It has been one week since this year’s third annual Harvest Music Festival at Serenity. I have been dragging my feet on this piece because once I write it down I won’t be able to relive it in this amount of depth again.
To describe this festival equates to the type of experience you have at a close family wedding…intimate, friendly, fun, safe and full of love.
The fact that the festival takes place on the private property of venue owner Shirley de Vooght provides a homegrown quality that you just can’t match. Every ounce of this event is crafted by her hand and those that she holds in her inner circle. Serenity is Shirley and Shirley is Serenity…you don’t have one without the other; this place is as personal as it gets.
This year we faced some not-so-perfect weather moments which was new as in previous years it has been hotter than a mid summer’s day. However, the bouts of rain didn’t dampen spirits. People got creative and took care of one another, then the skies would clear at just the right moments and provide relief.
Friday night opened with North Saanich based Sam Weber and his band. Weber’s pace was just the right recipe to ease us into the weekend. Having been across this country over the past year touring his new album ‘Valentina Nevada,’ Weber and his band performed a polished set that had everything we were looking for as the festival opener including Weber’s renowned guitar skills, gorgeous melodies on keys and some of the best lyricism we would hear all weekend.
Next up was crowd favourite and Harvest Fest alumni Greg Drummond. Basically this guy could sing the ABC’s and the Harvest Fest audience would be fanning all over him. Drummond and his band delivered their staple folk’n’roll sound with tunes that have people dancing and singing along immediately proving why they have been given a place on the line-up each year. Mike Meroniuk’s mandolin mastery is always a huge hit as are Michael Lothian’s trumpet solos. Drummond conjures up what we all love most about this place and his performance reminded us why we come back year after year.
Night one closed out with the one and only WiL. I had heard about his live performance for years and it didn’t even compare to what it was actually like watching him. There were multiple moments where it almost didn’t seem possible that he was making those sounds come from an acoustic guitar. Needless to say he lives up to his homepage ibreakstrings.com. The guy was on fire. Accompanied by Keith Gallant on drums and Lena Birtwistle on keys, he lit up the stage with his fun banter and explosive playing that left us all in complete awe, including creating sounds unheard of before as he slap-played his acoustic guitar like it was a Dobro, having many in the crowd immediately referencing the film “August Rush” (YouTube it). I for one was so entranced by his performance I couldn’t even get out of my chair. It was hypnotizing. His new EP ‘Songs’ was released this very same day (get it!) which made his appearance at the festival extra special. For someone who has been at this for decades, toured this country from one end to the other and back again and played stages large and small, WiL’s appearance at our festival meant a lot and his performance will not soon be forgotten.
The rain on Friday night kept the campfire shenanigans to a minimum, but thanks to brothers and avid musicians Nils and Dan Loewen, they kept it warm with jubilant music for those ready to brave the cold and wet conditions. The Loewen brothers have become integral components of this little-festival-that-could, with Nils being the weekend’s official photographer and Dan getting the campfire sing-a-longs going each night. Dan also played a big role in the Freedom Arts program offered for the children of the festival this year that ran throughout the day on Saturday.
My main role with the festival is to coordinate programming in the Children’s Art Garden. This year we brought in musicians Angela Roy (vocals/percussion/musical director) and Steve Gosselin (stand up bass) of band Barefoot Caravan from Vernon BC who provided their ‘Freedom Arts’ program where they taught children songs with a variety of percussion instruments, and led a songwriting workshop that had the children write their own original song accompanied by Dan Loewen on guitar and Gosselin on stand up bass. The children performed their song on the main stage Sunday morning to the delight of their families. This was a welcomed addition this year and it was incredible to see the confidence built in the children and the pride they felt during and after their performance. As a parent, it was a highlight of my weekend to see my daughter move from not being sure she wanted to participate in the program at all to being one of the lead singers who had an immediate love of the microphone.
The art garden also included mural painting on the fence, watercolour painting, face painting, colouring and a wand-making craft. It is always a space full of creativity, laughter and fun during the day on Saturday that keeps the children busy as their parents recover from the night before and the musicians get prepared to perform in the afternoon.
First up on Saturday was Jason & the Diatonics. This group who has been keeping a low profile over the past year was a nice way to break us into the day with their acoustic-pop sound and fun, cheeky lyrics. They hung out for a good portion of the weekend which is always a nice compliment. Serenity is known for encouraging artists who are still finding their footing and striking the balance between following their artistic dreams and making a living. Here’s hoping Harvest Fest motivated Jason & the Diatonics to keep their foot in the door because they are a special band with their own unique style.
Windborn performed next. For anyone who knows anything about this venue, Windborn is almost synonymous with Serenity. He has been a part of building this place for years (literally building it, he has done a lot of the construction and roofing on the property) and even lived here for a stint writing music during a major crossroads in his life. Typically performing solo with a set up that includes a kick drum and loop pedal, he surprised all of us as his set included not only his past duo-mate Nils Loewen on cello, but also Cod Gone Wild musicians Roy Kawano on bass and Chad Carter on drums who backed him for the entirety of his set. It was incredible. To hear Windborn’s tunes with a full band was a gift to those of us who have been listening for years and appreciate his unique artistry and creative mind. What he has been able to create on stage by himself has always amazed us, but to see his songs brought to life in a new way with other musicians was satisfying as a listener. And nothing beats Nils’ accompaniment on the cello…it brought back memories of when they used to tour as a duo and reminded us all of the magic they create together on stage. Here’s hoping this is just the beginning of what’s to come for the dynamic evolution of Windborn.
Rounding out the afternoon was the insanely talented trio She Could Be Trouble. Blending the talents of Tracey Riley, Brodie Dawson and Christy Vanden, who can hold their own as solo artists any day of the week, the result is nothing short of perfection. Their exquisite harmonies, mad guitar skills and all around vibe gave us one of the most memorable performances of the festival. It is no surprise that this group has been receiving rave reviews and award nominations this past year as they have been touring the country, along with releasing their first collaborative album as a trio, ‘Nineteen Hours.’ She Could Be Trouble are pure entertainment with a roster of tunes a mile long thanks to combining each of their personal anthologies and a live show that hits all the right notes.
After a dinner break that included massive rain storms and sent more than a few tents flying and people scrambling to stake down their shelters, the skies cleared just in time for the evening’s first set with Brent Tyler.
I imagine every review ever written about Brent Tyler references the juxtaposition between his towering size and delicately tender music. But it is exactly this that makes him so memorable and adored. His presence both on stage and off is undeniable. Not only his physical self, impossible to miss in a crowd as he casts a shadow over top of all of us, but it is his kindness, silliness and the laughter that omits from everyone around him that makes up the folklore around this gentle giant. He performed as a duo with band mate Jory Kinjo, serenading us all into the festival’s final night. Heralded by his colleagues across the country, Brent Tyler is a sought after singer/songwriter and his time at Harvest Fest proved nothing less.
After being warmed up by Brent Tyler, we were ready to get all hot and bothered by Devon Coyote’s rock’n’blues. Returning to Serenity for the first time since his appearance at the first annual Harvest Fest, this band brought the audience to their feet as we sunk our teeth into the gritty performance that had all the elements the audience had been craving. Devon Coyote is made up of lead singer/guitarist Devon Bjarnason, bassist/multi-instrumentalist D’Arcy Booth and drummer/percussionist Rod Anderson. The trio have been a solid band for the past few years and it shows. Their live performance is dynamic, raw roots rock with blues soul that gets right into your bones. When Devon gets on that lap steel you get lost right along with him. High energy with an intensity you can feel through and through, Devon Coyote brought the rock that we had been waiting for.
It isn’t Harvest Fest without the mainstay band of this festival, Cod Gone Wild. Not only do they wow as an evening closer every single year, they are on-site for the entire weekend providing lights and sound for the festival. Their modern take on traditional Celtic tunes gets everyone up on their feet as they maintain an energy unmatched from start to finish. It had been one year since seeing fiddler Susan Aylard perform with them live for the first time and since then their cohesion as a band has fused perfectly. Knowing this was the last show we would see with longtime drummer Chad “Rhino” Carter who is moving on from the band in mid-October was bittersweet, but it forced us all to take in every second to remember the magic that comes from this combination of musicians performing some of our country’s most historic music. Led by Andrew Mercer, whose Newfoundland roots fuel every step of the band’s development, we are all eager to see what Cod Gone Wild does next.
Saturday night’s bonfire was much more in step with what we are used to as the sky became perfectly clear and the stars shone bright. Many of the musicians from the day’s line-up took a turn sharing their favourite cover or two and igniting that sense of community Serenity has come to be known for. A special thanks to each and every one of you for taking that extra time to connect with the festival goers around the fire through sharing in a mutual love of music.
We all woke up to blue sky and sun for the festival’s final day. The warm air was a welcome gift as we spent the morning and early afternoon lounging in the sunlight taking in the remaining performances.
The Freedom Arts program opened the morning as the children performed what they had written the day before. Such a sweet addition to this family-friendly festival.
Joal Kamps and his beautiful (and very pregnant) wife Lauren performed as a duo after touring and performing together over the past year since trying it out at our festival last year. Their connection and deep love for one another shines through with each note. They are truly a captivating couple to watch, equally humble as they are stunning. Lauren’s simple vocal harmonies and mandolin melodies added such weight to Joal’s award winning songs as they brought an authentic folk singer element to the festival. Expecting their first child in just a few weeks, they made it to Serenity just under the wire before they stop traveling (thank goodness for those of us who also greatly anticipate Lauren’s jewelry line ‘Flint & Feather’)!
Closing out the festival was Kelowna’s HOT KNOX. Between the blue sky, warm sun and knowing it was the last band to perform at the festival, HOT KNOX had my full attention and were the best surprise of the entire weekend. This band is all about the good vibes. I felt like they transported me to the coolest beach party on the planet.
From their original tunes of love, friendship and good time hangs, to their unique covers of a few top 40 favourites, this 5 piece (plus good friend Devon Coyote who joined them on stage as an additional guitarist) is an eclectic blend of modern pop and vintage rock. Referring to themselves as a jam band, there are no plans to record or tour heavily in their future as they embrace the pure enjoyment of playing together when they find the time between their individual varied lives which include a Pro beach volleyball player, retiree living in Mexico for half of the year and a producer for an event management company.
After the traditional all artist band jam took place and campers began packing up their sites, a handful of us remained. Forming a circle with a glass of champagne, we toasted Shirley, each other, the artists, the audience and another memorable year of connection through music. It’s a beautiful thing.
Harvest Music Festival took place September 9-11, 2016 at Serenity Performing Arts Centre. Click on the following links to connect to the artists who performed at this year’s festival.
The 2017 Harvest Fest line-up is already in place and the super early bird tickets are almost sold out! Call 250-676-9456 or email email@example.com to get your tickets while you still can!
Photo credits courtesy of Nils Loewen, Steve Mechem and Jamie Holloway. Special shout out of thanks to the festival vendors this year…a little bit of everything from Erica Von Kcaat’s psychic readings, handmade clothes, jewelry and gifts from ‘Mystic Dreams’ and ‘Second Nature’, UniTea’s yummy breakfasts and lattes, world class meals from Hop’n’Hog’s food truck ‘The Piglet’ and Shirley’s famous Serenity cheesecake!!