Every September since 1991, the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival is one of the event highlights of the year in Fredericton – and this year marks its 30th anniversary. For the six days that the festival runs, downtown Fredericton becomes a melting pot for all sorts who come together to enjoy and celebrate smooth, fantastic music.
Having established how important Harvest is, it’s no secret that many people were disappointed when, due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year's Harvest Festival was initially cancelled. Because, honestly, what's September without Harvest? Thankfully, after reconsideration, the organizers decided to have an online festival instead: Harvest 29 ½.
Brent Staeben, the festival's Programming Director, gave insights into what Harvest 2020 is going to look like. Staeben has been with Harvest for 28 years and has been the Programming Director for 23 – he is in charge of bookings and running the production site down at Harvest.
"We were inspired to do an online event by some other online events that we had seen in late June and early July. In particular, the Winnipeg Folk Festival did a really interesting online piece,” he explained. “We'd been sitting on archival footage from festivals past and wondering what to do with them and at the same time we've been lucky that we've been well supported by the Federal Government, the Municipal Government City of Fredericton and TD Bank to keep going this year…. So, this is our attempt to provide great entertainment and support not just the local music, but downtown bars and pubs and restaurants and hoping we could get some people downtown over the next few days here in what would have been the normal Harvest week."
When asked what the actual festival would look like, Staeben said, "There'll be some live music downtown, but of course, there'll be no tents, no big gatherings.” The festival will be compliant with COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, so everyone will be able to enjoy it safely.
“There'll be some pubs and clubs and restaurants that have live music and bands but their crowds will be smaller. The other thing that's going on is that Harvest is presenting live music, on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, at The Cap, Dolan's, and Klub Khrome. Those events are already sold out and then we'll cap it all off on Sunday night with this online special from 7 p.m. ‘til 10 p.m. which you can either come down and watch, anywhere in Fredericton,” said Straeben. So, despite everything, Harvest Jazz and Blues is going forward, in a new and unique way.
“It'll have a little bit of the things that musically make Harvest what it is, but without the big crowd energy bringing people together."
The performances are a mix of archival footage of some of the acts that have performed at Harvest in the past: Mavis Staples, Jason Isbell, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley, The Avett Brothers, and Gord Downie Jr. – as well as some local acts around town. There will also be some headliners from across North America – Gordy Johnson from Big Sugar in Austin, Anders Osborne from New Orleans, Samantha Fish from New Orleans, Christone Kingfish Ingram from Mississippi, Fruteland Jackson from Chicago, and Holly Bowling from San Francisco.
"We wanted to create an event that is very musically diverse," Staeben said.
The Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival 2020 will be streamed live on their YouTube and Facebook pages starting on the 19th of September at 7 p.m. ADT. Tune in, kick back, and enjoy pure, great, music.