Summer festival Harvest Picnic celebrated its 6th year this August and I was pleased to be back for a second year. I learned last year what a unique and special festival it is. Christie Lake in Dundas is the Picnic’s picturesque setting and the Conservation Area holds childhood memories for me, as my parents and I used to picnic there years ago.
Harvest Picnic has that good ‘ol fashioned air to it, hosting a family-friendly event that really spans all ages. There’s a little something for everyone. I love the relaxed vibe of the Picnic – you can be rocking out to a band one minute, and also be steps away from a serene setting by the beach.
The focus of the festival is local – showcasing local farms, locally-sourced food vendors, artisan vendors with handmade goods, and non-profit organizations dedicated to protecting the environment. Musically, the lineup is primarily Canadian, and puts local Hamilton talent next to some big names.
This was the first year that the Picnic spanned three days – which has been a goal for the fest from the beginning. Lisa and I were there for the Friday and Saturday – two out of three ain’t bad!
The first day of the festival took place on a Friday evening, and the musical lineup featured stripped-down sets. The inaugural performance went to local folk-rock-country group The Redhill Valleys who filled the outdoor venue with their beautiful harmonies. The trio pulled double duty, performing again on Sunday.
Friday also saw local singer-songwriters Mike Trebilcock of The Killjoys and Tomi Swick take the stage. Tomi would also perform again the following day with a full band.
One of my favourite sets of the weekend was local artist Jeremy Fisher. I can’t remember the last set I saw where I enjoyed the music as much as the onstage banter. Jeremy really made me laugh with his self-depricating talk in between songs, joking about people texting or being on Tinder dates as they waited for Ryan Adams to take the stage. But Jeremy has a loyal fan base all his own – fans were excited to hear his classic tunes “Cigarette” and “High School.” He also performed a delightful version of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.”
As a native Hamiltonian, Jeremy also noted that he grew up on Hess Street attended Westdale Secondary. He said that he has always wanted to play Harvest Picnic. Jeremy definitely delivered – he brought an awesome performance to the festival.
Of course, everyone was anxiously awaiting Friday’s headliner, Ryan Adams. The buzz was huge when it was announced that the American singer-songwriter would be playing the festival. Purveyor of sad songs that he is, Ryan didn’t hold back when teasing the selections from his discography:
I’m writing a set list so fucking dark for tomorrow it makes Love Is Hell sound like a Nintendo commercial
— Ryan Adams (@TheRyanAdams) August 25, 2016
And that he did. Nighttime had fully set in by the time Ryan walked onstage and took a seat where he would remain for the duration. It’s a unique setting to see any artist perform in, but the pitch-black night and minimal lighting really lent itself to this one. The show felt very intimate despite it being in such a large outdoor space. Ryan Adams sang his heart out right in our own backyard, and hardcore fans were super happy about it (despite the songs being sad).
— Ryan Adams (@TheRyanAdams) August 27, 2016
It was a full night of music, but we had tons more to come. Saturday got off to a great start with the return of Tomi Swick, this time with his crew. It was cool to hear him do a song solo the night before, then again with the band. Either way, Tomi rocks, and is always a hometown favourite.
The good singer-songwriter tunes continued with Justin Dunlop, a favourite of Harvest Picnic and Hamilton Music Awards founder Jean-Paul Gauthier. It’s always lovely to hear Justin’s smooth vocals.
There is so much to see in addition to the music at Harvest Picnic. It’s a fantastic set up, with a ring of farm vendors grouped together at one end of the field, away from the stage, and another ring of stands on the other side with artisans vendors.
We had fun perusing the many stalls, including making flower crowns at La Primavera Farms, sampling scape jelly from Glancaster Green Farm, checking out the cute crafts displayed at Alpacas From Eighth & Mud, and getting a free yoga class pass from In Fine Feather. There was also a bookmobile courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, and typewriting workshops from Quills Invitations & Gifts.
Always a highlight for me – performances throughout the day by Hamilton Aerial Group.
It’s such a treat to hear awesome music in the fresh air and sunshine – I can’t say enough what a lovely festival this is! I wasn’t even familiar with some of the acts going in, but it’s such a pleasure to hear all of the music.
My favourite new discovery was Great Lake Swimmers. They were a joy to listen to and suited the festival so perfectly. Many performers who take the stage express how much they appreciate performing at Harvest Picnic – I think the musicians can tell right away what a special festival this is. For those who haven’t played before, it seems like they are pleasantly surprised by the vibe of the fest and the genuine and kind audience response.
Asking around for who people were most excited to see that weekend, high on the list was Joel Plaskett Emergency. It was hard to believe I hadn’t seen the East Coast rocker live before. It was such an entertaining set! Joel’s energy is infectious and kept the crowd on their toes as he bounced around the stage. It was another major highlight of the Picnic for me.
From one East Coast rocker to another, Alan Doyle & The Beautiful Gypsies followed. This was another major Canadian act that I had never had the pleasure of seeing perform before. Fans went nuts for them! Alan and crew kicked things up another notch and it was a foot-stompin’ party up there. You couldn’t resist bopping and toe-tapping along.
Jann Arden, who was originally scheduled to perform, had to cancel at the last minute due to a health emergency. In a nice moment, Alan covered Jann’s beautiful song “Good Mother,” dedicating it to her.
The good times continued to roll as more Canadian classics, Jim Cuddy Band and Rheostatics to the stage after the sun set.
Harvest Picnic is always a peaceful and laid back festival from start to finish – it’s not that far out from the city, but you feel remote and tucked away from every day city life. It caps off a lovely end to the summer and I hope to continue the tradition next year.
Disclaimer: I attended Harvest Picnic as a member of the September Seventh Entertainment staff and we also covered the event as media, but all thoughts about the event are my own.