Every fall for the last 13 years, the ‘perennial’ Harvest Moon Festival has inflated the population of Clearwater, Manitoba for one weekend. This year we raised the numbers from its usual 65 to well over 2000.
“This many people seemed way beyond the realm of possibility,” says Bob Guilford, resident and ‘spirit of the festival.’ He speaks wistfully of the founders’ meeting in 2001 which resulted in a Saturday night concert for 50.
In the dry monotone he uses to MC the concerts, he begs ‘Mooners’ not to spread the word. “We got another line-up of crappy bands for you this year,” he quips, but his mock attempt to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm is less successful than Saturday’s downpour.
Darry, a long-time attendee who loves the bands, counters, “I don’t really come for the music.”
So what brings this mass of people together despite chilly fall winds and rain?
On my walk to our camper, three-year-old Callum tells me he ‘loves the puppet show.’ A matronly woman at the washroom sink next to me says, ‘it takes me out of my comfort zone.’ I run into a friend of my son’s who tells me he finds this festival ‘intimate.’ Unlike some others, ‘this one is still real.’ A fellow strumming his banjo looks over the many groups jamming around their tents trying to decide which he’ll join and his friend with the mandolin slung across his shoulder says, “This is a great way to end summer.” For me it’s all of the above and more.
The festival hosts a diverse blend of age groups from all over the province, everyone ready to chat. I’ve had conversations with instant friends on subjects ranging from their take on polyamorism (workshop topic last year) to what constitutes a ‘Cadillac death.’
The atmosphere makes me feel like the hippie I never was.
I wait for curried chickpeas on rice next to a couple in wildly colored quilted clothing, sporting dreadlocks and smelling strongly of patchouli. They inspire me to stretch my festival wardrobe by trying on Alpaca toques at the fair trade market, mittens made from reconstituted sweaters at another booth, and tie-died floor length skirts at a third. Ruefully, I walk away in my blandly practical MEC attire to blend into the background. Well, except for the goose head-on-a-stick sitting on my shoulder. It’s a gift for my friend’s garden- really.
The festival opens as the moon rises from a scrim of clouds, and we listen to Ridley Bent while chatting with those who warm their backsides at one of many bonfires. This event provides a welcome change from ordinary life. ‘Happiness is a warm bum, baby,’ croons one smiling Mooner who apologizes for blocking us from the heat of the blaze.
Bob Guilford sums it up best. “It’s all about dreams – pulling together food and music in a way no individual could on his own – to make an amazing soup of people.”
All photos by Roland Patenaude