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A home for Canada’s artists: NAC Presents enters its fourth year

© Rémi Thériault

It’s been nearly three years since the National Arts Centre launched the first season of NAC Presents, in partnership with BMO Financial Group, an all-Canadian series that showcases legendary artists and the icons of tomorrow.

For Producer Simone Deneau, it’s been “overwhelmingly amazing” from the start, creating something completely new on the national music scene.

“I don’t believe there is anything else like this – an all-Canadian series – in Canada. It’s now an established part of the NAC, and it goes to the heart of our national goals, that we bring musicians from all over the country to the national stage.”

The series has grown considerably since its first season in 2011-2012, nearly doubling the number of performers, and presenting a dynamic lineup that includes up-and-coming artists as well as legends like Diana Krall, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Oliver Jones, and on the 2014 lineup, Gordon Lightfoot and Sarah McLachlan.

“The NAC is arguably the premier venue in Canada. It’s the national stage, and it’s important for us that our iconic Canadian artists perform here,” Deneau said. “Emerging artists love it because they see themselves on the same bill as a Diana Krall, or an Oliver Jones, or someone of that stature. And for our audiences, it gives them a real sense of the range and the brilliance of Canadian artists.”

“We’re happy when they grow”

NAC Presents routinely invites artists to return as their careers progress. David Myles, who first performed at the NAC in 2010 when the series was being developed, appeared again last year and will play a Christmas show in December 2014. Salomé Leclerc, who played NAC Presents in February 2013, will be back in 2014, this time with a bigger band and a more mature sound.

Associate Producer Xavier Forget, who programs the Francophone artists on the series, said developing relationships with emerging artists is at the core of NAC Presents.

 “The artists are developing, and that’s what we’re interested in,” he said. “We’re not just a room on the road, we really are a home for Canadian artists to come back to. We’re happy when they grow.”

NAC Presents also partners with Radio-Canada’s “Révélations” series to present emerging Francophone artists in world music, jazz, singer-songwriter and classical music. This past season saw Mamselle Ruiz, the Jérôme Beaulieu trio, and Les soeurs Boulay on the lineup.

“You can see the growth, especially the ones supported by the Slaight Family Fund for Emerging Artists. Some have had just had one or two years of being professional, like Les Soeurs Boulay. You could tell when they came back how much better they had become. Just as Jillian Keiley at NAC English Theatre is helping develop plays in different part of the country, we see NAC Presents in a similar way, being part of the development process.”

Inspired by the Scenes

A long-time fan of Canadian music, Deneau says Canadian music has “exploded” over the past 10 years. In 2003, she programmed some of the music for Atlantic Scene – the first of the NAC’s “Scene” festivals that showcase artists from different regions of Canada. The festivals, which attract new audiences and national media attention, were part of the inspiration behind NAC Presents: the sheer talent of the artists created a strong desire to have them return.

“We’ve been making our way through the country with the Scene festivals, but if we didn’t have NAC Presents, many of these artists we wouldn’t see again,” Deneau said.  Two on the 2014 lineup performed at the Scenes – Buck 65 (also known as Rich Terfry, host of CBC Radio Two’s Drive) at Atlantic Scene, and Tanya Tagaq at Northern Scene.

Artists respond

Forget says one of the early goals of the series is that it would act as a seal of approval, like “VQA” on a bottle of wine – that the strength and credibility of the organization would help artists win new bookings.

Royal Wood, an NAC Presents repeat performer, said that seal is real.

“Playing to a full house at the National Arts Centre was so special, so energizing,” he said. “I’m now performing around the world, in part because of the respect there is internationally for the NAC. If you’ve headlined there, you can stand tall.”

Artists also love playing NAC Presents because of the professionalism of a crew that treats all artists equally, the quality of the sound, and an audience that is there to listen.

In other words, it’s a lot different than playing in bars.

Forget tells the story of Justin Rutledge, a singer-songwriter who performed at the NAC back in 2010, the year before NAC Presents officially launched. At one point during his concert, he stopped playing and said, “I’m sorry, I’m not used to hearing people listen to my songs!”

“I hear that all the time,” Forget said.

Deneau said she is deeply grateful to BMO Financial Group and the Slaight Family Foundation for their support.

“BMO has been with us from the beginning and we couldn’t do it without them. It’s been a privilege to have them as our title sponsor. And the Slaight Family Foundation has allowed us to bring some of Canada’s most exciting emerging artists onto our stages.”

The fall 2014 lineup

Deneau’s must-see shows for NAC Presents in the fall of 2014 include folk music group Timber Timbre, alt-country artist Doug Paisley, Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Montreal singer-songwriter Alejandra Ribera, and two Christmas shows by David Myles and Lynn Miles. Forget’s include the highly theatrical Klô Pelgag, folk group Les Chercheurs d’or and legendary singer-songwriter Daniel Lavoie.


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