The second-annual “Harmony of Nations” music and arts festival, held under the big tent at the Sorting Gap Marina here Friday and Saturday, saw an incredible display of talent by a variety of musical acts.
It also drew higher attendance than last year’s inaugural event.
“I think it was a success,” enthused Jamie Petrin, one of the festival organizers.
“It had really different energies both nights, but different in a good way,” she noted.
“Saturday night, it was a really high-energy night,” Petrin remarked, saying attendance was higher Saturday night than Friday.
“The audience, it was a little bit smaller on Friday but they were very interactive,” she said.
“It sounded like a huge crowd. They were cheering a ton and really responsive.”
Dubbed a celebration of Canadian, American, First Nation, and Métis cultures, the festival incorporated a combination of workshops and concerts, as well as focused on building positive relationships between the many groups within Rainy River District.
This year’s headliners included award-winning and renowned fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, LeE HARVeY OsMOND featuring Tom Wilson (formerly of Junkhouse and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings), and Rik Emmett (Canadian rock hall-of-famer and former frontman of Triumph).
Other acts included Nick Sherman (back by popular demand) and The Greenbank Trio, both native to Northwestern Ontario, Canadian singer/songwriter Brent Newman, Atikokan-born blues artist Sunday Wilde, the Métis Fiddler Quartet, and a percussion duo called junKtion.
Local artists included the Fort Frances-based rock band Kings of None, former Kenora resident Ryan Van Belleghem, Dryden-based solo artist Ethan Armit, 16-year-old singer/songwriter Jamie Labrador of Thunder Bay, Ira Johnson of Seine River First Nation, Robert Olson of Bergland, and The Wild Horses from Naicatchewenin First Nation.
Petrin said she was pleased with the attendance and impressed by the talent of the performers.
“Everyone was awesome,” she enthused. “I was blown away.
“It can be hard to tell, when someone submits a recording of themselves in their own home, what their stage presence might be like,” Petrin noted.
“But I was blown away by everyone,” she remarked, referring especially to the local artists.
“Some people said that even some of the groups that they weren’t sure they would like so much, they were pleasantly surprised by how impressed they were by the acts,” added Petrin.
“My favourite was a tie between The Greenbank Trio and Ashley MacIsaac,” said Jillian Kellar, who attended Saturday night.
“I was so happy that The Greenbank Trio was on the stage twice,” she noted. “I really liked that they were awesome performers.
“They had great harmonies and really overall were entertaining.
“I can’t wait to see them when I go to Thunder Bay,” Kellar added, noting she also was “blown away” by MacIsaac’s amazing talent.
“You could just tell in the room that the energy just rose 100 times after he started playing,” she said.
“Music-wise, my favourite was when the Métis Fiddler Quartet played with Ashley MacIsaac,” said volunteer co-ordinator Sarah Marusyk.
“Just the excitement on their face made planning the whole thing worth it,” she added, noting that in terms of volunteering, she liked seeing that the volunteers were enjoying themselves.
“If I can see someone sitting at the ticketing table, and they are tapping their feet and dancing in the spot while they are volunteering, then that’s what makes me happy,” Marusyk said.
“I think the ‘Harmony of Nations’ festival was a blast,” echoed Matt Soprovich, one of the emcees for the event.
“I had a lot of fun,” he enthused. “I think the musicians were superb and I think that everyone enjoyed themselves.”
Maria Cristina Ciotti, another of the festival’s organizers, indicated the daytime workshops also were well-attended.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about the workshops,” she remarked.
“They were fun and they were for everybody from smaller kids to adults.
“They were really great to learn from,” Ciotti added. “Some had really good education points to it and others just had really good interaction.”
For instance, junKtion had people playing different types of percussion “instruments” while the Métis Fiddler Quartet had people playing spoons—and even taught a French paddling song called “Rame, Rame.”
Other workshops included Pow-Wow 101, song-writing tips and tricks, history of blues music, traditional storytelling, make your own dreamcatcher, fun with three-part harmony, instrument jam, youth empowerment, and reflections on the music industry.
“There were some really neat educational pieces but it wasn’t boring,” Petrin stressed. “And all the workshops were very different.
“If you didn’t want to attend two days of straight workshops, even if you were just to pick one or two, you would have been very happy with it,” she added, noting there even were workshops for people who don’t play music and don’t own instruments.
In addition to the musical acts, the festival also saw a number of vendors taking part—some selling food, handmade items, or handing out information.
There even was an art booth hosted by Lindsay Hamilton and Little Beaver Cultural Centre, where young and old alike could get crafty.
“We had the vendors inside this year because we were worried about the weather,” Petrin said.
“And I think that really added to the atmosphere of the festival.”
Marusyk, meanwhile, said she was pleased with the turnout of volunteers.
“The volunteers that I had were really responsible, really keen, and I think they enjoyed themselves, which is what you want [your] volunteers to do so they come back again next year,” she reasoned.
“And even leading up to the festival . . . I had tons of volunteers for that, too,” Marusyk noted, adding many came out to help put the site together.
“It was almost going so smoothly that you’re scared something is going to go terribly wrong, but the whole weekend went really well,” she remarked.
The only small hiccup was the high winds on Saturday. Petrin said they had heard about a tornado touching down near Winnipeg and then the wind started picking up in the afternoon.
They ended up delaying opening the doors for about half an hour.
“I think we were a little bit nervous about it but it ended up calming down,” Petrin noted.
“It’s a brand new tent and pretty sturdy,” she added. “Plus had it inspected before the festival began so we knew it would hold up just fine.”
“It’s a relief to see it all come together, and it really does make all the work worth it when you see it come to fruition like that,” said Marusyk.
The organizing committee will be meeting within the next few weeks to debrief.
“We’ll discuss what worked and what didn’t, and decide where to go from there,” Petrin said.
“Now that we got a better attendance, I’m hopeful that if there are future festivals, and hopefully there is, that people will get more involved,” she added.
“If you just went to a show this year, maybe go to a workshop next year,” she urged. “Or instead of getting a day pass, maybe get a weekend pass next year because both nights were excellent.
“I don’t think I could say that one was better than the other.”
Soprovich called the event a unique one.
“In a small town, I think it’s really important to build culture and do unique things and get the community involved in events,” he stressed.
“But I think something like this, especially with its very inclusive mandate, gives people a way to get together, do something unique, and take in a lot of music and a lot of art and cultural events that they might not be able to get anywhere else.
“I’d like to offer my congratulations to everyone that was a part of the festival,” Soprovich added.
“Starting something from scratch of this magnitude, and having it be this successful when it’s only the second year, I think speaks volumes of the personnel we have working on it,” he said.
“So I’d just like to thank everyone who was a part of it.
“I think it went super well and I’m already excited about the potential for next year,” he enthused.