‘It feels wonderful’: Harvest returns to downtown Fredericton

Thousands gather inside the Blues tent at the Harvest Music Festival on Sept. 16, 2021. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

One of New Brunswick’s most popular music festivals returned to the streets of downtown Fredericton last week after over a year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 30th annual Harvest Music Festival, formerly known as Harvest Jazz and Blues, saw thousands of attendees pack inside sectioned-off tents and other areas for music, food and socializing.

Due to pandemic-related health restrictions last year, Harvest couldn’t hold large in-person celebrations and focused mainly on streaming virtually. But this year, Harvest mandated all attendees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a way to address public safety concerns.

Brent Staeben, musical director of the Harvest Music Festival, said it was exhilarating to see fully vaccinated crowds gather at the Blues Tent near city hall. Event organizers had to change course several times but finally settled on a concrete plan when New Brunswick moved to the green phase of pandemic recovery.

“We had been watching the United States in the festival scene and they were quite a few months ahead of us because they started to vaccinate earlier than us,” said Staeben. “It allowed us to envision what a regular festival might look like in green, so we were prepared for it all along.”

Kate Rogers, Fredericton Mayor, attended the festival since its early days at the Student Union Building when she studied at the University of New Brunswick in the 1990s. She enjoys how the festival fosters a sense of community through music.

She said she felt “lots of emotions” about getting to see Harvest return to the city. She and her husband used to volunteer at the festival.

“It feels wonderful. I was watching a show last night and I had tears in my eyes,” said Rogers. “Just to think of where we were a year ago … and here we are in a sea of people all double vaccinated, really committed to public safety. It felt safe.”

Festivalgoer Chantelle Buote recently moved back to New Brunswick after spending some time in Halifax, N.S. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

Festivalgoer Chantelle Buote recently moved back to New Brunswick after spending some time in Halifax, N.S. Originally from Moncton, Boute had Harvest at the top of her to-do list since this year was her first time attending.

She enjoyed socializing with her friends after a long year and a half of the pandemic.

“It’s good for everybody to come together,” said Buote. “That’s a big part of it as we get to see our friends [who are] almost family.”

Staeben said the energy of each performer was exceptional this year, adding that the overall feeling is hard to put into words. He said people buzzed with energy after not experiencing live music for more than 18 months.

“The performances have been fantastic because I think that you’re getting that connection between the artists who are just so thrilled to be in front of a big excited crowd again,” he said.

The Aquinian’s photo editor, Aaron Sousa, captured highlights of this year’s Harvest Music Festival. Experience the event through the slideshow below: