“Welcome home, Matt!”
As his sweat rolled onto the stage, Matt Andersen smiled into the cheers from the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival’s Wednesday night crowd – one he’s known and grown with for 15 years now.
Andersen, a singer-songwriter from Perth-Andover, about 175 km northwest of Fredericton, has become one of the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival’s favourite performers. The people of the capital city take that very seriously. It’s rooted in his debut on the festival’s stage in 2002, 11 years after it all began.
He’s gaining steady popularity across the world. But in those 15 years, it’s become clear to fans where his home is and will remain.
His Wednesday night show, the real kickstarter of this year’s Harvest, was a much more mellow set than he’s gifted the city in the past. But the Fredericton favourite still managed to blow the familiar crowd away with his big riffs and bigger voice.
That was my Harvest goal this year. I wanted to see how it felt to immerse myself in the grassroots of the festival – the Maritime impact.
That’s the beauty of the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival and the reason, I believe, it continues to grow. Even as it becomes an international darling, it’s no secret that home-grown performers like Andersen are the heart and soul of it all.
When it began in 1991, that bottom-up foundation was upheld by local and regional artists who were starving for a stage to show off their work.
Ryan Barton has witnessed the evolution from a few different spots, literally. He’s a host on Fredericton’s 106.9 Capital FM and got a backstage view of Andersen’s performance in the Moose Light Blues Tent as MC for the evening.
He introduced Nashville’s independent powerhouse group Muddy Magnolias to open. It’s lead by a female duo who could be the next Indigo Girls if the Indigo Girls took a notch off the belt of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, with licks reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and Bruno Mars.
Barton says even though the festival continues to attract those kinds of international groups, some things remain the same.
“The festival got its start because of support from those local musicians and fans,” he said.
“And now the festival continues to spread the love by showcasing these talented musicians among some of the best in the world and proves that they deserve to be recognized and that they can hold their own.”
But it’s not just support for locals that gives Harvest its comfortable, familiar feel, and it doesn’t just do that for locals like me. People come from all over to get the Harvest experience.
For any of us, watching Andersen and his band, the Bona Fide, play was like being at another typical kitchen party in my hometown village.
Still, when I scurried back to the downtown scene on Thursday night, it was a different kind of show, loud and boisterous. But it still felt like home.
People filed in as Arkanas’ Amasa Hines played a chaotic, emotional set in the TD Mojo tent. People bobbed their heads, but were tense and eager for the next set: Sloan.
Sloan, the Halifax, Nova Scotia alt-rock heroes with a quarter-century track record of major radio hits and national acclaim, was about to bring the kitchen party back together.
With a Moosehead in one hand, I crowded as close as I could get to the stage. Rob Pinnock, the voice of late afternoons on 105.3 The FOX, was just as excited to welcome the band.
When they came out, I felt like I knew them all too well in their jean-jacketed and shaggy-haired Maritime glory. And to no surprise, albeit an impressive one, Sloan knew us, too.
The band rocked its hit-after-hit set, but the crowd lead the songs – knowing every track in their catalogue, not only because they’re a great band, but because they feel so damn comforting.
Sloan was one of the bigger names this year. Its sold-out show, like Andersen’s, challenged those of some of the most exciting names the festival has slotted.
This included 14-year-old guitar prodigy Brandon (Taz) Niederauer from New York state, former Barenaked Ladies lead singer Steven Page, Trey Anastasio Band and hip-hop artist Charlie 2na, among many others.
Still, acts like East Coast all-star Matt Minglewood, blues wonder Keith Hallet and the act who has played every Harvest from the very beginning, Fredericton’s Downtown Blues Band, topped off the lineup.
After over two decades of being on the scene, Pinnock told me it’s combinations like Harvest and Maritime music which solidify the roots that attract so many people even 26 years later.
“The Harvest has been key in launching a pretty impressive stable of regional talent, and it’s one of the things that makes it unique — that Maritime flavor.”
This thesis has no sign of ceasing. With local bands like The Hypochondriacs dropping new albums and becoming frequent stage-blazers, that flavour keeps getting more succulent. It’s what many fans keep coming back to get a taste of because you can’t get it anywhere else.
At a few points, stepping outside of my sensory-overloaded brain, I looked around and studied the faces of my fellow music lovers.
When you see a performance that gives you a familiar feeling in your heart – like, for me, Sloan or Matt Andersen – you realize it’s not about the place. It’s not about Fredericton or the Maritimes. It’s about having the feeling of familiarity stirred up in your soul and shaping the identity politics that make you feel as though you’re a part of something huge, something larger than life, something bigger than wherever it is you come from.
It’s about realizing music is more than a way to make money or relax. It’s about using it as the glue to connect memories.
For me, it’s like driving down the road to my aunt’s beach every summer with Sloan’s “The Rest of My Life” on the radio, or being excited to see my boyfriend’s reaction when I took him to see Matt Andersen last year.
And when it comes to Harvest, it’s more than just a great opportunity for all of us local folk. It’s about welcoming non-Maritimers into the kitchen party and showing them how that kind of home-grown simplicity can resonate with anyone, no matter who they are. It cultivates an understanding and a familiarity amongst people who have merely a few things in common: a hankering for good tunes, late nights and fun times – and that’s where we make our home.