Ensconced within a pastoral wooded area far from urban life, the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic was an eclectic blend of artists that, while disparate, managed to feel like an organic whole. The late August sun calmed over the course of the day, creating idyllic conditions for the crowd at Christie Lake Conservation Area gathered to see the many different acts.
Hamilton powerhouse Terra Lightfoot had a busy day, appearing on stage no less than four times. Twice was with her band Dinner Belles, a bluegrass country outfit that had both a morning and evening shift on the two separate stages. Once was her as a solo act, and finally she joined Arkells at the end of the night as a guest performer. It’s understandable why she was in such high demand, with her earthy, unfaltering voice that fits every genre she performs in.
Rising star Basia Bulat strode out on stage in a glittering gold cape, perhaps symbolizing the growth and evolution of her sound. If there ever was a genre of music called “synth-folk”, this was it. Though her songs have been moulded and shaped to fit into a more pop-like template, at their heart lies northern soul, the craft of a singer-songwriter. Bulat’s warm and natural voice is both vulnerable and clear at the same time, distinguishing her from artists with similarly keyboard-accented bands. Her tenacity is to be commended as well; she soldiered on when her autoharp was disconnected by accident and didn’t miss a single beat, finishing her final song with the help of the supportive crowd’s handclaps.
If there’s one word that would most accurately describe The Rural Alberta Advantage, it would be ferocious. They’re like a metal band playing indie rock, with an absolutely indomitable drummer. At times they sound like a hardcore version of the Decemberists, complete with historical references and intensely specific lyrics. At other times they sound like a folk-punk take on the Smashing Pumpkins (the vocal resemblance between singer Nils Edenloff and Billy Corgan are undeniable). It’s never overbearing though, and all their songs are instantly memorable.
Canadian folk legend and veteran musician Gordon Lightfoot is a man who commands the stage without being imposing. There’s a palpable air of mastery to his performance, a sense that he has become one with his music. Despite performing for over 50 years, one never gets the feeling that he’s going through the motions. There’s an offbeat charm to his tales and jokes; he’s the quintessentially avuncular folk star. Simultaneously innocent and sly, he dove through his immense catalogue while engaging in warm, friendly stage banter between songs that made him seem like an old friend to everyone in attendance.
Bahamas (the band) on any other bill would be a reprieve from raucousness, but as frontman Afie Jurvanen quipped, they were in fact one of the louder acts at the Harvest Picnic. While on the surface it seems that they deal in breezy, swaying melodies that evoke images of their namesake, there’s a brash undercurrent that takes over every so often and shakes off that conception. It’s most plainly evident in Jurvanen’s stage banter, filled with sharp witticisms and positively seeping with confidence. He’s got a rockstar’s bravado in a folkster’s suit. Many of his songs turned into extended jams, with him noodling away on guitar and literally strutting around with showman’s gestures.
Local heroes Arkells finished off the night with a set of trusted and true hits from their three major albums. Frontman Max Kerman took on an epistolary tone throughout the set, relating each song to experiences he had as a youth growing up in Hamilton. The crowd learned the backstories to many familiar hits like “Oh, The Boss is Coming” (apparently about Kerman’s experience at an East Side Mario’s) and “The Ballad of Hugo Chavez”. The whole set was a casual affair, despite the band being dressed up having just come from a wedding. As mentioned before, Terra Lightfoot joined the band on stage for a few songs to great applause, and keyboardist Anthony Carone delivered an intense piano solo during “Pulling Punches”. At one point Kerman asked that the lights be turned off so the crowd could “dance like nobody’s watching”. It was a fun, lighthearted end to a day filled with such moments- a definitive late summer concert.