Fredericton’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival is one of the region’s most anticipated music festivals each year.
Over the past 22 years, the festival has attracted bands from all corners of the world, covering genres of music that extend far beyond jazz and blues while still honouring the roots from which the festival grew.
This year’s edition of the festival boasts 150 musical performances by more than 400 musicians on 27 stages covering six city blocks in downtown Fredericton. Among the acts performing at Harvest this year, only a handful are repeat performers from previous years.
The festival’s commitment to introducing acts that may be new to Maritime audiences is as strong as its dedication to bringing in established bands such as the Avett Brothers, Gov’t Mule and the Wailers, all of whom can be found in this year’s lineup.
Equally important to Harvest is nurturing homegrown talent such as Fredericton’s Ross Neilsen, Prince Edward Island pop band Two Hours Traffic and Newfoundland’s Hey Rosetta!
Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival programmer Brent Staeben says he feels the festival has made a name for itself over the past two-plus decades.
“It feels good to have carved out this great little niche for ourselves here in the Maritimes,” Brent says. “Every year, we are keen to continue building upon the success of our previous years.”
Despite the inclusion of bands that fall outside of jazz and blues, Brent says that the festival makes a point to ensure that both of these genres remain a vital part of every edition of the festival.
“With the programming for each festival, we start by making sure that there is a solid foundation of blues music before we look at anything else. I feel we have definitely got that with this year’s festival with Alvin Youngblood Hart and Steve Strongman slated to perform. We have a bedrock of great blues.
“The fact is, however, Harvest has always tried to essentially walk a line that crosses Americana, blues, blues-rock and southern rock,” Brent says. “It is hard to believe that something as expansive as those genres could be called a niche but it is.”
What is particularly remarkable about the success of the Harvest Music Festival is that the acts that perform are not typically ones you would hear on commercial radio. Brent says that while this can pose a challenge in terms of selling tickets, word of mouth among audiences as well as among bands who have performed at Harvest ultimately help to drive the festival’s continued success.
“Aside from the Tedeschi-Trucks Band who performed last year, the bulk of the acts who performed were ‘new’ to Harvest audiences. When you are producing a festival made up of acts not typically played on the radio, it can be like climbing a mountain to sell the shows but we are very fortunate to have the respect of both the audience as well as the bands who come to perform here. We want to make sure that we are providing acts that people want to see. Gov’t Mule has a huge following but don’t get radio play. The festival is about trying to understand what your audience wants and then taking them there.
“One of the best pieces of advice I have received was six or seven years back, when someone recommended concentrating on the musicians as well as the agents and managers behind the bands. Building on that agent-manager community has allowed us to make great connections with acts that have heard from prior Harvest performers about how much they enjoyed their time in Fredericton,” Brent says.
One of the most common pieces of feedback from festival attendees centres on how intimate some of the shows can be. Although some might consider an audience of 3,000 people for some of the festival’s bigger shows anything but intimate, the shows are downright cozy compared to music festivals elsewhere in the country.
Harvest is at a business level that works well.
“Because of the fact our biggest venue holds 3,000 people, Harvest plays on a much different level than other music festivals,” he says. “We aren’t necessarily able to go out and book Dave Matthews or John Fogerty to perform.
“The festival was built from an intimate perspective — we want people to take in as much as they can while they are here; Harvest is more about the overall experience than any one show.”
Article published in the September 9, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript