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Andy McLean remembers arriving in Saskatoon in March 2020 for the Juno Awards, only for the event celebrating Canada’s music industry to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

McLean, CEO of the East Coast Music Awards, said he thought at the time that the health crisis would be over in time for the ECMA gala, which was scheduled to take place in St. John’s, N.L., six weeks later.

“What did I know,” McLean said in an interview Tuesday. “We had to cancel 2020 in St. John’s and take it online as best we could. We were improvising as we went along that year.”

McLean would be forced to improvise again in 2021 for the awards gala, which was scheduled to be in Sydney, N.S. “We planned for a hybrid event just in case, and we got within a few short weeks of being able to do it and then, unfortunately, the COVID gods were not in our favour, and so we had to postpone it about six weeks and deliver a completely online version in 2021.”

This year, however, McLean says the show will go on – in person. Performers, crew members and music industry representatives are pouring into Fredericton, anxious for live music and paying patrons for the 34th annual ECMAs.

“There is no substitute for gathering and putting music back where it belongs, which is live onstage,” McLean said. “I’m thrilled for all the musicians and all the music industry.”

He said while many musicians have become savvy on the internet and maintained a connection with their fans, it is performing that puts food on the table. “The reality is most of the musicians make their living from playing live and from touring,” he said.

McLean said there is a lot of excitement among the performers and industry members, not only for the live shows but also for the time they will spend with friends and colleagues.

Performances and industry events run between Wednesday and Sunday, during which about 500 artists will perform on 14 stages in New Brunswick’s capital. The ECMAs move throughout the region each year, and it has been 14 years since they were last in Fredericton.

“There is music for everybody,” McLean said. “I think it’s the most diverse genre listing of acts that we’ve ever had. I can pretty much say no matter how eclectic your taste is in music, you will find something that you will like.”

There’s also a lot of business happening behind the scenes. About 150 buyers – talent bookers for festivals and concerts – have been invited. McLean said they will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in new business for East Coast artists.

The annual awards show, hosted by Maestro Fresh Wes, will be held Thursday night at the Aitken University Centre in Fredericton on the University of New Brunswick campus and broadcast live on ECMA.com.

On Sunday, the festival’s honorary awards will be presented during a luncheon. Among this year’s recipients are Patsy Gallant, who will be awarded the Director’s Special Achievement Award, and Cutting Crew, who will receive the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award.

The schedule of events wraps up on Sunday afternoon with the Songwriters’ Circle at the Fredericton Playhouse.

“It all comes back to the song,” McLean said. “A great song is a great song. They talk about the origins of the song, where it came from, what inspired them, and then they get to perform it. That gives the audience the unique insight into the creative process and make that intimate connection with the artist.”

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