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Elise Nelson seems to be everywhere

Concert booker and consummate Girl Friday to the arts in Sault Ste. Marie, Elise Nelson talks about the local arts community, the revitalization of the downtown and why she is very selective about acts she books

A concert happening this coming Saturday at the New A Pub is one of those moments where Elise Nelson has come full circle.

Back in 2015, Nelson dipped her toe into the water of the concert booking world by bringing in power pop band Dany Laj and The Looks to the Sault for the first time. “They were the first band I booked. I remember being really nervous about it, but Dany and his friend and band member Jeannette [Dowling] made it really easy for me.”

Fast forward a year and Nelson had quite a few more bookings under her belt working with a local venue. She decided to formally launch Girl Friday Productions, a local booking and event company, and began bringing acts to different venues around town.

The name of her booking company is a reference to the classic film His Girl Friday from 1940, where a character played by Rosalind Russell upstages the archetypal boss character played by Cary Grant, by working hard and getting things done, something Nelson knows a thing or two about.

Through Girl Friday Productions, Nelson has booked acts like Sam Weber, Sloan, Corb Lund, Pavlo, My Father’s Son and more.

Nelson’s inaugural act, Dany Laj and the Looks, has since played the Sault numerous times at Loplops Lounge and the Canadian Night Club. “Now, they are coming back,” says Nelson. “Dany was really interested in the New American Pub, because his friend and fellow musician BA Johnston had played there last year and he had heard about it. It seemed like his kind of place.”

Coincidentally singer BA Johnston who had recommended the venue to Laj, was also looking to book a show in the Sault around the same time. So Nelson decided to bring the two acts together for one show. “They knew each other anyway and they both liked the venue,” she says of the pairing.

So, much like her ‘Girl Friday’ namesake, Nelson simply made it happen.

“I am pretty selective about who I want to work with and who I book, because this is not something I have to do. This is not what I do for my income,” says Nelson. “So, in picking someone like Dany Laj and BA Johnston, they work for me. Dany is a really sweet guy and so is BA. BA is like a one man show of comedy, music, theatre and punk rock. He is this sandwich-eating, Hamilton-loving artist. He is the whole package. People just come to see what he is going to do. He goes hard for one hour and gets you going and then he hangs out for a while. He is really special.”

Working with a variety of venues is something Nelson thinks is important. “I think there are a lot of pockets of people who are doing really cool things. I never wanted to just do one thing or work for one venue. There is always new stuff popping up so. It feels like that lately anyway.”

Also a member of the Downtown Association, Nelson feels that the city had been making strides to not only grow its music and arts presence, but to formally take a different stance on the importance of music and the arts on the future of Sault Ste. Marie.

“I think that change comes from different ideas about what is out there and what is accessible to everyone and not necessarily having one or two places with the same people that go. It’s about having different venues and different people, where everyone is accepted. The City of Sault Ste. Marie is on board. Basically, we have their buy-in and they are working on continuing to develop that buy-in. It may take a little longer than what other people would like but they are definitely trying.”

Nelson references the Mastering of a Music City initiative that the Chamber of Commerce brought forward in the past month which puts forth the idea that a vibrant music economy can drive value for the Sault in several important ways: job creation, economic growth, tourism development, city brand building and artistic growth.

“It’s come to a time where there is a new mayor, new council and new ideas,” says Nelson, whose partner Luke Dufour is a City Councilor for Ward 2. “People my age and a little bit younger are sticking around and making a go of it and making this the city that they want it to be. That is something I am trying to do too by putting on a few shows here and there. I hope to add to the social fabric of what is going on in our city. We could have a thriving arts and culture business sector. Why not?”

Although Nelson notes that there is still an opportunity for the development of more mid-size venues, it is the community buy-in that is needed to make the Sault the ‘music city’ the initiative is proposing.

“That means people have to come out to events and buy tickets. It shouldn’t be just a ‘what do I get out of it,’ but instead, ‘I am supporting arts and culture’.  Not as a charity, but if you buy a ticket, you help change the community. It is that easy.”

For Nelson, her stamp on the community has been created by not only bringing in the shows she books every year, but by acting as a supporter and partner of the arts. She makes a point of promoting events organized by other people through her well-established social media channels. She is willing to help those organizers out if it’s needed.

“If someone needs a hand, I will do that. I don’t do this for the money. Money is nice of course, but I do it because I love it and I just want to see cool things happen in my city.”

Watching her social media, it would seem like Nelson is everywhere and involved in everything, but really, she is generous with her cross promotions. 

“I like to showcase other people’s events that are going on. Like the Downtown Association’s Moonlight Magic Event that is coming up. Anything that Nicole Dyble is doing with Dryer Fire is pretty neat, like the Fishbowl Fest she is working on again. Or the show I went to last night at Outspoken Breweries to see Dynowaves. They are one of my favourite bands right now. They are really doing something cool and entertaining with their straight up surf rock.”

Earlier in the summer, Nelson helped out with Thompson Farms’ Fun Day at the Farm. “They wanted to do the farm event and showcase the Wine Barn because they make delicious wine now. They didn’t have a huge social media presence, which is understandably hard to do if you run a farm. So I said, ‘I can help you with this’ to get this event going and get it out to the media. It ended up being a really great success. There were running all day and were happy. They have built on that momentum since by doing more events into the fall and doing live music there.”

Nelson says she is excited by potential changes to the downtown like the proposed plaza [on Spring Street that would include a performance stage]. That could be cool. Especially for outdoor shows, weather pending. Or maybe not weather pending. Maybe we could do it in the winter. That would be fun too. Why not?”

Nelson grew up in a family who loved music. Her mother sang and listened to things like Phantom of the Opera. Her father loved rock and country. Her sister, Reilly Nelson, became an opera singer. “I always knew I wanted to do something with music but I didn’t play an instrument or didn’t want to learn how to sing like that. I just knew I wanted to be involved,” she says, noting that she is organizing another local concert for her sister around Christmastime.

Nelson’s presence in the arts scene in Sault Ste. Marie was her way to become involved. Despite being ‘everywhere,’ Nelson still has time for her full time job and her young family, with partner Luke and son Calvin.  “Something happens when you get older and have a child. Now, I can’t wait to get home enjoy being with my family and waking up Saturday morning and having a full day.”

Fortunately, Nelson sees music event as a “family activity” and brings her son to festivals, music shows and events. “They can definitely be family events. We like doing those things together as a family.”

It’s a good thing for Sault Ste. Marie that Elsie Nelson does things on her own terms.

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