Shore Road Sessions: Bright Spot in a Dark Season

Like many people since the advent of the coronavirus, Shauna Walters found herself with more downtime than usual this spring, so she used some of it to landscape the back yard of her home in Whitney Pier.

Unlike many people, she looked around at the finished space and saw — a concert venue.

“It looked so pleasant,” Walters told me by telephone on Sunday, “I thought, ‘This is a great opportunity.'”

The stage for the Shore Road Sessions

The venue. (Photo by Buddy MacDonald)

Mind you, Walters is more likely than most people to look at empty space and see a performance venue. She’s been involved in the local music industry since the mid-’90s, when a chance encounter with a friend led to volunteering with the East Coast Music Awards (ECMAs) which led to a contract as a production assistant with the ECMAs which, ultimately, led to Walters joining the team that produced the televised awards show each year, a move she remembered as  “a big leap for somebody with no formal training” in TV production.

Walters described the 13 years she worked on the ECMAs, a co-production with the CBC, as the “heyday of Eastern Canadian arts on television.” During this time, she kept an apartment in Sydney but spent three months of the year in Halifax, working out of an office at CBC Halifax’s Arts Division (may it rest in peace.)

“It was a lot of fun and a great team,” she said.


But the ECMAs weren’t her only occupation. The music industry is all “word of mouth,” said Walters, and word of her work with the ECMAs reached concert promoter Brooks Diamond who offered her a job road-managing Bette and Ed MacDonald. This led to additional contract work and brought her into contact with Max MacDonald and Jouella Foulds who would go on to found the Celtic Colours Festival of which Walters would become production coordinator.

(At this point, I had a decision to make: pretend I knew what a production coordinator does or admit that I wasn’t entirely sure and I opted for the latter.)


Walters explained that, back in the early days of the festival, the production coordinator did a lot of things production coordinators don’t normally do because there was “just a handful of staff,” but as the festival grew, her job became more focused.

Basically, she said, once an act has been secured and fees negotiated, she is responsible for all the ensuing administrative work —  issuing contracts, booking flights, ensuring the terms of riders are met, etc, etc, etc. I asked if this meant putting out a lot of brush fires and she said, “Absolutely,” adding that over a nine-day festival, pretty much anything can go wrong, from “delayed flights to lost luggage to ‘I left my shoes in Mabou and now I’m in Glace Bay.”

I can’t think of anything more likely to make me hide under my bed for nine days, but Walters said she thrives on it, to the point where this year’s online festival, although it was much easier to organize, didn’t give her the shot of adrenalin she usually gets from keeping all the plates spinning.


In 2009 she bought her house and began living full-time in Sydney, combining her Celtic Colours work with other projects, like stage managing the “Legends” shows at the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay and, last summer, the “Cape Breton Summertime Review.” But her usual schedule went sideways this year, thanks to COVID, which is why she found herself with more free time this summer and how she came to produce a series of concerts — the Shore Road Sessions — in her newly landscaped backyard.

Walters said she wanted to do something to “celebrate” local live music and the people who present it and to help musicians hard hit by closures and cancelations, so she reached out to friends in the industry — people like Duane Nardocchio of CBMIC, the Cape Breton Music Industry Co-op — and explained what she had in mind.

Shore Road Sessions poster

Because all monies raised were to go directly to the musicians, Nardocchio arranged to provide a stage and tech support.

Walters says she was very cautious, initially, and set a limit of 25 tickets for the event — well below Public Health limits for outdoor gatherings. She sent invitations to people she thought would appreciate the chance to hear live music and asked that they pay $20 and bring their own chairs.

The resulting event earned rave reviews from attendees, put $500 in Musycsyn’s pocket and convinced Walters, “I gotta do this again.”

Ultimately, she presented four solo singer/songwriter performances — Musycsyn, Buddy MacDonald, Adrianne Chapman and Colette Deveaux — and the folk trio Hauler (Colin Grant, Steven MacDougall and Mike LeLievre).

Walters says by the time of the fifth and final show she’d become less worried about the numbers and sold more tickets, which meant roughly $1,200 for the musicians (who also sold a half-dozen CDs).


Walters says she discovered that in some ways, both the musicians and the audience actually preferred the open-air venue with the small audience to performing or watching a performance in a bar.

She said the core group in attendance — some of whom made all five sessions — are the kind of people who sit up front at performances, who want to hear not just the song lyrics but the stories behind the songs and who don’t necessarily want to stay out late. Some, like Heather Kennedy MacIsaac, found inspiration in the music — and the setting, on Sydney Harbour — for art of their own:

Painting by Heather Kennedy MacIsaac

Painting by Heather Kennedy MacIsaac, inspired by Jordan Musycsyn’s Shore Road Session.

As for the performers, Musycsyn posted on Facebook after his show:

Had an amazing time playing the ‘Shore Road Sessions’ on Tuesday night at Boo Walters’ house. [This is an amalgam of Walters and her dog, Boo, who is “not so much a dog as a lifestyle”]. Thanks so much to all who came out, it was an absolute pleasure. It’s a strange summer for the arts community but with creative thinkers like Shauna Walters we can make it thru. If there’s a will there’s a way. Thanks to Duane Nardocchio, Nigel Kearns and Cape Breton Music Industry Cooperative for lending their time and gear. Also, thanks to Boo the dog for being the highlight of everyone’s night.

And Colin Grant told me in an email:

It was a pleasure for Mike, Steve, and I (Hauler) to perform for Shauna’s Shore Road Sessions. In the current touring climate, we can’t put words on how much we appreciate her initiative to help get us back to work, and the wonderful kind and generous folks that came out to her driveway in large (but still safely distanced) numbers. Wishing this was something that was possible to continue into the colder temperatures. Hopefully, when the snow clears next Spring, we and many other artists might also benefit from folks like Shauna who might be willing to open their decks, driveways, and backyards to artists and their select groups of friends.

Walters says the sessions were a real “bright spot” in an otherwise rather dark summer for the local music industry and something she may well consider doing again.