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Harvest Jazz and Blues: a world-class act

by on May 1, 2010
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“It’s been a slow turnin’ / From the inside out / A slow turnin’ / But you come about” – “Slow Turning” by John Hiatt

On Wednesday morning, Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival 2010 chairperson Brad Wasson began the official launch of this year’s schedule by saying: “Twenty years ago, a very unique child was conceived in Fredericton.”

Now, we recognize a thriving and vibrant adult at age 20.

Twenty years after its 1991 pilot, the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival is a world-class destination event. It draws major acts, brings huge attention and revenue to the city of Fredericton, and offers an incredible breadth, depth, and scope of music every year.

For the first time, the festival has been launched in April, rather than in June. As well, ticket sales will start May 15, with about half of the being held for the customary first sale date of July 17. It’s the latest great move made by the festival, following on the heels of last year’s new Budweiser Blues Tent venue, the adding of video screens to the Budweiser Blues Tent and Bell Aliant Mojo Tent, smoother venue entry practices, and smoother ticket sales in a partnership with People will be able to make plans early to make Sept. 14-19 a time to be in Fredericton.

It was expected that year 20 would be special, and it is. Wisely recognizing expectations for “something special” on the one hand, and staying true to the roots of the festival’s charm and identity on the other, is the great work that has been done by volunteers, such as long-time festival music director Brent Staeben, a board of directors, and a team of over 1,000 in all. The adding of a Wednesday night show, and the use of the same high-profile act on two consecutive nights, will mark Harvest 2010. Landing the legendary rock and roll hall of fame member Gregg Allman for this role was a great choice – a wonderful “get” for the festival. Imagine! An Allman playing Fredericton! That such a thing was not only feasible, but quite doable, is a clear sign that this festival has become world-class in a steady 20-year upward ride.

It is a reminder of the relatively barren musical harvest in this city for live shows before Harvest with a capital H – a reminder of how much Harvest has grown, and how much we have grown with it. Similarly, John Hiatt is a wonderful choice for shows Friday in The Playhouse and Saturday at the Budweiser Blues Tent. For now, I will leave it for Terry Seguin to do the gushing about his fave act on CBC each morning, and for me to reflect more on this unique world-class roots singer-songwriter in On The Record down the road.

Allman’s name was the first to be released in late March (along with young guitar phenom Jonny Lang), while news of Hiatt and that of four other headliners came earlier this month. The remaining headliners were announced by Staeben Wednesday. For me, the treat was news that Maria Muldaur is a Friday night headliner. Her pedigree is stellar, and the personal hook for me is her tenure in the Jerry Garcia Band in the late 1970s.

The jazz co-mantle of the festival’s earliest roots is seen in big lands in 2010, such as current Grammy winning jazz vocalist and nine-times-running critics poll winner in DownBeat magazine Kurt Elling, as well as welcome returns like Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers. The fusion of world music with blues and roots has been a Harvest treat for the past decade. This year, we get Jane Bunnett’s African-Cuban Blues Project. We also get the return of the great Canadian fusion of rock, blues, reggae and R&B Big Sugar, and other big names, such as Roomful Of Blues, the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, Garrett Mason, Meghan Smith, Michael Pickett, The Trews, and Elliot Brood. “One hundred acts made up of over 350 musicians…”

All of that said, it is the very depth and scope of the festival – 100 acts made up of over 350 musicians on 23 stages in six days, lots of homegrown talent with over a third of the acts being from New Brunswick, and 49 free performances scattered throughout, which is its annual offering to you and me. The immeasurable benefits to the local community – everything from the Congo Square (formerly Kidsfest) and “Green Your Harvest” to the Blues in the Schools program and the Galaxie Rising Star series – everything from the magnitude of the volunteer aspect to the simple fact that the festival gets thousands of locals as part of the sea of grooving patrons in the downtown – are the icing on the cake for Harvest being one of things that makes Fredericton great.

All I can do is say thanks and soak it in. I invite you to do the same.

Long-time Daily Gleaner columnist Wilfred Langmaid is employed by the University of New Brunswick. He resides in Fredericton. His column appears Fridays.

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