Nova Scotia

How the Halifax Central Library transformed the Halifax Jazz Festival

Nova Scotia music lovers can thank the Halifax Central Library for the fact high-profile musicians like St. Vincent and Anderson .Paak have played shows in Halifax in recent years.

This year's festival runs from Tuesday to Sunday

Anderson .Paak is shown during his 2017 performance at the Halifax Jazz Festival. He was nominated for two Grammys in 2016. (Ed Boulter)

Nova Scotia music lovers can thank the Halifax Central Library for the fact high-profile musicians have played shows in Halifax in recent years.

The connection may seem a bit unlikely, but it's rooted in where the Halifax Jazz Festival used to be housed.

Up until 2011, the festival called a parking lot at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Queen Street home. When plans for the new library took shape, it meant the jazz festival had to find a new home.

"I think there was a lot of nostalgia associated with the site. I think it was really where the festival kind of grew, and so people were super attached to the site," said Andrew Killawee, the president of the festival's board of directors.

He said losing the former site was a blow, but knowing it was going to be replaced by the new library helped soften it.

One of the downsides to the former site is that it had a limited capacity and could only hold around 1,500 people.

He was part of the committee that looked at replacement venues. It was decided a waterfront site at the corner of Lower Water and Salter streets was the best option for the festival as it wouldn't require major modifications.

Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs performs at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on Saturday, June 13, 2015, in Manchester, Tenn. The band is playing at the Halifax Jazz Festival this year. (The Associated Press)

The site came with another huge plus, though. "It kind of changed the scope of event we could put on," said Killawee.

With a capacity of around 3,500 people, the festival could now bring in bigger acts because the economics didn't work at the previous site.

Freelance music journalist Ryan McNutt says the Halifax Jazz Festival has done a great job of attracting artists in recent years that are at 'the peak of their relevance,' such as Anderson .Paak, St. Vincent and The War on Drugs. (Submitted by Ryan McNutt)

Some of the acts that have played the festival in recent years are St. Vincent in 2014 and Anderson .Paak in 2017, while The War on Drugs is set to play Wednesday. All three have been nominated for Grammy Awards, the most recent being The War on Drugs, which won best rock album earlier this year for A Deeper Understanding.

"These are artists who are at the peak of their relevance right now and to be able to see them in that moment in Halifax without having to pay to fly to Montreal or Toronto or Boston to experience that, to do that here in the city with your peers and your friends is really exciting," said Ryan McNutt, a Halifax-based freelance music journalist.

He said that Halifax often attracts "legacy artists" who are past their peak of popularity and are playing their back catalog of hits.

City and Colour perform at the Halifax Jazz Festival on July 14, 2016. (Ed Boulter)

McNutt said the jazz festival is helping change that.

"We're not a major touring destination," he said. "We don't have the population, we don't have the geography on our side to be a thruway to somewhere else, and jazz fest is one of the festivals in Halifax that's enabled some pretty exciting performances to be part of the concert schedule here in Halifax."

Another perk of the waterfront site is the breeze it offers and proximity to the harbour, which has resulted in some memorable shows. In 2016, Lauryn Hill played the festival to a packed crowd. Three songs into her set, the site was "besieged by torrential downpours and this magnificent lightning display all across the harbour," said McNutt.

As people huddled to stay dry, an announcement was made that the show would continue once the storm passed.

"And then Hill and her band come back out and launch right back into this performance that felt even more kinetic I think just because of it all," said McNutt.

This year's festival runs from Tuesday to Sunday.

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