Fredericton’s Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival Starts This Week

Fredericton’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival has become one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated music festivals for music fans throughout Eastern Canada.

Founded in 1991, the first Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival was held over the course of four days and boasted 25 musical acts performing at 17 venues throughout the Fredericton area.

Fast-forward 22 years and the 2012 edition of the festival looks vastly different from its beginnings as a strictly jazz and blues festival.

This year’s Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival will see 59 artists perform over the course of a very busy five days. An exciting mix of regional talent, including David Myles, Wintersleep, Andy Brown and Joel Plaskett, will be performing alongside internationally acclaimed acts including Bruce Hornsby, The Avett Brothers, Kathleen Edwards and the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

The festival’s ability to attract such a wide-range of international talent speaks volumes to the stature of the event.

Erin Keating is one of the behind-the-scenes forces who helps keep the festival running. As the music and marketing co-ordinator, Keating is involved with the bulk of the acts that perform at Harvest, taking on contract administration among other duties.

She says that the rate at which the festival has grown over the past seven to eight years has been remarkable to see.

“The Harvest Jazz & blues Festival started out really small and has just gradually grown year after year, exponentially so these last seven years,” Keating says.

Acknowledging that the festival’s roots are in the jazz and blues genres, diversifying the music offered at the festival to include acclaimed acts such as R&B band Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings was born out of necessity.

“The festival still boasts a strong core of jazz and blues, there is little question about that,” she says. “It was crucial for the festival to musically diversify to help us stay on the cutting edge of the music scene.

“I feel that we have really worked to build a level of trust with our audience. We have found that even if an audience hasn’t necessarily heard of one of the bands performing at the festival, they seem to stick around and trust that the band or artist performing will be good.”

Keating says that advance ticket sales to the festival have been strong, noting that it is the two to three weeks leading up to the festival that sees the biggest numbers of tickets sold. She says that the festival is now drawing fans from all corners of the Maritimes, Canada, the United States and even the United Kingdom.

“Interest in the festival has grown year over year, not only here in the Maritimes but beyond our borders, as well. I know that this year we have some folks coming in from Ohio, Virginia as well as people coming in from the United Kingdom. Building an international market for the festival is something that we have always wanted to do and are thrilled to see those dreams coming to fruition.

“Ultimately, we would love to have the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival become a destination festival. I feel that we have been world class in terms of the acts that we have been bringing in as well as the organizational aspects of the festival. We are now getting the international patronage we have been gunning for and are thrilled with that.”

While bringing in world-class entertainment has been a priority for the festival, Keating proudly notes that the festival’s programming includes 40 per cent regional talent. The opportunity to have locals perform alongside international talent, as Nova Scotia’s John Campbelljohn is doing when he opens for the Tedeschi Trucks Band, maintains critical importance in the festival organizers’ eyes.

“No matter how big the festival gets, there has been a unanimous feeling that it is important to support our local acts. It is important for us to support guys like Matt Andersen and Ross Neilsen who are both headlining their own shows while also making space for up-and-coming acts, as well.”

Fredericton native David Myles is more than happy to sing the praises of the Harvest Festival. Myles says that he has performed at the festival no less than six times and feels the festival is indeed a world-class festival in a city of approximately 60,000 people.

“Harvest has been supportive of me since I started playing music,” Myles says. “I have a different relationship with this festival compared to others because I was attending the festival as a music fan before I started performing.

“What is so great about the festival is the fact that for that week, Fredericton becomes a full-on party zone. Everyone comes out to support the festival. It is really an amazing thing.”

Asked which acts she feels are going to be the “can’t miss” shows, Keating sounds almost animated, saying that there will be a healthy mix of established bands as well as those currently flying below the radar that will be sure to impress audiences.

“Rusted Root is a big jam band from the States that really hasn’t built quite the same name recognition in Canada. Also, there is a band called The Record Company. They are less than a year old but have been virally growing their name. When I first listened to their EP, it reminded me of the new wave of gritty music that has seemingly made a resurgence with the popularity of bands like the Black Keys.

“I really think audiences will be impressed with the Avett Brothers. I’ve seen them in the past and can say that they put on an incredible, high energy show. They exemplify what the Harvest experience is all about,” Keating says.

Article published in September 6, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript