Harvest 2022 – It felt like a return to form

Harvest 2022 – It felt like a return to form

By Adam Bowie

Now that the last notes have faded, and the food trucks and acrobats and musicians have gone home, we can reflect on what was a familiar-feeling Harvest Music Festival.

Sure, there were subtle differences: No Mojo Tent. A different street experience. A new drink-buying setup in the Blues Tent. An improved, revamped Barracks stage.

But, all in all, for many local music fans, the 2022 Harvest Music Festival felt a bit like a return to form.

I’ve got a few takeaways.

First things first: Thank you to the hundreds and hundreds of community volunteers, who gave up their time to lug equipment, to serve drinks, to change garbage bags, to help people find the portapotties, the merch table, and the paper for the debit machines. They handed out schedules, and ferried musicians to and from the airport, and took care of the tents during strong winds on Thursday evening.

Most events of this kind aren’t co-ordinated by volunteers. A local pharmacist isn’t acting as the stage-manager of a large-scale, internationally recognized music venue for a few nights a year. A school principal isn’t usually leading the stage crew in days long efforts to set up these remarkable structures. It’s the kind of thing that leaves the headlining musicians shaking their heads, marvelling at how this is all possible. They leave Fredericton with a positive impression they’ll pass on to their peers, their management teams, their publicists.

Jeff Richardson, Harvest’s general manager, said it isn’t easy to carry off an event of this magnitude, and he’s grateful to those who contributed.

“We were touch and go with volunteers,” he said.

“But every time we needed something, someone showed up. We would have been lost without them, and they consistently came to save our bacon. They worked under pressure, with big crowds. They just got it done.”

After some festival patrons expressed concerns about a new bar layout in the Blues Tent on Wednesday evening, changes were made on the fly to ensure there’d be a better experience for fans attending other shows throughout the event. When others questioned the loss of a video monitor towards the back of the venue, it was returned to its previous location as well.

Brent Staeben, the festival’s music director, said Harvest organizers heard that feedback, and they took steps to address the issues that were raised.

“We’re listening. We really care about the customer experience,” he said.

“It’s part of the success factor for us, that’s for sure.”

After more than 30 years of Harvest, the main attraction is still the music. And this year’s event had many special moments – including in some of the new venues.

The Graystone Riverview Stage, located on the overpass at the end of Carleton Street, was a new hit with fans enjoying the street experience.

Local rockers The Tortoise, the Hare and the Millionaire had huge crowds in the palm of their hands there on Friday and Saturday.

A bigger, better Barracks offered up several killer shows, particularly sets by Stephen Lewis & The Big Band of Fun on Wednesday and The Hypochondriacs on Friday evening.

Over in the Blues Tent, Staeben said he was still processing the remarkable musicianship he saw over the course of the week.

“The War On Drugs was definitely a highlight. A number of musicians and bands asked me, ‘How did you get The War On Drugs? What did you do?’ It was really surprising, for a lot of people,” he said.

“It was a big get. The whole lineup was special. We had The Big Get with The War On Drugs. We had The Big Surprise with St. Paul & The Broken Bones. We had The Big Singalong with Blue Rodeo. And then we had The Big Rock and Roll Comfort Blanket with Matt Mays and The Record Company.”

Speaking of singalongs, that Blue Rodeo show is one that Fredericton music fans will be talking about for years. Yes, many of us have seen them in concert before. But it was somehow special yet again – an opportunity to slip on a favourite old jacket, and find out that it still fits you like a glove.

“I can’t tell you how beautiful you look out there. It’s a beautiful sight,” said Greg Keelor, the respected co-leader of Blue Rodeo, near the beginning of the band’s Friday-night headlining set.

“What do you say we have a party tonight?”

The band weaved through a string of hits, reminding us all of so many good times gone by, and giving us one more for the memory banks.

By the time the encore rolled around, it was time for a tent-wide singalong of “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” the Canadiana classic. Keelor, and Jim Cuddy, who played mandolin on the track, strode to the front of the stage and launched into the song, allowing the audience to sing the first verse and chorus.

If you were there, it was magical. It’s difficult to say whether or not the finale topped it, as the band called Matt Mays, Adam Baldwin, Terra Lightfoot and others to the stage for a rousing sendoff of “Lost Together.”

The War On Drugs picked up a few new fans, as they showed off the wall of sound they can make on tracks like, “Red Eyes,” “Holding On,” and “I Don’t Live Here Anymore.”

With a massive guitar pedal setup unlike any I’ve seen, frontman Adam Granofsky, or Adam Granuciel as he’s known on stage, coaxed all sorts of killer tones from his rigs over the course of the band’s ultra-cool set.

Like an old friend, Mays gave the people what they wanted on Saturday evening, entertaining the audience with a long list of crowd favourites – everything from “City Of Lakes,” to “Terminal Romance,” to “Indio.”

Others raved about bluesman Matchstick Mike Bidlake’s Snooty Fox sets, or the Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute at Broken Record Bar and Music Room featuring local axemen Connor Fox and Jonnie Price and others.

Staeben said he was also impressed by folk/country headliner Amanda Shires, who played an early show – the kind of gig that can sometimes force an artist to compete with the sound of old friends catching up out in the audience.

“For me, the audience’s respect, and the way they were enraptured by her, was definitely a highlight,” he said.

“I thought the audience got more into it, and more attentive as the show went on. It was a beautiful Harvest experience, and a unique one. It’s not a music that we normally do. But that speaks to the festival we’re becoming, and want to be.”

Anyone who spent any time downtown also saw that local businesses got a huge bump.

Restaurants and bars were bustling through the week, with people grabbing a bite or a beverage before heading out to the shows, or for a stroll down Queen Street.

It felt a bit like the old days, at least in some ways. And nostalgia can be fun. Hopefully it’ll be enough to tide us over until next September.