First Annual Harvest Moon Blues Festival
August 17 – 19, 2012
By Erich Martin Frisch
Call it what you will: destiny, luck, angels sittin’ on my shoulder, I made it safely to Lebanon, Oregon, for the First Annual Harvest Moon Blues Festival (HMBF) after months of anticipation, a few weird dreams, a couple of emails with Left Coast Productions full of needless worry (on my part), and catching my flight north thanks to San Francisco summer weather, which I have always loved. Fog from evening until late morning with beautiful skies in between had kept my flight on the ground until a reasonable time of day for a blues lover to fly.
I have been looking forward to the HMBF since the public Facebook page came onto my radar back in April. It really took little more than “First Annual” to get my blues blood boiling, then I read the lineup and was ordering my ticket faster than you can say smokin’ red hot blues festival! There was a whole lotta lovin’ goin’ on in Lebanon, Oregon. As with any endeavor of the soul, there was a huge learning curve and this fifteen-band, bouncing blues baby was a quick learner! With a clipboard in one hand and a magical harp in the other Edie Wilcox proved definitively that she is ready, eager, and extraordinarily talented as an American blues midwife delivering this beautiful blues baby into the world! I am looking forward to this baby’s first birthday, terrible twos, and, God willing, the HMBF’s rebellious teen years!
Like the brave firefighters working hard for the love of the West fighting summer wildfires blazing hot in smoke-filled air, HMBF set up and maintained a firebreak that stretched from the crossroads of Mississippi all the way to Oregon and then circled the fledgling festival in Lebanon three times for good measure. Having not been to Oregon since the late 1960s, I was excited to revisit and create some fresh memories. My expectations have been surpassed and the old memory bank is refreshed with kind wonderful people, places, and verdant vistas. I did not meet a nasty in four days of being a stranger in a beautiful land.
For this first annual event I opted to stay in town rather than taking advantage of the camping and R.V. sites available in a tight circle next to the concert site. The stage was lower than most, but I really liked that as it made taking photos of drummers a lot easier than most events. Speaking of drums, the stage was fronted by a generous dancing/lounging/viewing green that was perfect since Lebanon is the grass seed capital of the world! Eh? No, not that kind of grass! The kind the kid down the street gets paid a quarter to cut on Saturday morning and fills the air with that fresh-cut grass smell that bring memories back with the clicking of rotating blades. Between the green and the tents, a circle of vendors was placed and offered a melange of goods produced by local artists (I truly appreciated the local arts collective having a presence), selling everything from fantastic flowers created from reclaimed materials to foods from many cultures and prepared professionally by local vendors. In the spirit of supporting the local economy I bought a steel drum that was keyed for the blues! Okay, that’s a lie, I bought it ’cause I have desired a steel drum for years! It is loaded with autographs, beginning with Michael D. Perkins, the artist who makes them, to Edie Wilcox in the center at the end. It is a souvenir I will cherish for years to come.
Spread out over three days, HMBF opened with sweltering stage-burning performances of big, strong vocals melding seamlessly as the bands knit a tight, colorful blanket of music that only comes with comfort and familiarity with each other for the infant festival. This is not to say all was rosy and sweet for the HMBF, which is part of life and one of the driving forces of the blues. It was well planned to start the festival on Friday afternoon for many reasons and maybe the best was it gave Left Coast Productions an opportunity to take the production through a test run and iron out the minor glitches before the day-long wall of blues on Saturday. Sure enough, lessons learned, glitches were worked out and an amazing show went off so well all the stars scheduled shined just as brightly all day as they did after the sunset.
Sometimes irony and karma overlap and sometimes not so much. Sometimes it can be instant and sometimes it may take centuries to come full circle. For some reason a large group of sponsors decided it was a good idea to stake out a spot for a celebratory barbeque (with food and beverages they brought and prepared onsite, when the vendors could have used the business) between the V.I.P. area, which as far as I could see remained empty for most of the festival, and a grass seed farm adjacent to the festival. Now, I am a city boy, I am the first to admit that I don’t know jack about raising grass seed for a living. Maybe the farmer next door really did need to start working the bone dry field at the precise moment dinner was served a hundred yards away at the sponsor site, but my guess is it was a chore that could have been done before or after the weekend. Just sayin’. I’ve been wrong before and I will no doubt stick my foot in my mouth many times before I croak, but I thought: “What a perfect baptism for a festival celebrating a rich American heritage that was born of the intensely hard life of working the land.”
Scrap Iron emceed the festival in high style and panache and was as charming as ever. What Edie did that was brilliant and priceless is setting the stage so that the sun would arc in stage left and exit stage right with an awesome splash of color. I loved it! I know the HMBF was a success because the shutterbugs (myself included) were clicking away like crickets rubbin’ their legs together in time to a red-hot summer day. If pixels expended are equal to success, the Harvest Moon Blues Festival is off the charts!
Erich Martin Frisch is a writer based in California. This is his first article for BluesWax.
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