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AMONG FRIENDS: ‘To bring that music to someone is a gift’

As chair of Riverfront Jubilee, Michelle MacLean is ready for at least two sleepless nights on the first weekend in August, confident the excitement of a full lineup of musicians and a cheering crowd will make up for any loss of sleep.
As chair of Riverfront Jubilee, Michelle MacLean is ready for at least two sleepless nights on the first weekend in August, confident the excitement of a full lineup of musicians and a cheering crowd will make up for any loss of sleep. - Rosalie MacEachern

MacLean shares about her experience as Jubilee board member

Michelle MacLean is both the youngest and longest serving member of the board presenting this year’s Riverfront Jubilee.

“I’ve never thought of that; too many other things to think about,” said the 27-year-old, flipping through an armful of Jubilee posters and promotional materials.

This year is the 23rd annual festival at Glasgow Square and the second year at the helm for MacLean, a category coordinator in merchandising with Sobeys.

East Coast favourite Jimmy Rankin opens the festival along with Alert the Medic, with its local tie, and Pictou bands Kitchen Criminals and StoneHouse, before making way for Matthew Good and a seven-piece, soul-funk band on Saturday night, followed by July Talk and Reuben and the Dark on Sunday night.

“I’ve been listening to Matthew Good since junior high and high school, so it is great to have him here. July Talk was amazing when it opened for Matt Mays so we’re going to have a weekend full of great entertainment,” said MacLean, who can hardly contain her own excitement.

She joined the jubilee board five years ago but her association with the event goes back to when she was hired for the summer to work with Jubilee founder Carlton Munroe while in university.

“I left the job to take an internship in Halifax but stayed in touch with Carlton and did some of the social media promotion as a very happy-to-be-asked young volunteer.”

A few years later she was working for Sobeys, a major sponsor of the Jubilee, when her boss asked if she’d consider joining the board to help with marketing.

“At the time I was doing marketing for Sobeys Atlantic, so I felt like I had something more to offer and I love being on the board.”

After a term as vice-chair, she took on the chair’s job for last year after musical director Munroe was sidelined by a battle with cancer.

“Last year we had a lot of board members step up to shoulder Carlton’s responsibilities, but he was still with us. When we hit an obstacle or were missing something he was only a message or a call away. He knew everything and would get back to me as soon as he was able. This year the board and I have to forge on without him and he is missed at every turn.”

Munroe died in November 2017.

A great mentor

“He was a great mentor and for my seven years with Jubilee, in various roles, he was my sounding board. I thought of him often while working on the lineup for this year.”

She admitted to being crushed after her first year when she heard of people not liking particular acts.

“It took board members with more experience to convince me you can’t please everyone, but we do try to offer a wide variety of music. I think it is also important to introduce people to bands they may not have heard and the reality is that without Jubilee, some entertainers would never come to Pictou County.”

She has given it a lot of thought and is confident Munroe would approve of this year’s lineup.

MacLean credits her parents with instilling a love of music in her and her siblings.

“We grew up listening to everything, from my Mom’s record collection to cassettes in the car. We listened to Pete Seeger, Meatloaf, Shania Twain and everything from Atlantic Canada. There is nothing by the Rankins we didn’t listen to and love.”

She has always been captivated by fiddle tunes, in particular, and started taking lessons two years ago.

“I love music but I’d never played an instrument or learned how to read music so it is not easy, but my teacher says I have an ear for music. I’m working at it and improving, I hope, so I’m sticking with it.”

There is nothing MacLean likes better than directing a friend to a new band.

“It might be a brand new group or a band someone just hasn’t heard but to bring that music to someone is a gift, I think. I love when people direct me to something they think I might like.”

From an early age, MacLean also had a bent for organization.

“I like event management and while I didn’t think of it in that term, I was already doing it in school and university. With Sobeys I got more experience with events management. I enjoy the planning process and having the pieces come together.”

New ideas keep coming

In MacLean’s experience every Jubilee leads to new or different ideas for the next year.

“Our board members are always picking up on details and we get a wave of comments at the close of every Jubilee. Some come from volunteers and some from the audience. They are things we think about in the fall and then we all meet for an annual general meeting at the first of the new year. From there we start planning for August.”

A lot of lineup selections are determined by who is touring in Atlantic Canada at Jubilee time.

“If we can tag a show onto someone’s plans it is considerably more economical. It would be great if we had unlimited funds, but we don’t, so we work within a budget. That’s just the way it is for a not-for-profit that is run completely by volunteers.”

Each year the three-day event brings out 300 volunteers, some of whom return year after year.

“Experienced volunteers are a real asset, but we need new people each year, as well. We’ve been very fortunate in finding people who will work tirelessly to make sure their task comes off without a hitch. “

MacLean will be catching as many acts as possible but to her disappointment, she never sees the full lineup.

“It is just the nature of an event like this that you’re all geared up to hear someone and something happens to draw you away to address an issue or solve a problem.”

The compensation, though, comes when you can stand side stage and look out over an audience that is captivated by a performance.

“When I see a big crowd clapping and dancing, that is the highpoint of Jubilee for me.”

Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you know someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at

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