Country star Johnny Reid countersuing Harvest Picnic organizer

Canadian country star Johnny Reid is suing the company behind The Harvest Picnic, seeking thousands of dollars in unpaid fees after last summer’s festival.

Festival in turmoil as legal battle looms

Country star Johnny Reid is seeking thousands of dollars in damages from the company that organizes Hamilton's The Harvest Picnic. (The Canadian Press)

Canadian country star Johnny Reid is suing the company behind The Harvest Picnic, seeking thousands of dollars in unpaid fees after last summer's festival.

It's a countersuit to a lawsuit September Seventh Entertainment (which runs the picnic) launched earlier this fall, in which the organizer is suing one of North America's largest talent agencies and several Canadian acts for millions.

But that talent agency — the Feldman Agency — is now seeking to have the original lawsuit thrown out and "dismissed without cost," court documents show. The agency also alleges that festival organizer Jean-Paul Gauthier can't afford a lawyer for the upcoming court proceedings.

It's a legal mess that is threatening to end the festival, as well as endangering the Hamilton Music Awards, which September Seventh also runs. Meanwhile, acts that played the festival last summer still haven't been paid.

In the countersuit, which is included in Feldman's statement of defence, Reid says that he was only paid 50 per cent of what he was owed from the last Harvest Picnic, and so is suing for $110,250 in damages.

The Feldman Agency represents several acts that were named in the original lawsuit, which includes Reid, Jann Arden, her manager, alternative country band Cowboy Junkies, and others.

"All of the defendants plead that the claims against them are frivolous and vexatious, are excessive and remote and are not recoverable at law," Feldman's statement of defence reads.

Court documents from the original lawsuit show organizer Jean-Paul Gauthier is seeking almost $27 million in damages from the defendants.

Still no word from organizer

In its statement of defence, Feldman claims that Gauthier has little to no money, and asks that he "post security for [the] cost of this proceeding.

"In particular, there are numerous artists who have not been paid for their performances at the Harvest Picnic, including various artists represented by Feldman but also other artists," the statement reads, adding that Gauthier has sworn an affidavit saying he is "unable to afford a lawyer."

Gauthier did not respond to email requests or answer his phone. His voice mail box is full.

In a statement of defence to the counterclaim, Gauthier wrote that the allegations are "too remote, not recoverable by law, excessive and that the defendants did not act to mitigate their damages."

In the wake of all this, artists are still waiting to be paid for their performances at the festival. Singer/songwriter Jeremy Fisher's representatives confirmed that he has still not been paid for playing, while Reid has resorted to a countersuit.

Festival held back on Arden's illness announcement, statement alleges

Feldman's statement of defence also alleges that Gauthier waited days to tell the public that Jann Arden had to drop out of the festival due to illness.

"When Ms. Arden informed the plaintiff on August 24, 2016 that she was unable to perform due to illness, [Gauthier] failed to announce this cancellation until August 27, 2016," Feldman's statement of defence reads.

"This late disclosure was not a normal way to proceed in the music industry."

Jeremy Fisher performed at the 2016 Harvest Picnic at Christie Lake in Hamilton, but is one of several acts who still has not been paid. (Lisa Vuyk/I Heart Hamilton)

Gauthier's original lawsuit also took aim at Reid and Cowboy Junkies, alleging the bands violated "radius clauses" by booking or playing shows in southern Ontario around the same time as the festival.

A radius clause is an agreement in a band's contract that dictates they not play another show within a certain distance of the venue close to the same date, to maximize crowd size.

According to the original lawsuit, Cowboy Junkies agreed to not play within 90 days of the festival and within 150 km of Hamilton — a clause Gauthier alleges they violated by booking a show in St. Catharines on Oct. 27.

Radius clauses called 'overly broad and restrictive'

Reid's radius clause was even more wide reaching, the lawsuit claims, saying his contract dictated he not play within a 500 km radius of Hamilton between May 30 and Nov. 26.

Reid then announced he was performing at the Canadian Country Music Awards on Sept. 11.

In Feldman's statement of defence, the company says that those clauses are "overly broad and restrictive" and "therefore void."

The Harvest Picnic began back in 2010, as a festival that was aligned with The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation as a title sponsor — though this year, it was just branded "The Harvest Picnic" instead of "The Greenbelt Harvest Picnic."

"After five years sponsoring this event, the foundation decided it was time to move on and pursue other opportunities to engage residents about the Greenbelt through different mediums and geographic areas," said Erica Woods, spokesperson for the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation.


About the Author

Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.