Criticism and Praise: 30 Years of Harvest

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It’s fun to poke fun at the greats, but it’s the greats that inspire us all. Harvest marks 30 years hosting world class music in Fredericton and that’s something worth celebrating. 

Matt Carter

At this point, criticizing each new edition of the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival has practically become a sport among many Fredericton music makers and live music patrons. Over the years I’ve certainly dipped my toes in those waters, but without any true malicious intent. Like I said, it’s practically become a sport around these parts. And sports are fun, for those who have the privilege to play them. 

I remember seeing Big Sugar play one year, back when there was a festival tent set up in the parking lot next to TD Tower on the corner of Westmoreland and King. It was a great show. Very loud. Between songs, a friend of mine who was visiting from Halifax leaned over to me and said, “It’s getting very hard to find some jazz and this jazz and blues festival.”  I think that might have been the first time I heard someone speak ill of Harvest. Or maybe it was just the first time it registered with me. Either way, that simple sentence tuned my ears to the many armchair critics who would later come to cloud my interpretation of every new edition of Harvest. Even the really good ones. 

But it’s not like Harvest doesn’t bring it on itself at times. Take this year for instance. It’s almost tailor made for critics and naysayers. For starters, the organizing team finally dropped the jazz and blues tag from the festival name after more than a decade spent programming headlining acts that arguably had little to do with either genre. And then there are all the returning acts. It seems every new artist announcement features several bands who played previous editions of Harvest. Some more than once. Some more than twice. This year is no different.  Of the 21 musicians or groups announced for 2021, almost half of them have played the festival before in some capacity. Even this year’s headliners Jason Isbell and John Hiatt are returning acts. I think this year’s organizing crew missed a great opportunity by not using the slogan, Harvest: New Name, Same Bands to push this 30 year celebration. I’m kidding. Obviously. I heard someone make the joke once that Harvest must get a cut on artist fees if they agree to book bands twice in a three year period. That one’s almost believable. 

But all jokes aside, every edition of Harvest is a praiseworthy event. Think about it. How many cities the size of Fredericton, New Brunswick can claim ownership of a festival Harvest’s size? How many cities with roughly 59,000 people can say Robert Plant, Mavis Staples, Keb’ Mo’, Medeski, Martin and Wood and Steve Earle have all played in their downtown parking lot?  

Harvest is so much more than the artists it presents. It’s a buzz. It’s community. It’s people from all walks of life coming together to make something happen. It’s music on every corner. It’s family friendly. And if you can see past that fact that your favorite band wasn’t announced, it might very well be one of the most enjoyable and memorable events you can experience in this tiny city on the Wolastoq River. 

I have definitely directed my fair share of criticism toward Harvest over the years. It’s a privilege that’s not lost on me. There have been years when, to me, the lineup announcement has been about as exciting as reading the fine print on a box of Vector cereal, while friends of mine are losing their minds over some band I’ve never heard of. Jason Isbell’s a great example. I don’t care about Jason Isbell but I have several friends who would bite their own hands off to see him. Or in this case, pay $105. And that’s fine. I love being that excited. I get it. 

But of the 20-odd Harvest festivals I’ve attended starting somewhere back in the mid ninties, never once have I ended Harvest Week disappointed. Some of the most memorable shows I’ve ever seen were at Harvest. Most of them completely unexpected. I’m not just talking about big name bands either. There have been times I’ve walked out of the Big Tent only to be blown away by some band I’d never heard of ripping it up on The Cap’s stage. 

Harvest. It’s all good. 

So, if you’re a fan of Jason Isbell, I’m happy for you, again. And if you’re excited to revive your past ‘Revivalists experience, I’m also happy for you. And finally, if you live in or around Fredericton or will be visiting Fredericton this fall, specifically Sept.14-19, I’m also happy for you. You’re in for a treat. 

Who would have thought the end of summer would be something to look forward to? 

Artists Announced for 2021:

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit 
The Revivalists
John Hiatt and the Jerry Douglas Band 
Grace Potter
July Talk
Bettye Lavette
Serena Ryder
Lilly Hiatt
Ruthie Foster
Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar
David Myles 
Joel Plaskett and the Emergency 
Dwayne Gretzky 
David Shaw  
Maggie Koerner
Marco Benevento
Ida Mae
The Hypos Trio
Quinn Bonnell
Les Chanterelles
The Jenn Russell Big Band 

Tickets on sale July 16. Full details at harvestmusicfest.ca 

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