,” she says. But that’s a price that needs to be paid to develop talent for the industry.
Tickets for the new concerts as part of NAC Presents 2017-18 season go on sale May 15 at 10 a.m.
For information about tickets, show dates and times, please see nac-cna.ca.
Here is the lineup so far:
BLACKIE AND THE RODEO KINGS
PIERRE KWENDERS/LA BRONZE
TOMI SWICK AND JESSICA MITCHELL
TEN STRINGS AND A GOAT SKIN
EMIE R. ROUSSELL TRIO
TOMATO/TOMATO WITH OLD MAN GRANT
FORWARD MUSIC GROUP REVUE
DYLAN MENZIE WITH AHI
SAMANTHA MARTIN AND DELTA SUGAR
CÉCILE DOO-KINGUÉ TRIO
MIGUEL DE ARMAS