Fredericton, capital of the Canadian Maritime province of New Brunswick with only 85.000 souls to its name, seems a somewhat incongruous spot for what has turned into one of the best loved jazz and blues festivals in the country.
The idea for such a festival came about in the late 1980s – a dire time for live music of all kinds in the region – as a way of reviving the live scene and, originally, to showcase local talent. A few years went by from idea to actual festival, but 1991 saw the first Harvest take place with a handful of weekend outdoor events in the city. Now in its 18th year, the festival in 2008 included 350 musicians, 125 performances in two dozen venues all across the city and some 80.000 admissions, equalling roughly 25.000 attendees over six days, with heavy-weights such as Buddy Guy (photo) on the line-up.
“At first I thought it was a somewhat crazy idea that would never catch fire,” says David Seabrook, co-founder of the Harvest and also manager of Fredericton Tourism. As is often the case with crazy ideas, though, the festival took off and over the years it’s grown into a totally unique event – international class acts playing what essentially retains the feel of a village fête. “We want the festival to be ‘of its place’, to have a sense of us, a sense of our place in the world,” David adds, “and we want it to be fun. Like a party in your backyard, except with a truly amazing band on the stage.”
Having started off showcasing local talent, it took a little while for the bigger names to discover the Harvest, but after a few years word started to get around. “First we added national and later international artists,” says David, “but 30% of the bands are regional or local performers.” It’s also worth noting that 30% of the performances are still free and there’s a strong community spirit in Fredericton, making it all possible. Only three people work full-time on organizing the festival, the rest are volunteers – 60 year-round and some 750 during the event itself.
Volunteers have also been instrumental in making the link with musicians and getting people interested through word-of-mouth. “We give each band a volunteer host that will ensure the artist gets picked up at the airport and gets settled properly in a good hotel, “ David explains. “Many even take artists to their houses for home cooked meals. If they like salmon fishing, we'll take them salmon fishing. If they've never been apple picking, we'll take them apple picki