As I’ve been writing these pre-Harvest profiles, I’ve been trying to get a deeper understanding of what this festival means to the people performing at it. Perhaps none can speak to this understanding better than those who are both artist and audience: members of Fredericton’s music scene.
Brendan MaGee plays keyboard in Brookside Mall, a local three-piece who released their latest EP last spring. He describes their sound as “slightly dreampop, slightly shoegaze,” but he does so reluctantly; MaGee is humble about both his band and his accomplishments.
He’s also an incredibly earnest fan of Harvest.
When we met at Read’s for an interview, he was proudly wearing a Hollerado t-shirt—the very band he’s sharing the Harvest stage with on Sept. 16.
“Getting to play this show is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said, with a huge grin on his face. “Eight years later, I’m coming full circle with it.”
Indeed, it was almost a decade ago that MaGee, then 17, attended his first Harvest. Though a native of Fredericton, he had never been to the festival before, despite having heard good things about it.
“It’s very easy to live in a bubble,” MaGee explained. “There’s this idea that because you live in a city and exist in a space, you think you know of its limitations. You get into your zone and you don’t really leave it.”
It’s a tale that seems all too common. For UNB students in particular, it can be very easy to become trapped in a campus-centric routine consumed by classes, assignments and on-campus social events, rarely venturing down the hill to explore what downtown has to offer.
Finally, on a whim, MaGee bought a weekend pass—and was surprised at what he discovered.
“What I’d always thought of as a sleepy city was totally awake.”
The festival ended up being “super formative” for MaGee; it inspired him to pick up the keyboard that had been given to him years prior by an aunt—one that had remained hidden in a closet, unused and unthought of. He learned to play and was soon in bands of his own, vying for a spot on the Harvest roster.
That first festival experience also inspired him to get involved behind the scenes, and the musician has worked in various roles with Harvest over the years since. By participating in such a way and understanding all the intricacies involved in running a festival like this, he’s come to appreciate how beneficial the yearly event truly is to Fredericton’s music community.
“A lot of the time when you get an event this big, local artists are ignored and it’s very corporatized—something like Osheaga in Montreal, you’re not seeing many local artists playing. But Harvest is still a community festival; there’s no submission fee for artists, which is one small way to help us out. And there’s a whole stage outside city hall devoted to East Coast acts. It’s just a great platform for New Brunswick and Maritime acts to play. It’s an unparalleled platform for that.”
He’s also come to realize the benefits the festival offers to the community at large.
“Harvest is a fully registered charity—no one’s reaping a profit off the backs of the musicians. It’s very important for the festival to give back to the community. All the profit gets reinvested back into the festival and whatever’s left over goes into music education. They’ve donated over $100,000 to music programs in local schools, so there’s that aspect of it too.”
This sense of Harvest pride was shared by Quinn Bonnell, a relative newcomer to the Fredericton music scene who released his first EP earlier this summer. Promising a “blues-driven set” in which he and his band will “go onstage, rock out, basically have as much fun as we can,” Bonnell will take the Harvest stage for the first time—though it, too, has been a long-time dream of his. In previous years, he’s walked the streets, witnessed great acts, and dreamt of the day he could make his festival debut.
“It’s always been a milestone for me,” Bonnell said. “I thought, ‘If I can play Harvest, I have a chance.’ It’s been a staple for my aspirations.”
Similarly, Evan LeBlanc, guitarist and songwriter for David In The Dark, describes his group simply as a “rock and roll band” that “jumps around and plays loud.” He began his Harvest career as a busker, and ver the last couple of years, he has worked his way up to a spot on one of the bigger stages.
“I like to think of it as the most wonderful time of the year,” he explained. “The whole downtown changes. You don’t even have to necessarily buy tickets; you can wander around, see some performers in the street, check out some vendors. It’s a nice downtown all the time, but for that one week? It’s like a whole new place. It’s a wonderland.”
The festival also provides local artists the opportunity to present what they do to a much wider audience.
“You see a whole different group of people at these shows that you wouldn’t normally see at a concert, so it’s nice to see how they can bring everyone together,” LeBlanc said.
Bandmate Dylan Ward—who also plays bass in Brookside Mall—revealed that the festival also gives local artists an opportunity to learn.
“We don’t just get to play, we also get to see really great acts,” Ward stated. “I think seeing a great act and seeing what a really awesome performance looks like is really inspiring. It’s like, ‘Oh! That’s how it’s done up there!’ There really is a lot you can take from the festival.”
Talking with all three acts, I came to appreciate the festival’s significance to the local community and had a sense that, no matter where they may go from here, these artists will never forget their chance to take the Harvest stage.
“Going there for the first time and thinking about the course of my life and the effect that it’s had on me …” MaGee began, eyes looking almost dumbfounded. “It’s the most anticipated show I’ve ever played, and probably would mean the most to me in general.”
Brookside Mall takes the Toyota Barracks Tent stage on Sept.. 16 at 8 p.m. David In The Dark is set for the same stage on Sept. 15 at 8:45 p.m. Quinn Bonnell will hit the Cox & Palmer Blues Court on Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m.