Nothing went wrong, the performances were great and varied in genre, and Jeremy Charles was there slinging oysters. What more do you want from a festival?
… besides some female performers. While the lack of female presence was pronounced enough to spawn an offshoot festival, HERbourage, Bahamas’ guitarist Christine Bougie stole the show and earned some serious reverence from not only the crowd, but Afie himself, who clearly knows he’s touring with the best, and shows her off with onstage guitar showdowns. To quote Andrew James O’Brien’s enthusiastic shouting from the crowd, “We love you, Christie!”
Looking at the festival from an artist’s perspective, Harbourage is going to quickly get a reputation as a festival to say yes to: the view from the stage is the freaking harbour, and local music fans are starved for a proper outdoor festival like this one, which also showcases the city’s best alongside the country’s best.
Sharing the stage with the likes of Bahamas, Dan Mangan, or Rich Aucoin is a great opportunity to grow the audiences of hometown heroes like Steve Maloney, Green & Gold, and Jonny & the Cowabungas. So, to throw in a critical suggestion for next year, performances from local acts shouldn’t be all up front, but rather staggered: local, not local, local, not local … that’d get people down there sooner, and increase the exposure this wonderfully run festival provides for deserving local bands.
From Mangan’s guitarist using a bow, to the guitar-offs of Bahamas’ set, to Rich Aucoin crowdsurfing on a surfboard, and sticking hundreds of happy dancers under a parachute, the music — what we were all there for — was great, and the festival was run without a glitch. They’re far too young a festival to be doing things so well so fast, and there’s no doubt they’ve already grown this into a musn’t-miss festival, for fans and performers alike.
If there was to be just one festival to embody St. John’s, I think Harbourage would a pretty damn good job – great music, tasty food, good people, and a little RDF. The 2015 edition of Harbourage boasted a solid lineup of acts from here in the city and right across the country, and simply felt like a great block party.
Tucked in to the rear parking lot of the Fortis Building and spanning out on to one whole city block on Harbour Drive, the festival area had a number of choice food trucks and vendors, quick access to drinks, and plenty of space to mingle. The music was the main draw, however, as the touring acts packed in a considerable crowd, despite the threat of rain.
St. John’s acts were well represented in the early part of the evening, as surf punks Jonny and the Cowabungas, silky voiced Steve Maloney and the Wandering Kind, and local favourites Green and Gold all took to the stage. All three bands delivered the types of performances that have won them each a solid following in the city and warmed up the growing crowd.
Bahamas (a.k.a. Afie Jurvanen) was the first touring act to perform, joined by a band that included guitarist Christine Bougie and the now mustachioed Jason Tait, former drummer for Winnipeg rockers The Weakerthans.
Jurvanen and Bougie put on a guitar clinic, trading licks back and forth throughout the set with great tone and swagger. Bahamas’ backup singer even took part in the call and response with a heavily effected vocal sound, while the crooned lyrics told tales of love and yearning and kept everybody grooving. The first of the three visiting acts, Bahamas brought the house down.[wpdevart_youtube]7PpCJZTEvQg[/wpdevart_youtube]
Not to be outdone, Dan Mangan + Blacksmith were next on the bill, and this was certainly not the acoustic guitar wielding Dan Mangan of old. Mangan’s driving and gritty voice carrying thoughtful and sometimes political lyrics still led the way, but the addition of new backing band Blacksmith took the singer’s music to new and exciting places.
The set featured a number of cuts from Mangan’s latest release Club Meds, plus some fresh takes on old tunes, an extended drum solo, and a wild free-jazz odyssey that included bowed guitar. Dan Mangan put off an incredible performance, and Blacksmith added an edge and intensity to his music that was totally enthralling.
Finally, Halifax hero Rich Aucoin closed out the evening. His incredible energy and stage presence made for the best closer. All of Aucoin’s usual crazy tricks were present – a giant gym class parachute that enveloped the entire audience, countless confetti cannons, and a surfboard (to literally crowd surf), punctuated by clips from Hollywood films.
Aucoin seemingly spent as much time in the crowd as he did on the stage, bringing folks together with his inspirational, fun brand of pop and dance, before bringing Dan Mangan and Green and Gold’s Len O’Neill back to the stage for a rousing rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to end the night.
This year’s Harbourage festival was definitely one for the ages. Other than the weather, the festival left little to be desired. The food was good, the performances were all top notch, and the decent-sized crowd was energetic and engaged. Harbourage has set the bar for a downtown festival and looks to be in good hands for years to come.