Astral Harvest has a reputation.
A reputation for a weekend full of great music with a focus on Canadian artists, a community of open and inspiring people, and predictably unpredictable weather. Your Astral experience is only complete once you’ve seen all three, and this year’s Astral Harvest brought them all to the table in a fantastic way.
Arriving Thursday, fresh after six hours in the car from Calgary, we were greeted with the dry heat of Northern Alberta in July, and cars full of smiling faces, tickets safely in hand. Those lining up to sign in for their volunteer experience or grab their crew badges were laughing and joking in line, swatting the flies off of each other with an increasing vengeance. It’s a quick stint from the gate to the grounds where you can swiftly park your vehicle and get to exploring everything that Astral has to offer.
Among the food trucks we all know and eat way too much of (Fiery Greek, anyone?), you could find some new tastes with a thai vendor and superfood sundae bar. The art at Astral is where it’s really at though – there were a few new, more modern festival clothing stores, and wonderful art vendors this year. Some vendors fell neatly in between, like Creativewood.co who showcased laser-cut wooden pendants, lamps, and sacred geometry patterned bracelets. Wearable art continued it’s reign with The Optic Mystic’s fibre optic and LED clothing booth, SoTight‘s digitally printed leggings, and Flow Culture‘s handmade festival hoodies and clothes, all of which perfectly complemented the adoration of art that was alive in the atmosphere.
Incarnate in the groups of people sitting on the ground painting incredible canvases together, the love of beautiful works was hidden in every corner. During the day you might find a stranger painting something breathtaking outside with their cigarette, and at night you could bump into a group watching the magical Soulfeather create beside a stage. From the live art to the booths crammed with wire wrapping, paintings, and tapestries, it’s obvious that this is a festival with a value in the visual experience. When the sunlight creeps back over the horizon and the sky of red fades to black, some of the most incredible visuals come to light.
The stage design at this festival is not to be underestimated. At Wakah Chan you will find endless intricacies in the carvings of the stage and surrounding artifacts, and a visual mapping that brings the Aztec architecture to life around you. From the lounge area far at the back fit with couches that becomes a zombie zoo after 4am, to the totem poles standing between the stage and the raver masses, the party comes to life here, for the few short hours of darkness we have. Astral Harvest is so far North that it is only dark from just before midnight to around 4am.
Wakah Chan played host to some of the most talked about acts and wildest parties of the weekend. Bass Farmers and Pigeon Hole brought the low note splendour on a chill Thursday night, followed by fantastic drum and bass from Alberta locals Wadjit (YEG) and Bigworm (YYC).
Friday night is when things really heated up, as Timothy Wisdom took the stage, accompanied by feisty gogo performers from La Gogue Inc.. Coming up next was Slynk, with a set that packed the stage with people jamming to the funk. This was one of the top sets of the weekend, that called on glitch, funk, ’90s hip hop, and drum and bass to complete it. Next was NICK.the.NECK, lesser known alter ego of the beloved Pumpkin, who played a masterful tech house set and brought the techno lovers out of the woodwork – suddenly everyone was wearing black head-to-toe and mysterious top knots began to appear.
Saturday the Wakah Chan kicked off with the Jungle Fever showcase, a collective out of Edmonton featuring the aforementioned DnB goddess Wadjit as a co-founder. The high energy was continued through the day to the early hours, with Knight Riderz on the lows, Adham Shaikh playing a set that pleasantly surprised his fans with deep crunchy bass grooves, Morillo dropping a highly anticipated hour and a half, and SkiiTour being SkiiTour, all playing a part in keeping the party bumping to the early morning.
Never to be outdone however, was the Interstellevator. Multiple times throughout the weekend you would hear people commenting on the level up that Astral Harvest has taken with their stage design, and the main stage is of course at the heart of that inspiration.
Beginning with a magnificent opening ceremony, the main stage was home to many of the different workshops happening through the weekend, as well as some of the most incredible acts. You could catch a workshop on aerial silks, hoops, dragon staff, or how to pop and lock, or come catch some of the great daytime music acts. Some of the great acts playing in the warm air and late sunsets were The Funkee Wadd, The Genesa Project, and Dreamtree Project; there were also a few great afternoon sets by artists playing 2nd sets at the festival, like Timothy Wisdom and Slynk, Flavours, Amani of Desert Dwellers, and (of course) a side project from Pumpkin and EVeryman, who joined to create Little Giants.
At night the stage came alive. What were bright coloured fabrics patterned above you during the day turned into neon projection screens when the sun went down, and the stage production was brought up to high gear. Hundreds of lights adorned the limbs of the stage and stretched above you, beckoning everyone to where it was all happening.
The biggest highlights of the festival took place here at Interstellevator, with the biggest acts of the weekend. Thursday gave us Flavours on the funk, followed by scratch specialist and Canadian favourite Mat the Alien, who did not disappoint with his wicked set. Bringing the glitch right behind him was Crazy Daylight, who was joined for a time by The Funkee Wadd of Illvis Freshly on the harmonica, keeping the vibe up in perfect rhythm to the crowd.
Astral is a festival with a great amount of thought and care put into it, and as the days went by, this was reflected in the quickening tempo of the schedules. Friday night we were treated to the much anticipated Desert Dwellers, and Technimatic – vastly different but completely awesome acts, as well as the legendary Longwalkshortdock who brought the pace to his own unique and awe-inspiring frequency. DJ Q followed with an impressive set for the ‘heads.
As the festival ends on Sunday, there is a special buzz in the air on Saturday night. Not only is this a big party night, but it’s our last night – we have to make it count. There was also a determination being passed around, to make it to the morning set that Pump kin would be playing. Any Harvest history buff can tell you about the truly heartwarming event that took place last year, when Pumpkin played a 6 hour set at sunrise. You could taste the anticipation in the atmosphere.
Astral’s taste for performance art was exemplified again tonight when TransFlowmation, a truly talented group of Alberta flow performers, gave an incredible fire performance. After the crowd swelled as Stickybuds took the stage, and began what was the pinnacle set for a solid amount of attendees. Bringing a masterpiece of every genre he’s known for, he wove us through one of the best parties and some of the most killer vibes of the weekend. Metrik came up next and absolutely threw down – drum and bass had a big place this year, and this guy was the crown jewel of it. Playing his own iconic songs as well as many from other on his Hospitality label, these two performers were the climax of the festival.
As we moved through the other performers, G Jones, and Halal Beats who played in lieu of Croatia Squad, we finally reached the point many of us were waiting for. As Pumpkin took the stage, hundreds were patiently waiting for him. A few people sat on the benches or in the grass, on blankets or wrapped up against the inevitable early morning chill. A rather gray morning, and still lightening from the pitch blackness of night, we were taken on a journey through nostalgia. The clouds broke in the distance, and the sunlight shone through, illuminating everyone there, dancing and laughing with their last energy, hearts warmed. Feeling the love at this set is powerful enough to bring a tear to your eye.
Pumpkin played a wonderful set, and to give the audience more of what they enjoyed last year, was followed by a surprise set from Neighbour who played an incredible four hour set. Satisfied with the weekend, many people trudged back to their tents to sleep for a few hours before cleaning up, and packing out.
An example of the Astral community is the spotlessness of the grounds after the festival. With credit to a dedicated site crew, there also has to be recognition given to the attendees, who maintain a respectful behaviour throughout the festival. This respectful attitude is exemplified again in the way every Harvester treats the others, with so very few issues breaking out between people, and the way people stay aware of the little Harvesters around them.
One out of the vast variety of great things about Astral is its inclusion of so many local artists from Edmonton and Calgary. If you pay attention you can find hours of showcases for local groups and collectives, carefully selected artists and live performers, and vendors of local businesses. There are also a ton of volunteer positions, and it is all of these things that helps to create the Astral community. The Harvest is known for having a close-knit and open family, and it plays a role in uniting the two communities it heavily draws from. A noticeable difference this year was the amount of newcomers from different parts of Canada, and even the US – Astral Harvest is growing in a great way, and the beauty of the festival will only continue to evolve.
This year Astral Harvest not only brought what was expected, but stepped up the game. The allure and charm of this place will bring you back every year, and every year you will see it reach all of its potential. Every one of its long days, where the sun seems to only dip below the horizon for a few hours, is filled to bursting with happiness and laughter – even in the worst thunderstorms. The eagerness for next year is already growing, and to imagine what new bar it will set is making me bubble with excitement.
Can we go to Shambhala yet?
PHOTOGRAPHY: Third Eye Arts