First Published September 2017
HATS OFF TO HARVEST FEST
This long-awaited weekend of Harvest Fest finally rolled around just a couple of weeks back, so I boarded a west-bound train to make the beautiful town of Westport (one of the two festival locations, the other being Enniskillen) my home for what turned out to be two magical days and nights of country music.
With all of the festival’s big-names sure to do the business on stage; from headliners Nathan Carter and Miranda Lambert, to Dan & Shay, Kip Moore, Charley Pride, Mo Pitney, and Maddie & Tae to name just a few, there were a few other important factors which were going to come into play in determining whether or not the weekend would be looked back upon as a success or otherwise. Location and organisation were two such factors.
Now to my shame, I’d never been to Westport before, but my word, what a gorgeous town it is. I’ll certainly be back. As I already mentioned, an event of this magnitude requires a level of organisation and planning that proves pivotal in how things turn out. In this regard, Aiken Promotions, Westport House, and everybody else involved can hold their heads up high, because they all did a magnificent, and quite possibly close to faultless, job. The atmosphere on site was fantastic on both days. Stewards, officials, and security (and there were plenty of all) were helpful, friendly, and good-humored from early ’til late, with the sound of laughter, like music, coming from all directions.
Perhaps the best thing about a festival like this, though, is the new artists you discover, or the ones that take you by surprise. Riah Butler and Megan O’ Neill are two Irish singer/songwriters who have been slowly but surely making names for themselves over in Nashville. I’d heard of both prior to Harvest, but I’d never actually had the pleasure of hearing either perform. Well, let me tell you that hearing them both play in the Harvest Cafe as part of the Songwriters-in-the-Round style show was a true pleasure. Both ladies also performed on two of the bigger stages as well, with Megan captivating her audience in the Vicar Street tent, while Riah, backed by a full band, turned in a powerhouse performance on the Roadhouse Cafe stage. And it’s worth noting that many of the fans who first heard Riah and Megan play in the Harvest Cafe actually followed them to the Roadhouse Cafe and Vicar Street tent respectively to hear them again. You really can’t get too much of a good thing when you’re talking about ladies with such mesmerising voices and wonderful songs.
It was also my first time to actually hear Catherine McGrath play ‘live’, and I can tell you that I’d take another train to anywhere to hear her again. Not only is she a fabulous songwriter, but her storytelling and sense of fun between songs is just as much a part of why she’s developing such a strong reputation. Also worth a mention is Frankie Davies from the U.K, who undoubtedly has one of the tightest bands I’ve ever seen! Those guys, man….they rocked!
Possibly one of the coolest moments of the whole weekend, though, at least for me as an Offaly man, was seeing two fellow Offaly men play central roles in different areas of the festival. Pete Kennedy, from Clareen (and pictured above with Nashville star Sam Palladio) was the man at the helm for the Harvest Cafe where he also performed, while Chris Martin from Tullamore was the man behind the drums for Hurricane Highway as the ever popular Mayo band wowed fans from the main stage.
As far as the aforementioned big names went, they all showed why they’re regarded as just that. Nathan we know about, and the more we see him on stages this big, the more it’s clear that he thrives on it. Kip Moore was simply electric. Expect his new album, Slowheart, to end up in a lot of Irish hands when it’s released soon. Dan and Shay are going to be stars on the American country scene for a long time to come, and they’re heading back to Ireland (for their third trip here this year!) in December. Mo Pitney showed exactly why he’s so highly thought of by so many, as he turned a jam-packed Vicar Street tent into its own little world despite the fact that he was scheduled to play at the same time as Charley Pride was also on the main stage, only a short distance away.
And Miranda? Even though word had it that she may have been a little unwell (bronchitis, it seems), she oozed charisma and had the audience wrapped around her little finger. Early in her set she remarked, ‘Look, I know it’s Sunday. I’m tired. You guys are tired. But when I go home, I want you to remember me as a badass. And I want to remember you guys as badasses, too!’ Miranda certainly did her bit, and I’d like to think we did ours, too!
To top off a weekend of a million memories, I had the supreme good fortune to share a train journey halfway across Ireland on the Monday morning with none other than the ‘American Poet’, himself, Earl Bud Lee, the man who gave Garth Brooks the chance to tell us all about his many Friends In Low Places. Earl, for those of you who may not know, also penned One Night At A Time for George Strait and Who Are You When I’m Not Looking for Blake Shelton. For someone like me, who’s a country music fan first and foremost, but who also writes a song or two from time to time, the opportunity to be in Earl’s company for so long was the equivalent of a huge lottery win! And I’m delighted to say that we’ll be interviewing Earl Bud about his life and songwriting career in the not too far-off future!
So, looking back on it all, the only downside to Harvest Fest was trying to take in so many acts, with so much happening all the time. But hey, that’s a challenge I’d live with anytime. So for me at least, it’s a definite hats off to Harvest 2017. And I’m already counting down the days until I can catch the train to Harvest Fest 2018!