A popular New Brunswick music festival has returned with a new format for 2021.
Area 506 Festival has taken over Long Wharf in Saint John, it’s home for three years beginning with its inception in 2016.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the 2020 festival into a combination of online performances and archived footage.
This year’s version began Friday with performances from comedians James Mullinger and Nikki Payne and the music group Grand Theft Bus.
Area 506 President and Committee Chair Ray Gracewood said there’s a lot of excitement surrounding this year’s festival because it’s one of the first large-scale entertainment events in Canada since the pandemic began.
“So we had about 35 United Way volunteers that were running out to pods delivering beverages and food, and the one piece of feedback that came back from almost every single one of them was that people were ecstatic to be outside here on the Saint John waterfront,” Gracewood said. “So I think people were waiting for this for a long time. We’re more than happy to be able to deliver a great product.”
The venue, surrounded by large shipping containers, has a look familiar to previous years.
But pandemic restrictions prompted several changes.
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Spectator seating is limited to groups or “pods” of up to ten people. Only about 800 people are allowed in the venue.
The popular vendor village is absent. Food and drink orders are purchased through a cashless system through mobile devices rather than patrons standing in line.
Gracewood said each pod is equipped with a QR code where festival revelers can check out menu items and have them delivered.
The 2021 festival has been dubbed as a Waterfront Concert Series, to be held Friday and Saturday nights for five weekends through August 14th. Previous festivals were held exclusively during the New Brunswick Day long weekend in August.
Gracewood said organizers have been planning for the return of a live festival for over a year.
“It’s amazing to kind of watch the site come to life,” Gracewood said. “It’s like it goes from 2-D to 3-D. I think it’s a huge feat and I think it’s a testament to the people of New Brunswick and how we’ve handled ourselves over the last 16 months or so.”
Performers are also relishing the opportunity to return to the stage.
Saint John’s Jessica Rhaye is scheduled to sing with her band, Jessica Rhaye and The Ramshackle Parade, Saturday.
She said her group largely avoided booking online shows through the pandemic, but musicians instead often crave feedback that only a live audience can provide.
“I love playing music with my band, with my friends,” Rhaye said. “So any opportunity we’ve been able to get to perform together, it’s always fun. And there’s going to be a lot of people here tonight so it will be great to see some faces to actually play for.”
Gracewood said six of the ten shows have sold out so far.
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