King Harvest Has Nearly Come

Category: community 465
Brendan MaGee
Barry Colhoun- Galactic Stage
Galactic performing at Harvest. Photo: Barry Calhoun

NB’s largest annual celebration of music is just one month away.

Today is August 13. Nearing summer’s twilight, priorities shift. Weather forecasts take on unusual importance. Spreadsheets dominate the waking hours, while sleep becomes a dizzying exercise. Ever faintly, I can smell the leaves from the magnolia trees in the meadow. King Harvest has nearly come, and it’s once more unto the breach.

On September 13, the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival will transfigure Fredericton’s regal downtown core into an unparalleled celebration of music and culture. This year marks its twenty-sixth edition and my seventh and final year working on the organizing team. I’ve quite literally grown up around it, landing here as an anxious eighteen year old devoid of any experience in either the real world or its musical counterpart. While the anxiety remains, my roots here have all grown through this rich musical community, forging lifelong friendships in the trial-by-fire style of large-scale event planning.

Brendan MaGee, Gord Downie and Harvest’s 2014 summer student, Victoria Folkins.

It can be taxing, sure, but the payoff is equally steep. To raise great structures out of nothingness is a uniquely human endeavor; to house soul-stirring sounds therein is something different altogether. And, while it sounds like a familiar, vacuous boast, 2016 marks the single greatest lineup we’ve enjoyed in the history of Harvest. Giving voice to the frayed tapestry of modern America, Drive-By Truckers arrive here as one of the greatest bands their country has ever produced, on their finest album yet. Five years to the night since his strained, stoic voice drew tears from my eyes, Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Band will return to celebrate his life and legacy in music. 2016 will also feature Fredericton’s first glimpse of Justin Townes Earle, who is equal parts songwriter and survivalist, and is incredibly brazen in both avenues; a venerable list of Canadiana featuring Metric, Stars, The Besnard Lakes, Plants and Animals, Wintersleep and Champion & His G-Strings; rising stars like Busty and the Bass, Ria Mae, Walrus and Vogue Dots; there’s even a twenty-piece marching band in Portland, Oregon’s MarchFourth!

This past year, we’ve seen two of our community’s four flagship music festivals fall by the wayside–two too many reminders not to take the institutions we love for granted. Like any other living thing, Harvest relies on its ecosystem for survival. As you may surmise from those preceding words, it can be a rough terrain. The falling Loonie, market oversaturation and direct competition all work against us, seemingly more so year after year. That’s why, while over one third of Harvest programming is free, I implore you to buy a ticket and enjoy at least one really nice evening at the Festival. So often, we forget that the two are married and that one cannot survive without the other. That ticket and your beer and festival merchandise purchases are recycled into Harvest’s charitable arm; in addition to providing free shows for people of all income levels in our community, those dollars put internationally renowned musicians in front of the city’s four thousand or so public school students each September, and have infused tens of thousands of dollars into local school band programs.

At a foundational level, we are all just conduits for energy. This one week of the calendar year generates it in its purest form–it’s an energy that’s offered me new lenses to view the world through and allowed me to stretch myself past outlines I once perceived to be limits. Please join me in rallying around this remarkable, twenty-six year old living creature this September.

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