Mon, Sep 3, 2012.
For the second year, the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic, a one-day event held in the Christie Lake Conservation Area in Dundas, Ontario, has left a lasting impression on its audience, above and beyond the normal music festival. "The best show of all time", was one comment, echoed by many at the days' end. The eclectic lineup featured everything from Gospel to hip-hop to folk to a DJ, and was put together by area native Daniel Lanois, who called upon musical friends from all over to lend a hand to the effort.
The Picnic was conceived by Lanois and his agent and friend J.P. Gauthier, another area resident. Driving through the Greenbelt one day and admiring the farmlands, the two self-professed food fans wanted to bring attention to the importance of farming, eating locally, and conserving and celebrating nature. The idea was to bring people into the area, to see how amazing it is, and meet the people who grow their food and create their art. In addition to the music stage, the venue was surrounded by 90-some vendors, exhibitions, displays, performers and artisans.
Speaking after the event, Lanois talked about the importance of working collectively to promote such values: "You got to have people who believe in an idea," he said passionately, at the end of an emotional day. "And when they believe in an idea, we can make it work. We cannot do it on our own. We need to do it collectively and this Greenbelt Harvest Festival is a point of congregation. It is a human crossroads."
The setting for the show was a big part of the day. Surrounded by the trees and hills of the park, visitors could wander down to the lake at any point, walk along the paths or through the grass, or just hang out in the sunshine in one of the most beautiful days imaginable. When the sun set, the lights from the stage spilled over onto the huge oaks on either side, their leaves illuminated in the richest green. It was either a great stroke of luck, or a brilliant choice of where to put the stage.
Lanois is someone who can make things happen, and certainly knows how to curate a great day of music. Headlining with a dramatic set was Feist, stopping back in the country while in the middle of a lengthy world tour for her most recent album, Metals. On stage with the vocal trio Mountain Man, Feist delivered on the intensity of the new album, yet still had moments of sing-along fun and strong connection with the audience.
Preceding her was a combined set featuring Lanois and his band and friends. Local guitar favourite Brian Griffiths joined first, then Bob Lanois, the host's brother, came up on harp for Jolie Louise, dedicated to their mother in the audience. Then the spotlight was turned over to Emmylou Harris, and as at last year's festival, the set featured songs from her landmark Wrecking Ball album, produced by Lanois in 1995. The title cut, written by Neil Young, was a set standout, as was the Lucinda Williams number Sweet Old World, and Anna McGarrigle's Goin' Back To Harlan. Producer Malcolm Burn, another Ontario boy, who has worked with both Lanois and Harris was sitting in on keyboards, so he joined in for a stirring duet on the classic Love Hurts.
Gord Downie was another returnee from last year's picnic, but this time he brought a whole new band and set list to the show. While The Tragically Hip have a new album coming out in a month, Downie has another one in the can, recorded some time ago with The Sadies, and that combo previewed several of the tracks. Some were big rockers, there were others with a country tinge, and a pretty cool cover of Neil Young's Too Far Gone. Sarah Harmer was back too, the local favourite equally involved in her community, with her long commitment to protecting the Niagara Escarpment.
Another highlight was the appearance of Brady Blade, Sr., and the Hallelujah Train. From Shreveport, Lousiana, Blade has been a pastor for 51 years at Zion Baptist Church, and music has always been a big part of his ministry. Lanois met him through his sons, who are both drummers, two of the world's greats. Brian Blade is Lanois' drummer of choice, for his own band and several of his productions. He's also played with Norah Jones, Joni Mitchell and many others. Brady Blade is equally known, as a member of Harris's Spyboy band, playing with Dave Matthews, Steve Earle and more. Both Blade sons were onstage with Hallelujah Train, as was Lanois, Harris, and Blade Sr.'s own musicians. Despite the firepower, it was Blade Sr.'s show, a powerful and commanding set that saw the pastor bring a classic gospel excitement to the stage.
It was Blade Sr.'s set that really brought home Lanois' point about congregation. These were musical travelers from all over; from Louisiana, Nashville, California, Delaware, and Ontario, all brought together on a glorious first day of September, communing with the thousands, and enjoying the best of the natural surroundings of the area. The point was lost on no one, the mission accomplished. With a brilliant sound system, a fantastic technical crew, great organizers and volunteers, and of course, lots of deserving merchants and growers, it's a festival like no other. There were no fights, no drunks, no pushing, and friendliness reigned in the crowd. Here's hoping it continues in this way for many years.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).