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Local Xpress: Port Cities brighten up CBC Searchlight finalists


By Stephen Cooke, Local Xpress

Cape Breton pop trio Port Cities has a weekend packed with anticipation lined up, playing two shows during a busy Canadian Music Week in Toronto followed by Monday’s wrap-up of public voting in the CBC Music Searchlight competition for new talent.

“It’s been an amazing experience so far, I’m super-excited about the whole thing,” says singer and keyboardist Breagh Mackinnon, following a rehearsal with bandmates Dylan Guthro and Carleton Stone for their Friday night slot at the Paddock and Music Nova Scotia’s Take It to the Tiki showcase at the Rivoli on Saturday night.

If you can’t make it to one of those shows, which will likely be jam-packed like most CMW stages, you can at least watch the video for Port Cities’ Back to the Bottom at www.cbcmusicsearchlight.ca and cast a vote for the group, which made it to the final 25 out of the initial 230 acts chosen from over 2,000 applicants.

As the only Nova Scotia group, Guthro, Mackinnon and Stone stand alongside fellow East Coasters like P.E.I.’s Dylan Menzies, Tyler Hache from New Brunswick and Newfoundland duo Gary & Whit.

The Nova Scotian top 10 also included Laura Roy, Alert the Medic, the Brood, Jason Campbell, Dave Sampson, TJ King, Maje feat. Cunny Ross, Cyndi Cain and Loveland. It’s a solid cross section of rock, pop, R&B and country, although Port Cities might have had a slight edge given that its members are also solo performers with their own individual fanbase.

“Even just within Nova Scotia, all the other artists were so amazing, we were really surprised and happy to have become the finalists,” says Mackinnon. “And a bunch of the artists are collaborators and friends, so it was definitely a high quality group of folks.”

Port Cities’ members have every intention of being in it to win it, but the trick is not to seem too eager. Mackinnon says they’ve tried to take the subtle approach to persuading friends and fans to take part, and trying to reward them for the effort of making daily trips to the Searchlight site and clicking the “Vote” button.

“These competition things are tough, you don’t want to bug people too much, but at the same time you want their support,” she says. “We’ve been trying to keep people engaged by putting some new content out every couple of days, and staying active on social media.

“We try to talk about things other than the Searchlight contest, like posting pictures of what we’re up to, and we released a new song yesterday. It’s kind of a freebie, a ‘Hey check this out! … and also vote for us on CBC Searchlight’ kind of thing.”

The latest freebie features the trio showing off its vocal chops with an a cappella cover of a classic ballad best known as an Elvis Presley hit, Are You Lonesome Tonight?, recorded at Lakewind Sound in Point Aconi and posted to its Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“We’ve been trying to have a balance of giving people something at the same time that we ask them to vote, so it’s not just about the asking. And so far there’s been tons of support, people have been super great about saying they dig the tunes and telling us they voted. We must be doing it right, it sounds like we haven’t pissed anybody off yet.”

The nominated tune Back to the Bottom and some of the advance videos give a hint of what to expect on the upcoming Port Cities album recorded with Big Pond hitmaker Gordie Sampson, whose annual Songcamp in Ingonish is where the trio took shape.

Tracks were laid down in Sampson’s current home of Nashville, at Lakewind Sound and at Guthro’s and Stone’s home studios.

“Obviously it’ll be a mix of the three of us, each singing on our own songs, and finding our own sound,” says Mackinnon, who also performs with Guthro and Stone this summer at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival and Port Hawkesbury’s Granville Green outdoor concert series. “We’ve all had solo careers, so a big part of making this record was figuring out what this new Port Cities thing should sound like.

“Gordie was the perfect person to produce and mentor us through that process of figuring out what makes this trio unique. I’m so happy with the result, we’re all pretty excited with how it turned out.”