Astral Harvest: A Tribal Gathering like No Other

We arrived at Astral Harvest music and arts festival at 4:00 AM on Thursday.  The sun was just starting to peek over the Horizon as we began setting up our tents. As we were doing so a friendly harvester came over to say hello and gave us some pointers about the festival. If the majority of the people at the festival were as friendly as this guy was at 4:00 AM I knew it was going to be a great weekend.

Astral Harvest is a music and arts festival with a 3000 person capacity nestled in the northern Alberta boreal forest. It is a family friendly music festival with lots of things to keep your children entertained. From puppet shows to playgrounds they have your little ones covered. That said, it’s still a haven for bassheads that want to get down and dirty to some filthy basslines. There are 5 different and unique stages, all powered by the illustrious PK sound, that all offer their own unique vibes. It goes beyond music though and puts a heavy emphasis on daytime events with numerous workshops and speakers.

We woke up on the first day rested and raring to go. The whole day was pretty much dedicated to exploration as we wandered around the festival grounds and through the artisan market place meeting wonderful new people.   Every person we would meet was extremely happy to be there and could not stop smiling. It does a lot for the atmosphere of a place when you are greeted by a huge smile anytime you make eye contact with someone.

As you wander from stall to stall your butts are kept bouncing by the beautiful beats provided to you by The Market stage. Featuring a variety of different electronic and acoustic acts during the day, the chill sounds emanating from the stage were the perfect complement to the sunny days. During the nights however the atmosphere would change and The Market stage provided driving basslines and bouncy beats to keep you going until the sun came up.   

 The Market stage by day Photo by Zane.Z

The Market stage by day Photo by Zane.Z

That evening, as the sun was setting and our wanderings were coming to an end, we stumbled upon a fire ceremony that was taking place. There was one scheduled every night of the festival at 10:00PM. To begin we prayed to the four directions, then we prayed to mother earth and finally you pray to the creator (whatever you believe that might be). After that we all sat in a circle around the fire while a man played the drum in the center and a woman went from person to person and rubbed a cloth bundle along their back. If I remember correctly the whole theme behind the ceremony was new beginnings and rejuvenation and it was a great way to kick off our first night at Astral Harvest. The rest of the night was spent dancing from stage to stage and taking in what the festival had to offer that night.

The next morning, after getting some breakfast at one of the half-dozen food vendors that are on-site we decided to go and chill by the river that flows on the perimeter of the grounds. The river itself was pretty fast flowing, because of this it was dotted with people who were floating along enjoying the warm weather. There wasn’t much of a beach where we were but there was a little island in the middle of the river. People would wade out to the island and dance to the funky music that was coming from the renegade stage that had set up on the banks.

That evening the weather took a turn for the worse and it began to pouring. After wandering around for a couple of hours not really knowing what to do with ourselves we ended up back at camp. As we were deciding on what to do, a man dressed as a rabbit came bouncing through our camp. On his way through he said to us, “Yea it’s raining out but who cares? It’s not cold, people are still out in shorts. So grab your umbrellas and your ponchos and let’s dance to warm ourselves up!” That was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. We could hear the stages pretty clearly from where we were and the music was calling me. I gathered up all the things I would need to keep comfortable, took off my shoes and went squishing through the mud towards the Interstellervator to dance until the sun came up.

As you approach the Interstellervator at night it seems a lot like a rave oasis with its lasers and lights that you can’t help but be drawn too. I got to the stage just as Coyote Kisses were going on and danced hard as the booming 808’s super charged my body. The combination of pretty melodic highs and grimy booming lows was exactly what my body needed. Next up was Buku with an hour and a half set full of groovy Trap beats mixed in with heavy dubstep. His set was probably my favorite of the entire festival it was full of very pleasant surprises as he masterfully combined the old with the new which kept the crowd bouncing into the wee hours of the morning. Just as the sun was starting to come up JPOD went on to finish off the night/morning. Mixing unique glitchy basslines with the sounds of funk and soul, JPOD’s signature sound was the perfect way to greet the morning.

 The Interstellevator stage Photo by Zane.Z

The Interstellevator stage Photo by Zane.Z

 

The next day I could not keep the smile off my face. I had met so many wonderful people the night before and now the sun was out and shining. As I sat there basking in the glorious sunshine I thought about how lucky I was that I got to be in a place like Astral Harvest. The happiness that I felt carried me through the entire day as we bounced around the grounds, taking in as much as possible on our final day.

There were a few acts that day that really stood out for me. The first was a surprise performance (surprise to me at least) by Timothy Wisdom at the renegade beach stage. His funkadelic fusion of live MCing and expert turntablism had the entire crowd grooving along down by the river. I need to quickly tip my cap to the man who was handing out freezies during the set, in the heat of the day it was a very welcome treat.

 As we were cruising the grounds that evening, we stumbled upon a yoga workshop that was taking place at the Interstellervator and decided to join in. It was nice to take the time to reconnect with the body and to just slow down from all the craziness that is a music festival. Astral Harvest had multiple yoga classes all throughout the day mixed in with a variety of other fun workshops. From painting to permaculture the workshops cover a wide variety of topics to keep you entertained and informed.

 Feeling relaxed and refreshed we made our way over to the area where the fire ceremonies took place. It was the last night so we wanted to make sure we made it to the last ceremony. The theme of the last ceremony was forgiveness and rebirth; it was called the butterfly ceremony. Each person was given a piece of paper which they then wrote the names of people who needed forgiveness in their lives. Each person would then commit their piece of paper to the fire with a tobacco offering. The ceremony was short but sweet and at the end of it the most perfect rainbow I have ever seen arched across the sky. It was a great way to begin the final night of dancing. 

 That night we spent a lot of time at the Wakah-Chan stage which was nestled in amongst the trees creating a magical interactive grove. The other two stand out acts of the day happened back-to-back at this stage. First up was Germanys very own Marten Horger. Playing a set full of funky bass heavy breaks, you couldn’t help but groove along with the rest of the crowd as the bass reverberated your soul. The energy of the crowd was palpable and nothing but smiles could be seen throughout his set. Next up was Skitour a staple act at most western Canadian music festivals. Their high energy sets are a crowd favorite as everyone gets dressed up in their finest ski attire to boogie the night away. As the snow began to fall from their signature snow machines, you could swear you were at some sort of mountain resort not a music festival in the middle of the summer.

 Skiitour at Wakah-Chan on Saturday night Photo by Zane.Z

Skiitour at Wakah-Chan on Saturday night Photo by Zane.Z

Astral Harvest may be a smaller scale festival but it definitely doesn’t feel that way. There’s always something going on with so much to see that you’ll find it hard to be bored. I highly recommend that everyone give Astral Harvest Music and Arts Festival a try. The organizers do a fantastic job keeping everybody entertained throughout the day and well into the night. If the music isn’t your thing the people will be, and the people are what separate Astral Harvest apart from the rest.

If you would like to learn more about Astral Harvest check out this podcast I did with Jenny from travelling4life.com