Harvest kicked off four nights of performances at the Moose Light Blues Tent with a sold out show featuring two of New Brunswick’s most loved guitar greats.
When I first started opening my ears to new sounds outside the random assortment of music I grew up listening to, a friend of mine described one of his favourite local performers to me as being “the real deal”. I’d never heard anyone described that way prior to our conversation. I guess he was trying to impress upon me the simple fact that world class talent doesn’t have to come from L.A. or Memphis or Seattle or some other faraway place. It doesn’t have to come from faraway at all. You can find world class music makers much closer to home if you’re looking and listening for them.
Harvest has been a major supporter of local talent since the beginning, and over the past decade or more the festival has thrown its support behind an astonishing number of musicians. While a large number of these artists have benefited from the exposure on a regional level, others have dedicated their lives to growing their craft and their audience beyond the confines of the east coast. And a few have, in one way or another, become recognized nationally for their talent and the music they create. Last night the festival kicked off a new season of performances in The Big Tent with two such acts.
As the threatening grey sky slowly began to clear, Fredericton blues guitarist and longtime festival favourite Keith Hallett took to the stage with his band The Hookers to get another year of outdoor performances underway in a style only Keith and Co. are capable of.
After a few songs to set the tone, Hallett gave what has become his standard introduction and somewhat of a Harvest tradition. “I’m Keith Hallett and I’m from the god damn Hanwell Road,” he said, after introducing bassist Ray J. Jr. (Rheo Rochon) and drummer Kye Ehresman. And with that, the place erupted. He knew it would. I knew it would. We all knew it would.
Through a thick cloud of slow, dirty riffs belted out through a stack of old guitar cabinets and preamps, Hallett and his band eased into a set that skillfully set the tone for a festival that is now recognized as the most complete music experience in Atlantic Canada, if not the country. That’s a big statement and one I stand behind completely.
These days, it’s not often that Keith Hallett and The Hookers get together. With all three members spread out across the east coast, an opportunity to see them perform is not to be missed. Two of the group’s three members, Hallett and Rochon, have been playing together for more than a decade now and it shows. Their symbiotic, rhythm-driven relationship is as precise and accurate as any two musicians could ever dream of being, and drummer Ehresman links it all together with ease. You’d be hard pressed to find a more dynamic and exciting blues trio around these parts.
By the time Hallett’s set was over the tent was full and alive with energy, everyone shuffling to claim the best vantage point for the evening’s headliner, Matt Andersen.
Andersen’s has become somewhat of a Harvest perennial, his local popularity and fan base expanding with each new album, each new tour and each new performance in his home province of New Brunswick. Backed by a powerhouse ensemble that included members of the Halifax-based funk, soul and R&B band The Mellotones as well as keyboardist Chris Kirby and multiple Juno Award winner Steve Dawson on guitar and pedal steel, Andersen was on top of his game. Carrying the audience through a sweat-soaked, genre spanning set that easily satisfied longtime fans and no doubt every newcomer in the crowd, it was easy to see why this big boy from Perth Andover has become the international success he is.
A brilliant opening to a massive music gathering.