There is something magical that happens when people come together to have fun and support a common goal. It’s the kind of magic that happens when you can buy your produce right from the people who grew it. It’s also the kind of magic that happens when you’re dancing butt to gut with friends and strangers on a damp, chilly night to a Rolling Stones cover band, and Mick is in particularly fine form, strutting around, throwing outfit change castoffs to the wildly appreciative crowd. That’s the magic of Harvest Moon Festival, which took place this past weekend in Clearwater, Manitoba.
The town – located around three hours south of Winnipeg – normally boasts a population of around 68 people, but swells to accommodate 1,500 + festival goers each year. Townspeople and “city folk” – a term thrown around a lot over the weekend – come together in a mutually appreciative and respectful environment to support the Harvest Moon Society and their vision of healthy land and healthy communities.
While the focus of many other festivals is mainly music, Harvest Moon also places importance on education. Workshops are offered, primarily on the Saturday of the festival, and range in topic from how to throw a lasso, to how to grind grains, to the right to a healthy environment, to acro yoga.
Because of the very nature of the festival – the fact that it takes place in town and fully involves the townspeople – there is the potential to learn just by sitting next to someone at breakfast. On Sunday, the Anglican Church hosted a breakfast. It was a great opportunity to come in from the cold, have a cup or ten of hot coffee, and have a hot meal. Long banquet style tables stretched out to fill the hall, and you got a seat where you could.
If you were lucky, you got to sit beside Roy McLaren. At 89 years young (his words), he’s a town elder, and delights in telling his story, which is very much entwined with the town. He remembers a time when there were over twenty schools around Clearwater. Now there’s one. He likes to show pictures on his iPhone, and will talk your ear off in the best way.
Workshops aren’t for everyone, but music is, and this year the lineup had something for everyone. On the main stage, JD and the Sunshine Band , a wonderfully motley crew of Winnipeg musicians and street involved people whose songs are filled with humuor and usually involve the audience, shared their quintessentially Winnipeg sound mid afternoon on the main stage.
Kipp Kocay’s romantic, sometimes heartbreaking songs were made more a little more romantic by the light drizzle that started to fall. Couples snuggled up and friends huddled together. Unfortunately, many in the audience made their way back to their tents when the drizzle turned to rain. A shelter tent would have been a good addition to this year’s fest because of the rain, but the sound carried well to the campground, and you could enjoy the sounds in the comfort of your home away from home.
At the restaurant stage you could grab a drink – served social style in the ‘if you order something other than beer, they give you a shot and you do the rest’ style – and listen to Naysa, who were a fun, garage rocky group. You could also check out Winnipeg rapper SMRT, in what had to be sociological experiment orchestrated by talent booker David Schellenberg. Booking the quick witted, gel nailed, “last night I may have barfed in my hair, I can’t tell” human personification of the internet at a festival aimed to celebrate the family farm was beyond weird, but it was awesome, and the crowd – minus an octogenarian who watched for a bit, then left, shaking his head – loved it.
When the sun went down the temperature joined it, and the extra layers of clothing came out. Les Jupes lead the crowd through a tight set of both upbeat and slower songs, all the while clearly having fun on stage. Fire dancers performed after, but because they were relegated to the left hand side directly in front of the stage, only really tall people or those right in front could get a clear view. While the fire dancers performed, stage extensions were added for what could have been seen as main event of the festival.
Peggers Banquet, the raucous Rolling Stones tribute band, took the stage and it didn’t matter that you were cold and wet, all that mattered was Mick (diligently and expertly created by festival organizer Cory Bellhouse), Keith (Matt Magura was a dead ringer), and the boys (and women; the backup singers and saxophone player were stellar) were on stage, and you were dancing to Under Pressure.
Royal Canoe closed out the night, and celebrated their five-year anniversary of playing Harvest Moon. To celebrate, their set was a combination of new and old songs, which the crowd went wild for. If you were tired from dancing, or tired from the cold, the sound carrier across the field, and you cold listen in the comfort of your tent.
Normally being woken up by the sound of a truck is something of an annoyance, but in this case it meant the porta-potties were clean, and it was safe to venture out of your tent. Attendees wearily made their way to breakfast, either in the hall, or at one of the vendors. A quick walk down the road and you were in the middle of the market, and you could buy meat, produce, honey, and preserves from the people who raised, grew, or made them, which is the reason for the Harvest Moon festival, and is reason to celebrate.