Story by Katie Marti
FREDERICTON, NEW BRUNSWICK — As the leaves start to turn and tans start to fade, most folks look to gear down and settle in for a few months of fireside hibernation. In Fredericton, however, the party’s just getting started. Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival is a six-day downtown block party complete with buskers, food cart vendors and, of course, live music that gets visitors grooving from dusk ’til dawn. This year marks the festival’s 22nd anniversary and organizers report it is the biggest year yet because of ticket sales and high-profile American acts like Maceo Parker, the Avett Brothers and Rusted Root.
When the festival first began in 1991 it ran three days over a weekend and had no more than a couple of participating bars and one big white tent, drawing 9,500 people. Now, two decades later, the show spans 27 stages scattered throughout the downtown core and attracts 80,000 people, making it the largest music festival in Atlantic Canada. Erin Keating, coordinator for marketing and music with the festival since 2009, attributes most of the popularity and success to two things: patience and trust.
“Everything we’ve done along the way has been gradual and thoughtful,” she explains. “It’s been a slow build and we’ve been super careful never to bite off more than we can chew. Now, we’ve got a solid reputation for putting on a consistently great show.”
HJBF has boasted such headliners as Colin James, Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule, and East Coast favourite Matt Andersen. “People may not always recognize the names of everyone in the lineup,” Keating admits, “but our audience trusts us now to bring in high levels of talent and deliver a fun party with a great atmosphere. They come for that magical Harvest feeling that you can’t fake and can’t find anywhere else.”
Music for All Tastes at Harvest Jazz & Blues Fest
Not a fan of jazz or blues? Not a problem. The festival has always made a point of showcasing a variety of music styles, giving special attention to local talent and up-and-comers. From folk to funk, rock to reggae, there is a groove for every heart and soul. There are also plenty of Canadian artists, including the Joel Plaskett Emergency, Kathleen Edwards and rising stars Said the Whale.
As for the future of Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, Keating says organizers have every intention of keeping up the forward momentum.
“There’s room for more diversity in terms of the musical genres we bring in,” she says. “And we’ve definitely talked about following a model similar to the Ottawa Bluesfest, which runs over two weeks with a break in the middle.”
The Ottawa festival, which is actually younger by three years than HJBF, has set a standard for such music events in Canada. It draws more than 350,000 annually and is responsible for $40 million worth of economic activity in the nation’s capital, its organizers say. Keating hopes the Harvest fest can continue to grow toward such success. Along with the attracting a variety of musical talent, it also relies heavily on volunteers, just like the Ottawa fest that counts 4,000 volunteers.
Along with a skeleton crew of full-time staff, the Harvest fest has more than 1,200 volunteers, and for the next week it’s all hands on deck to pull off a successful event. Keating says Fredericton, with a population of only about 56,000, is committed to making the festival work and grow. “In five to 10 years, who knows?” she says, with the hint of a smile. “Maybe we’ll see Eric Clapton up on stage!”
More About the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival
Dates: This year, the festival runs from September 11 to 16.
2012 Lineup: Along with the names mentioned in the article above, top acts to see include: John Mayall, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. See the schedule for a full list of festival acts and venues.
Prices: There are 6 stages offering free programming throughout the festival and paid tickets to individual shows range from $8-$55; some multi-day packages are still available for $85.
Tickets: Tickets remain for many shows, including a few full-day passes and package deals. For more information, visit the festival’s website, call 1-888-622-5837 (1-888-NB BLUES), like the Harvest fest on Facebook or follow them on Twitter (@Harvest_Blues). And if you can’t swing it this time around, no worries. There’s always next year. This party’s not going anywhere.