There are, at the very least, two must-see sunsets when you pay a visit to the Riding Mountain National Park region in August. The first is from the deck of The Martese during an evening cruise on the park’s Clear Lake, when fading light paints the ship’s wake a muted swirl of oranges, reds, pinks and blues. The second is from a field in the community of Kelwood, located just outside the park’s eastern boundary, during its Harvest Sun Music Festival, when the last of the day’s rays wash over the audience and the performers they’ve come to watch at this small but very special Prairie event.
Celebrating its 10th year in 2015 (Aug. 14-16), the festival continues to draw an impressive array of Canadian musicians to its simple wooden stage — everyone from folk goddess Sylvia Tyson and children’s performer Al Simmons to indie rockers Fast Romantics and singer-songwriter Alana Levandoski — and offers a range of activities, workshops and vendors that all ages can enjoy.
During last year’s festival, Nadia Kuhl, the festival’s founder, and Matt Jenkins, a blacksmith who has done workshops at the festival, talked about what makes the event special.
We’re trying to take a rural community and make it different, draw people in. Kelwood used to be bustling; a train went through here, there was a giant grain elevator and a family farm on every quarter section. Now, big farming has moved in and your neighbours are farther away, and that changes the face of the community. In town, there was a movie theatre, two banks, two grocery stores and several restaurants. Today we have a store, a cafe and the Legion. So we’re in this place that has become smaller, but it’s not less meaningful. By bringing the festival here, we hope to bring people here and show them that what we do have is awesome.
I used to own the cafe in town, and the first festival was just to celebrate our first year in business. We had about 50 people that year. This year, we should get between 500 and 600. They come from all over, really — Winnipeg, Brandon, northern Manitoba, the Yukon. Even though our community is steeped really deeply in agricultural heritage, it feels like we’ve grown apart from where our food comes from, so the festival really tries to support what’s happening locally. What I love about the festival and what brings me joy running it is that when people come here, they plan to buy something from a local. Hopefully, that experience makes them want to come back, visit a farm, walk through the community and see what it’s like.
The festival has grown the town in ways that I never imagined. We’ve had young families move out here because they liked what they saw during the festival and enjoyed it so much.
Will Kelwood ever become the Glastonbury of Canada? I really hope it doesn’t. My goal is to grow higher, not spread out. So the growth will happen in a more intense experience, something that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. If there were 14,000 people here, everything special that happens here, the quality of the experience, wouldn’t be the same.
I’ve been blacksmithing for about 20 years, and learned on the job at Lower Fort Garry, where my dad was a blacksmith for more than a decade. It’s my third year at the festival, and I keep coming back because I can sit here, watch music and talk to people. Plus, they let me start a fire and hit stuff, which is awesome.
I also go to the Winnipeg Folk Festival and the Harvest Moon Festival [in Clearwater], but this is a slower pace, and the folks here stop and talk forever. It’s a pretty creative community, so they really appreciate what I’m doing. They may not buy any of these garden tools I’ve got here today — the trowels, the hoes, the dandelion weeders — or the fire stoker-pokers, but I make more in aftersales because I make house jewellery, and there’s some pretty damn creative houses in this area. You can put a ring on your nose, but if you want a pretty ring on your nose, then you’ll have to call a jeweller. And if you want a pretty hinge on your door, then you have to call a blacksmith. Look at these barbecue forks. They’ve got a bottle opener on one end — you can’t get that at Home Hardware.