Centerspread: Battle of the Tents

With so much stuff jam-packed into HJ&B, it’s hard to know where you’ll want to spend your night. Do you want to stick with the safe bet of the main attractions? Or do you want to take a risk and dive into unknown? Are you one of those people who only catch the headlining shows? Or do you try to catch every opening act in case it could be the best thing you’ve ever heard?

We sent two reporters into a battle of the tents.

Scott Avett rocking out on the banjo at HJ&B (Megan Cooke/AQ)
Scott Avett rocking out on the banjo at HJ&B (Megan Cooke/AQ)

That’s why they’re headliners

Sweat, beer, burgers or marijuana.

Depending on where you were in the Alexander Keith’s Blues Tent last Thursday night depended on which smell filled the air around you.

The great thing about main tents at Harvest Jazz and Blues has to the variety of atmosphere collaborating in one area.You can head outside by the food trucks and enjoy some friendly conversation with old or unknown friends or you can push your way to the front and be surrounded by the people who you’ll spend the next two hours dancing and singing with.

You could go over to the beer token line and have a conversation with some guy you don’t know about how “freaking awesome” the show is going to be or you can find yourself staring up at artist Sharon Epic doing a live painting of the scene.

And this is all before The Avett Brothers even hit the stage.

This is part of the reason why I love Harvest’s main stage tents. It’s more than just a concert. It’s more than just hanging out and listening to some band you may or may not have heard of.The Harvest community comes alive in the main stage tents and thrives there.

It’s easy to say the bands who perform in the main stage tents aren’t what people expect from a blues and/or jazz festival. Almost every mainstream folk, rock or county band can be used to describe the performers within the main stage tents. But it’s a mistake to use that as an excuse to say there is no jazz or blues at Harvest Jazz and Blues anymore.

You see, the great thing about jazz and blues music isn’t just the way that it sounds. It’s the way the music makes the audience feel. The 1920s are still alive in the music world today, Harvest just gives it a place to shine.

This is the second year in a row The Avett Brothers have taken the stage at Harvest. The show sold out quicker than any other this year and the tent was full of people even before the opening band, Dangermuffin, started playing.

The crowd is less “dirty hippy” and more “you could be my parents” with the occasional university student scattered around. The 19+ standard in the tent meant there were no drunk high schoolers screaming in your ear hoping Scott Avett will notice them. This doesn’t mean the show wasn’t unruly by any means, but it was a comfortable unruly. One that brought people closer together rather than further apart.

There’s something nostalgic about being in a room with hundreds of people who are all there all because they love the same band as you.

So, even if at the end of the night when you’re shouting out “I and Love and You” with people you don’t know and certainly don’t love, the community is joining you and everyone under that tent is feeling the exact same thing as you are in that moment.

Black Joe Lewis and his funky guitar firing out the jams. (Kayla Byrne/AQ)
Black Joe Lewis and his funky guitar firing out the jams. (Kayla Byrne/AQ)

Harvest those hidden gems

“Michael Franti probably won’t even be on till 10. Let’s skip the opening act and grab some food,” said some ladies outside of the Alexander Keith’s tent on Saturday evening. My sensitive funk-loving heart sank at what they were about to miss.

I have no qualms with people leaving to nourish their grumbling gussets and I can understand being excited about Michael Franti and the Spearhead, but the opening acts are by no means some type of filler. Also, if you’re going to drop almost 60 bones for a show, don’t you want the full package?

Opening for this sold-out show was the Pimps of Joytime. I had stumbled across these crazy mothers at last year’s festival and liked them so much I swore I would pick up the jazz flute and start a groovin’ band similar to theirs. Due to my lack of focus and drive that never happened, but I was pretty stoked to hear they were making it back for this year’s Harvest.

The band blends a cluster of musical styles from rock and roll, electronic, soul and funk. The pimps are madly enthusiastic which makes them an audience approved groove machine. The crowd couldn’t help getting a little wild all before 9 p.m.

As the pimps wrapped up, the crowd grew even bigger. Everyone was trying to squeeze closer to the stage, to be closer to the dread-locked Franti. The masses piled in as I  tried to squish my way out. As I was exiting, a security guard tapped me on the shoulder and said I was nuts for leaving now. Yes, Michael Franti is wicked cool, but there was no way I was getting off this stanky funk train now.

For whatever reason, Harvest clumped some of its best secrets all on the same night, this meant an awful lot of tent hoping in one night. However, as I was dashing my way over to the Mojo tent, there was a heard of people swarming around King’s Place. All I could hear was this beautiful old-school crooner music.

Behind the voices and saxophone were three 60- something -year-olds giving it and having a great time. They had attracted more of crowd than some of the ticketed events. But enough of this heart-warming music, it was back to the raunchy blues.

As I was having my ID and bagged checked for the eighth time I heard Black Joe Lewis commence their debut. The sound quality wasn’t the best I’d heard all night, but it added to the the raw quality of the performance. Frontman Lewis hit wild electric riffs with his teeth on his banged up black and red guitar while the horn trio wailed.

The show was loud and the bass bounced up under my rib cage as a balding man was down on his knees head banging. I’m glad someone was doing what half of us wanted to be doing.

Like all good things, the show came to an end. That didn’t mean the night had to.

If you weren’t worried about praising the lord bright and early on Sunday morning then you should have been praising Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, late Saturday night. The band is a classic take on 70’s and 80’s jazz funk and everyone in town was digging it. Seriously, there was a whack of young and old people, hippies in loose clothing and businessmen decked with shirts and ties.

I watched under age teens smuggle some booze in and gulp feverishly at it on the dance floor. Two seconds later, I saw a grandparent aged couple do the same thing. “I’ve been coming to shows all week and this is the best band I’ve seen,” the grandfather figure hollered.

The two hour set flew by and not once did the crowd stop dancing despite the creeping morning hours.

So, I guess I’m trying to say, not all good things are the main events or brought straight to your face. Sometimes it takes some exploring and experimenting before you find what Harvest venue is right for your own style.

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