Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival among the best run anywhere

Posted on September 21, 2007
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            My children buy me an ultimate pass to the Fredericton Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival, which takes place the second week of September each year.                                                                                                                                                                                                               

            It started off well 17 years ago and has steadily evolved into an event so well run it has to compare favourably with any festival anywhere.

            The first thing you’ll want to know, of course, is that the quality of the music is simply terrific.

            This year Arturo Sandoval, Government Mule, Molly Johnson and Dr. John were among the headliners.

            A tribute to the late Prime Minister of the Blues, Dutch Mason, included his Juno winner, son Garrett and a fountain-of-youth set with Matt Minglewood and Sam Moon. Minglewood and Moon’s doing Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See?” complete with Matt’s poignant goin’-down-the-road story is prominent on the sound track in rock and roll heaven.

            There is great variety including gospel and Cajun Zydeco. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has been an obvious inspiration to the festival for both ideas and talent.

            International, national and regional headliners draw the crowds and provide an audience and recognition for local talent.

            I don’t know why or how it happened, but the music industry is not a big presence on the HJ&B scene. That is quite probably one of the big reasons for its success and popularity. The program includes what the directors believe the audiences want to see and hear, not what some label is promoting this year.

            The festival works with, not against, existing bars and clubs. People who can’t get or can’t afford tickets to the major venues can find great live entertainment all over the city. It is a wonderful cultural introduction to the city for the thousands of students there from all parts of the world.

            There are more free venues than there are paid. A fan without a ticket can even stand by the exits at the major venues and hear the headliners free. Small stages are set up on almost every block. Every day there are free shows, featuring headliners, in Officer’s Square. The last concert of the festival is held there on Sunday afternoon. This year Molly Johnson headlined.

           The free daytime venues also provide an alcohol-free environment for those who want that. Drinks are available in a separate area.

            Drink prices are not exorbitant as they so often are when the audience is captive. Drink and beer tickets sell in packages of five for $20.00, not much different than most small-town bars. Most patrons aren’t much motivated to sneak their own in or load up before they arrive. Mind you, serious music fans aren’t there to be seriously drunk anyway.

            Fredericton City Police deserve kudos for being present but not in anyone’s face. They’re friendly and helpful. They help create the tone.

            Festival organizers have always aimed for a clean festival but it is really serious now. Volunteers comb the venues gathering up discarded containers and recycling bins are everywhere.

            There is a flexible package of event, day and weekend tickets available.  The ultimate is the ultimate because it allows the wearer to move from venue to venue to get a taste of various programs. It was what allowed me to see all of the Government Mule show in the Bud Light Blues tent and still make the Minglewood, Moon, set in the Aliant Mojo tent.

            Being so impressed with the brilliant management Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival has exhibited over the years, I am trying to get them to create one more type of pass. Preliminary surveys of fest fans indicate it would be very popular.

            I want an Ultimate Pass Squared Pass. The Ultimate Pass lets you into any venue. Squared it would let you into every venue – at the same time.

            On Saturday night, for example, I wanted to be in the Mojo Tent for Dr. John and L’il Brian and the Zydeco Travelers and in the PQA venue at the Boyce Market for Grand Derangement, the Acadian group from Nova Scotia. I needed a pass to be in both places at the same time.

            For those of you who saw Government Mule and, like me, always wish the CD’s could be as good as the performances, here’s an exciting discovery. They sell session recordings on their website! You can go to: http://www.mule.net/from_the_road/details.php?year=07&month=09#13WH

 and buy and download the Fredericton or any other show including Warren Haynes solo acoustic show. Incidentally, HJ&B promoted the fact that Warren Haynes of Government Mule is #23 on the “Rolling Stone” list of the top 100 guitar players of all time. To see the list click here:  http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/5937559/the_100_greatest_guitarists_of_all_time/

            The final thing that must be said is that the hundreds of volunteers who work the bars and doors and grounds are simply wonderful. They’re cheerful and plentiful and the festival simply isn’t possible without them. Festival organizers keep reminding the audiences to thank them. They richly deserve it!

            The organizers too, of course, are volunteers.


            Thank you!

            David Cadogan


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