Meaningful (adjective): Expressing an emotion or idea without words; having real importance or value (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Upon reflection of the second annual Harvest Music Festival, what needs to be shared is that the entire event was meaningful in its vision, preparations and experience. You see, this festival has meaning beyond having fun, promoting music or making money (heaven forbid). What is at the heart of this venue and the festival is an intention to create a space where people can come, be unburdened, feel accepted, and immerse themselves in music that will help nurture their soul. From this perspective, people who crave and appreciate this way of thinking have been drawn to be here, musicians that play here come back again and again, and in time we are slowly building not just an audience, but a community.
Harvest Fest is the culmination of a year of humble house concerts with artists playing to a room of anywhere from 5-40 people that builds towards a weekend of hundreds camping on the acreage and being together in music.
There were thoughts that hung in the air wondering whether the second year could recreate the magic of the first. But nothing is ever recreated, it is always something new, something fresh. This year, there were different bands and more people, many of which were first time visitors to the venue.
When asked to describe Serenity, time and time again most say something along the lines of “it feels like home.” This is simply because it is a home. To have a music venue such as this built on private property and continually improved and expanded with the care that Shirley de Vooght provides is remarkable.
Of course, among the picturesque surroundings of the river, mountains, creek, and acreage grounds, at the end of the day people come for the music.
Friday night was kicked off by road warrior Windborn (aka one man band Jeff Pike). Previously based out of Kelowna and then the Kootenays, Windborn is barely in one place for long. Constantly touring and creating a stir wherever he lands, there was little question Windborn would open the festival considering his close ties to Serenity and his role in the creation of the event itself. Since last year’s festival Windborn has released a new live-off-the-floor album entitled ‘Calm in Chaos’ that is a fantastic piece of work that emulates his live show to a tee, which for someone like Windborn is huge feat and a gift to his entrenched fan base across many of BC and Alberta’s small town pockets where he tours regularly. Thanks goes to Windborn for starting things off in his eclectic, powerful and mesmerizing style.
Rolla Olak was up next with his 4 piece rock band compiled of some of Vancouver’s most sought out musicians – Nick Petrowich (drums), Andrew Rasmussen (keys) and JP Maurice (bass/guitar). Rolla is a hands down favourite of many of the venue’s regulars and his set was definitely one that had a fair amount of hype surrounding it. The key to Rolla’s sound and presence is that it is both nostalgic and fresh. He connects with those who have a heart for classic rock, but relates to new generations seeking music that resonates to your core. Rolla’s entire vibe is intoxicating, he has this way of putting everyone he meets at ease and making you feel instantly relaxed and chill. Even though he is playing full board rock’n’roll, he still maintains that ability to connect and remain authentic to himself on stage. This is a gift. Rolla and his band brought the rock and a healthy amount of sex appeal to the first night which, let’s be honest, what’s a music festival without either.
Cod Gone Wild closed out Friday night in their high energy, wild, audience rousing style. My goodness does this band know how to get people on their feet. What struck me instantly about Cod’s set was how they have solidified their live performance; it was seamless from start to finish. They move from song to song with such grace and power, yanking at heartstrings while amping it up for dance numbers. Live shows are well-crafted and practiced art forms that Cod Gone Wild has mastered. Not to mention that the band almost played two full sets; they were on fire. The biggest surprise for many Cod fans was that long standing fiddle player Anjuli Otter recently left the band to get married and move to Saskatchewan. Although this changed the dynamic of their on stage show (most notably her constant banter with lead singer Andrew Mercer), newly acquired Sue Aylard blew our socks off with her impeccable talent and massive solos that had everyone cheering. The fact that they have not even had a full practice together since Sue joined the band is a testament to her abilities. The traditional elements and celtic folk stompin’ beats brought by Cod Gone Wild confirmed that this festival is one hell of party.
Saturday arrived with early morning dense fog and a chill in the air. The weather was perfect by the way. Hot days to lay in the sun on a blanket and cool nights to cozy around the bonfire and then snuggle up in your campsite with loved ones. Yoga was offered on the field by audience member and trained instructor Stefanie Hendrickson from Williams Lake. The Children’s Art Garden sponsored by Success By 6 provided activities including chalk art, playdough, wand/dance ribbon making, face painting and drawing. People “recovered” from the night before by relaxing in their camp sites or taking in the beauty of the concert grounds. New friends were made and old friends re-connected, it was a day to relax and prepare for what the late afternoon and evening had in store.
The Lion The Bear The Fox kick-started Saturday’s line-up which was a genius albeit questioned choice for venue owner/operator Shirley de Vooght. The fact is this band is near and dear to the venue. They are hands down local favourites and have a personal connection with Shirley and the team that rivals most. Their placement in the day-time lineup surprised a few people, including themselves as Ryan McMahon chose to joke about on stage. But it was the perfect choice. The intention behind them opening Saturday’s lineup was simple; they are the band that will get things started, bring people out of their campsites, and get the day goers here on time; no one wants to miss The Lion The Bear The Fox. And rightfully so. These guys kill it every time. The energy, chemistry, harmonies, songwriting, and plain hilarity on stage between Christopher Arruda (keys/vocals), Cory Woodward (guitar/vocals), and Ryan McMahon (acoustic guitar/vocals) made them an instant festival favourite. You just can’t not love these guys. I hope they felt that their set time made sense in the end, and that they experienced a connection with the audience that was most definitely felt, because there continues to be no one like them and they set the bar high for the rest of the day.
Prairie Dance Club is full of heart. These guys haven’t played many shows in the past year due to bandmate Jeremy Friesen dealing with some serious health issues, but thankfully things have turned a positive corner and he was looking incredible this weekend. We have been thinking of him and his family a lot and were overjoyed to see him and the band together bringing their roots rock sound to the festival. They have been one of venue owner Shirley de Vooght’s favourites since she first heard them play a few years ago. Their set was one of the only times Shirley took a break all weekend; she indulged in the show and danced on the grass with friends. If that isn’t a solid endorsement I don’t know what is.
After a brief dinner break Matt Blais and his band hit the stage to bring their dose of roots & blues rock. The story of them joining the festival bill is one of Shirley’s famous tales; they had played a house show that brought the roof down. In a moment of spontaneity, Shirley looked at the crowd and said, “What do you think, should Matt join us for Harvest Fest?” the crowd erupted and Matt said yes on the spot. It’s no surprise why. Matt and his band rolled in to the acreage in the early morning hours on Saturday after playing a show elsewhere Friday night. They hung out during the day, exploring the river and meeting people. Once up on stage, they brought the funk and lay down some killer tunes. The highlight was Matt on harmonica, who took their groove to a whole other level and led us into the night in style.
Damn Fools. My goodness these guys are smoldering. Their set was one of the most memorable of the weekend. During their performance the weather was deciding whether it was going to deliver a massive thunder storm, it eventually held off, but during their show the wind blew and a few rain drops began to fall. You couldn’t have planned it, but for their finale they played their song “Storm” with a climatic ending that echoes “There’s a storm that’s coming” and at that exact moment the wind blew in massive gusts, blowing the curtains every which way on the stage; it was an epic, goosebumps inducing moment. The guitar riffs from Andrew Twining and Alex Gordon-Firing were insane as usual. They just nailed it. Lead singer Mike Twining did what he does best and completely owned the stage. He gives everything he has up there, and performs his heart out for each song. These guys will always have our hearts here at the venue for re-arranging their schedules at the last minute to be here this past spring to perform as a celebration for venue owner Shirley de Vooght’s end of cancer treatment. You will be hard pressed to find another group of rock’n’roll heart throbs as down to earth and kind-hearted than Damn Fools.
Greg Drummond. So much to say, so little space. To try and place what Greg and his band have come to mean to this venue is challenging to do in a few sentences, but I will say this, without question they have become like family. They have reached a status with venue owner Shirley de Vooght that they know they can play here anytime. She jokes they will have a gig here until they are too big to play here anymore. It was a special night for the band as it was drummer Alanna Pearce’s return show after traveling the past few months in South America and we couldn’t have been more thrilled that she made it back just in time. Multi-instrumentalist Michael Lothian was ever the master on stage, with major kudos going to him pulling an accordion save when the audio for his keyboard failed for the song “Heaven or Hell,” where he holds an important instrumental melody. They brought with them yet another guest bassist (the running joke is every time they come they bring a different bass player), but Alex was lovely and fit in seamlessly. Finally, Mike Meroniuk continues to dazzle with his guitar and mandolin solos that literally leave me in a trance every time. He is so damn good. Having them close out the night was special on many levels. For one thing, a large portion of the crowd were hard and fast fans who were singing along to most of Greg’s songs which always adds to a performance. But what set Greg apart was the ease in which he went with the flow of the night. He joked with the crowd, made personal anecdotes, and brought people into the performance in a way that is so inviting and makes you feel like you know him even if you don’t. A highlight of the entire festival was the moment he invited artist Cassandra Dolen on stage. She had begun to belt out her angelic voice from the audience, and he didn’t hesitate to bring her up and showcase her talent for the crowd. Cassandra generously donates her original paintings to the festival’s silent auction and last year she became a fireside legend from her soulful tones and incredible range. Greg honoured her and us with this spontaneous duet. Following his set, Greg kick started an all artist jam on stage where they knocked out some killer blues and closed out the night in full celebratory fashion.
After a late night around the bonfire for many listening to the jams of a crew of talented musicians, Sunday started out with This Old Ghost Town from Kelowna consisting of Billy Harrison (vocals/guitar), Daryl Haugan (drums/vocals), and Dan Jones (bass guitar). They were spry with the energy of a new band. Haughan spoke to the audience throughout their set with flare. Their sound had a unique folk quality. It will be interesting to see where they take the band in the coming year.
The best surprise of the festival for me was special guest Joal Kamps and his wife Lauren. Their appearance Sunday morning was a breath of fresh air. Joal is such a seasoned performer and knows exactly how to connect with an audience. The new development of playing a few duets with Lauren was a sweet dose to the morning lineup. They have a beautiful presence together and Joal’s lyrics had the perfect blend of touching and insightful. My friend beside me and I were moved to tears more than once, the tune“Be Gentle” had this tender edge that got me hook, line and sinker.
Doug Koyama, oh Dough Koyama. There is so much to say about this man. He not only took on the gate all weekend, but he helped in any way he could. I saw him perform a few weeks prior in Kelowna which had reminded me what a special artist he is. Creating completely improvised songs using a loop pedal, it is easy to become mesmerized by his abilities. He has made brave choices in both his art and his life. I have a great deal of respect and reverence for the journey he has chosen, which is by no means easy. I hope that Doug will remain a mainstay of the festival, it is hard to imagine it without him.
The morning carried on with a series of jams from both the artists and the audience. Highlights included the combination of Windborn (kick drum/guitar/vocals), Daryl Haugan (kick drum/vocal), Nils Loewen on cello, Dan Loewen (guitar/vocals) and Mike Meroniuk on mandolin. A standout was audience member Trista Algar, the teen and great niece of artist Cassandra Dolen. Trista got up there like a pro with her guitar in hand and blew the socks off the crowd with her soft voice that hit every note with ease as she sang some beauties like “Blackbird” by The Beatles (her cover was right up there with Sarah McLachlan’s version).
After the music was said and done and people packed up their campsites and made their rounds to say goodbye, there was a feeling left in the air that this is just the beginning, the beginning of a special tradition of sorts, that only a few hundred people each year are ever going to get to experience. Shirley has made the conscious choice to cap tickets at 400. She intentionally wants to preserve the intimate, safe, family-friendly and home-like feel to the festival. It has been two weeks and already over 100 tickets are sold for next year. You better believe she has started something, so if you want to be part of it, or if you are even a little bit curious what could be so special about a place that motivates someone like me to devote hours in the middle of the night to write about it, then I hope you get on the list quick, because it will soon be too late.
On the Monday morning following the festival I shared a moment with a friend after dropping our kids off at school. As our conversation unfolded, she began to thank me for introducing her and our tight knit circle to this “magical” place, she said “I never want to stop going to Serenity. When I am there, sitting on a blanket with my kids listening to the music, I feel like the person I want to be; relaxed and free of anxiety and worry.” In the words of Shirley, “that is quite simply the Serenity intention.” And so it is, so it is indeed.
The 2nd annual Harvest Music Festival happened on September 11-13 at Serenity Performing Arts Centre. Tickets are on sale and going fast for next year.
Click on the links below to check out the homepages of this year’s incredible lineup of artists.
Festival photos courtesy of Steve Mechem, Cassandra Dolen, Shirley de Vooght and Judy Tidball.