There’s something about a Friday.
I head down, eager, enthused. It’s been a long work-week, and I’m tired from the early mornings following late nights—but throughout the day, the thought of Harvest fuels me better than caffeine ever could.
By now, I’ve come to know the grounds intimately, like a tango partner. I’ve found all its nooks and crannies. I know that the water station is over there, and over here is the shortcut behind and between the stages. Harvest has become a pop-up place, a miniature town inside a town. This little community is fleeting and impermanent—as I’m all too aware. All day, I think about how all I want is to be there.
My first order of business upon arrival is to support a business: I cannot resist the food trucks’ allure, the sweet smells sifting over the streets. I’ve had to hold myself back, what with my student budget and all—but tonight, I’m splurging! I eeny-meeny-mo my way to a donut stand.
Boy, oh boy: I’m a sucker for mini-donuts.
The paper bag grows greasy in my hands. I lift each donut slowly, hold it aloft between two fingers. Steam rises as I admire its shine, like a jeweller with a rare diamond. I savour each one; it’s contemplative, like a Cuban cigar. The sugar lingers on my lips like glitter and I lustfully lick it off.
Harvest is full of many pleasures.
But the music is why I’m here (mostly), so with my belly smiling, I head for the Barracks; there, I catch David In The Dark doing their home turf proud. The band is hard-hitting, hard-working, and frontman Evan LeBlanc’s voice rings out over the room; sometimes it’s a growl, sometimes it’s a rasp, sometimes it’s nasal—but it’s never not heartfelt. I watch the entire set without even meaning to. I’m transfixed, stuck, completely void of any thought or worry—sign of a good show, no doubt. But I have a conflict: there’s another band I had spoken to, Blind Dog, playing at the same exact time, and I wanted to be sure I see some of their set, too. David In The Dark finishes and I suddenly remember the other performance.
I race out, frantic and flustered. I’m grateful for my knowledge of the area’s geography, but the streets are far more jampacked than any other night; nevertheless, I race from the Barracks to the Blues Court like a rat in a maze. I’ve been so worried I would miss the triumphant return of Bruce Hughes and the Blind Dog boys, but I’ve made it just in time! I shove my way to the front of the stage and can’t help but notice the harmonica player with a belt of harps round his waist, like a chain of bullets on Rambo—but the man I’m really here to see is there at his side: Brucey, onstage where he belongs. The resurrection is before me, Bruce Hughes is back on guitar and there are no signs of a stroke slowing him down! He’s rocking n rolling like it’s Harvest 1991 all over again. I feel so proud of him and his bandmates, so thankful I’ve been able to get to know him and his story—and perhaps, even, proud to now call him a friend. It’s stories like Blind Dog’s—small stories about small bands that are still significant—that make Harvest such a special festival.
That said, for all its inclusion of smaller, more local acts, Harvest sure does punch above its weight in the big names it brings, too, with perhaps this year’s biggest being Phish frontman Trey Anastasio. I run to the Moose Light tent in time for his encore and hear his electric, millennial-hippie jazz. There’s something in the air—some might call it “vibes,” if they’re so inclined—whatever it is, it’s so very zen; it feels like my soul is doing yoga. I’ve gotten there just in time to hear him bust out a cover of the Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child,” Trey’s singing “Ooh, child, things are gonna get easier/Ooh, child, things’ll get brighter” and there’s something about the way he delivers it—there’s this great grin on his face, so that might be it—that makes it all so believable. Trey says it will get better, so it will.
I send a picture of the show to a good friend, who’s a huge Phish fan (a phan? my phriend?). He responds: “The lights, man.” Indeed.
I end the night with the TransCanada Highwaymen, a new Canadian supergroup—a Traveling Wilburys of the Great White North, if you will. Its members consist of the Barenaked Ladies’ Stephen Page; Chris Murphy of Sloan; Odds’ very own Craig Northey and Moe Berg from The Pursuit of Happiness. They each play hits they had written for their respective bands, but the songs are reimagined, reinterpreted, reshuffled and reborn (just as I have been). The set is somewhat sloppy, but in the best way; it feels unpredictable and it feels now. They look like teenagers in a garage band who hardly know their parts—but it doesn’t matter, they have heart; they look like they’re once again having fun playing songs they’d gotten sick of strumming. They even launch into silly, spontaneous singalongs—at one point, somehow, the “Na na na na”s from “Hey Jude” become “Na na na na, Jaaaaaaaz Blueeeees.” Soon, everyone under the tent is singing it. I watch Stephen Page lead the band through “The Old Apartment,” and remember that that same song opened the show at the first concert I ever went to. Now, here I am, all these years later, seeing him sing that same song, and I’m writing about it!. Funny how these things turn out, isn’t it? Moe Berg takes lead vocals on the set-ending “I’m An Adult Now;” if this is what being an adult means, I’m okay with it.
I leave the set, ears ringing, brain buzzing, resigned to the fact that so many 90s CanCon hits are now going to be stuck in my head. Already eager to come back tomorrow, I take one last look behind me and see the hustle and bustle of Queen Street, all beautiful and bright.
The lights, man.