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James Gray, Empty House win Northern Lights Festival’s Meltdown

Annual battle of the bands for a shot to play at the summer festival was held at the Townehouse on March 10
Northern Lights Festival Boréal held its annual Meltdown battle of the bands competition on March 10 at the Townehouse Tavern.

Northern Lights Festival Boréal held its annual Meltdown battle of the bands competition on March 10.

Held at Sudbury’s iconic Townehouse Tavern, Meltdown holds separate competitions for solo/duo acts and bands. The winners not only earned a paid slot performing at Northern Lights Festival, they also earn studio time at Deadpan Studios and rental credits with Long & McQuade in Sudbury.

In the solo/duo category, Almaguin native James Gray’s contemporary take on the old-school traveling folk singer earned him the win. He has toured through Canada, Europe and Australia over the past decade of performing.

“A unique finger style guitarist, with a vocal that is hauntingly beautiful, Gray, often accompanied by a rather droll, humorous stage patter, immerses himself in each and every song with a soulfulness and attack that is infectious and disarming,” NLFB said.

With his music featured on CBC programs like Fresh Air and Ontario Morning, Gray has garnered extensive airplay regionally and throughout Canada, the festival said. 

In the band/ensemble category, North Bay band Empty House took the win. 

“Empty House has been steadily building the anticipation of their debut EP since their formation in September 2023,” the festival said in the release. “The quartet's ethereal melodies, echoing guitar riffs, and introspective lyrics, create a sonic experience that, as their name would suggest, is as ambient as it is locked in.”

Calling the Meltdown win “just the beginning” for the band, NLFB noted that Empty House’s live performances showcase not only their songwriting but also their performance chops.

“Northern Lights Festival Boréal would like to congratulate this year’s Meltdown winners,” said Northern Lights Festival Executive Director Tessa Balaz, in the release. “We had a unique and talented roster of artists, and we’re thrilled to welcome the judge’s picks to the festival lineup this summer.” 

NLFB also held its Bloom mini-festival over the weekend. 

On Saturday, Place des Arts du Grand Sudbury hosted powerful performances from Indigenous roots-rock duo Digging Roots, Colombian-Canadian party starter Ramon Chicharron, and Hindustani classical & folk-pop-soul fusionist Just Prince. 

To close out the night, an explosive soul, funk, and rock party took place at the Townehouse Tavern, courtesy of Sudbury’s Harvey King & The Grindstone, and Toronto’s The Soul Motivators. 

Although the full lineup for the full, summer version of NLFB won’t be released until April, the festival has released the names of a few teaser acts. Among them is Canadian indie-rock stars July Talk and acclaimed singer-songwriter Tim Baker as 2/4 headliners. 

In addition, the announcement included Oji-Cree recording artist and producer Mattmac; world roots hurricane Moskitto Bar; Arabic fusion-pop band Kazdoura, and; Sudbury Francophone singer-songwriters Edouard Landry and Dayv Poulin. 

NLFB 2024 runs July 4-7 in Bell Park. Tickets are on-sale now, and all information can be found at


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