Bridging communities through music, agriculture and learning

Clearwater, Manitoba hosts the annual Harvest Moon Festival, that includes musical entertainment on several stages, such as this one at the back of a local restaurant. /PHOTO: Noah Erenberg

A small gem lies in the heart of Southwestern Manitoba, but for only a few days each year, at the end of summer.

On a mid-September weekend every year since 2002, the tiny community of Clearwater, Manitoba (population < 100) graciously bulges to accommodate somewhere between 15 and 20 times that in visitors—pilgrims to their town for the perennial Harvest Moon Festival.

Harvest Moon, a festival about building bridges between urban and rural communities through music, education, and gatherings of farmers and eaters, tends to be a favourite among Manitoba festival regulars, and Harvest Moon veterans (known as Mooners) are accustomed to snatching up passes early, before the fest sells out, perennially, by mid-summer.

So, yes, sadly, if you don’t already have a ticket, you’re out of luck for Harvest Moon 2017, which runs Fri. Sept. 15 through Sun. Sept. 17. Still, keep reading—and add a Mooner reminder to your calendar for June-ish ’18.

One of several gardens tended by Harvest Moon Society, the parent organization of the Harvest Moon Festival. A small music stage can be seen in the background. /PHOTO: Noah Erenberg

Winnipeg business owner Shawn Kettner has been to Harvest Moon each of the past four years with her husband and a group of their friends. They are keenly anticipating the approaching festival.

“It frames the summer,” says Kettner, who has been to four other festivals this summer. “We start with the Winnipeg Folk Festival, so it feels like summer’s officially here; and Harvest Moon sweetly brings us to the end of the summer.”

Winnipeg pedal steel player Bill Western played at Harvest Moon last year (and also in 2009). He says the festival is a good blend of urban meets rural, spotlighting a roster of talented local rural musicians, along with bands and musicians from Winnipeg and further afield.

Main stage underneath the harvest moon. /PHOTO: Noah Erenberg

“There was a nice mixture of Winnipeg musicians [and] people from that part of Manitoba. It wasn’t just Winnipeg bands out there,” Western says, adding that there’s a real authenticity to the festival.

“I’m really familiar with that area, and it kind of felt authentic to the area,” says Western, who grew up in Winnipeg himself, but married a girl (nearly two decades ago) from Crystal City—about 10 minutes from Clearwater. He says the festival “definitely has more of an agricultural southwest/south-central Manitoba/Pembina valley kind of vibe to it that is unique.”

Picturesque Clearwater has been home to Harvest Moon Festival for 16 years.

Agricultural, indeed. Harvest Moon champions farmers, celebrates the harvest, and supports both local agriculture and fair trade, and Western is impressed by the agrarian undertones of the festival.

“It has a good farm element, a good agricultural element to it that I like. I like the city mixing with the country in a different way,” says Western, who played pedal steel at Harvest Moon in 2009 with Grant Davidson (who now performs as Slow Leaves and is on this year’s musical roster), and in 2016 with both Ridley Bent and Those Memories – the Jess Reimer-Keri Latimer-Vanessa Kuzina collective playing tribute to Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris.

“It’s nice that the whole town of Clearwater is part of the festival; the town seems to be very respectful of it and accommodating,” he adds. Notably, the first of the festival’s eight principles is: 1. Respect for the town of Clearwater and the festival community.”

Alongside the festival, Harvest Moon also hosts A Fair Trade Fair and Farmer’s Market so that festivalgoers can participate in fair, local trade. The market is outside the festival grounds, so consumers don’t need a festival pass to check out the bounty of fresh produce, plants, baking, meat, grains, and other foods available, along with non-edibles like clothing, jewellery, pottery, natural body products, and more.

Farmers’ market is a big draw for many festival goers. /PHOTO: Noah Erenberg

“It’s a good time to stock up on vegetables so we can come home and make soup,” Shawn Kettner says. “All the farm produce is fantastic.”

Some Clearwater residents also hold yard sales during the festival weekend, to sell produce harvested from their own gardens, garage sale items, and crafts.

And whether the music emanates from rural or urban roots, there’s nothing like a good festival to remind us that it doesn’t really matter—as long as it’s good.

“There’s always wonderful music,” attests Kettner, citing a number of favourites she’s heard at Harvest Moon over the years (Keri Latimer, Richard Inman, Scott Nolan and others).

This year, Mooners will again be treated to a varied musical lineup of both homegrown and imported talent—from the gospel-harmony modern R&B sound of Roman Clarke, to the hip-hop-country-rhythm and blues of Leonard Sumner, to the sweet soulful singer-songwriting of Katie MacDonald, to the vast and iconic sound of indie rock trio Close Talker, to the high energy alternative folk music of Shred Kelly.

Harvest Moon (and parent organization Harvest Moon Society) is committed to educating the public about and helping to create sustainable communities.

Part of this education includes festival workshops which run throughout the earlier part of Saturday; festivalgoers can begin their morning with yoga if they choose, followed by a mindfulness meditation, and then a small cornucopia of other workshops including everything from dirt details (“Let’s stop treating our soils like dirt! The basics of soil science”) to community concerns (“It takes a village –  Making our village for community and family well-being”).

“The trick is not to stay up too late,” laughs Kettner, who hasn’t yet made it to any workshops, but did enjoy a festival-organized hike, one year. “You walk along the river and they show you things along the way. It’s beautiful.”

“I love walking up on the bridge, and over on the trestle, the train bridge,” she adds.

And the cooling temperatures don’t seem to discourage Mooners like Kettner, who camps in a little house trailer at the festival.

“It’s always been really lovely out there,” she says. “They’ve got great big huge bonfires happening, and there’s hot chocolate and things to warm you up. It’s all good.”

Harvest Moon Festival is in beautiful southern Manitoba setting. /PHOTO: Noah Erenberg

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