If there was only 1 day of the 3 that I was going to attend, Day 2 was it. The moment Ben Harper was announced, I made plans to ensure that I’d be at the Garrison Grounds to see Mr. Harper “Burn One Down”. It was another exceptional night for a concert, it wasn’t exceedingly warm, and the rain held off to keep the crowd dry and content. While we weren’t able to make is down to see Mo Kenny and the start of Old Man Luedecke’s sets, we did catch the last 2 or 3 songs for Old Man Luedecke.
The trek to the concert site was kicked off with a stop at Relish (@relishHRM) to grab a burger before hitting the hill. Having eaten at the Fredericton location a year ago, we’ve been jonesing for another burger ever since. After having tried hitting up the Moncton location prior to the Springsteen show and it being closed, the newly opened location at the corner of Robie and Quinpool (in the old Blockbuster space) was more than able to satisfy that craving. The burgersj were fantastic (The Halifax Explosion & The Big Texas), and my wife claimed it was the best burger she’s ever had (mine came close) and we left there with a belly full of burger and headed for the concert grounds.
As I had mentioned, we only saw 2-3 songs from Old Man Luedecke and while he was solid, the Garrison Grounds are not the place to see him perform, he is definitely in need of a more intimate venue to really dazzle you. I’ve enjoyed him more in a smaller setting. The stage crew made a quick change over, and it was time for Matt Andersen to hit the stage. I know a lot of people who love his music, and have had the chance to see him live, this would be my first encounter with the blues guitarist and it didn’t disappoint. He was an imposing figure on stage, as it appeared he may have been holding a toy guitar and then he ripped into his first song and his passion and energy took over and the crowd stood rapt with attention. Andersen’s set ended far too quickly and the next set change started.
Up next was acclaimed producer/songwriter Daniel Lanois. His set was somewhat subdued, but his work on his Slide Guitar was pretty impressive, but he was merely the gravy to Day 2. We were just counting down to the headliner.
The set change took place, and little did we know it was for Ben Harper, but before he could take the stage, Martin Sexton strode onto the stage with a single guitar. His soulful crooning was good, but lost on 99% of the audience jockeying for position for the headliner. The lady next to us on the barrier was singing along to every word, clearly Martin Sexton was her headliner. He was good, but even as a live performer, and while unfortunate, his music quickly became audio wallpaper. Fortunately it was not an overly long set, and the stage was pretty much set for Ben Harper and by this time we made it to the rail, FRONT ROW!!
It was a little after 9 when Ben Harper (sans Innocent Criminals / Relentless7) strode onto the stage, and took his place at the Xylophone (yes, I said Xylophone) and started in on “Trouble Man” (a Marvin Gaye cover) and carried that over into “Indifference” by Pearl Jam. While it was somewhat of an unexpected start to the show, it was also something special to behold. [side note: a couple of years ago, Harper was rumored to be on a bill in PEI, but that never did materialize, which made the Halifax date all the more exciting]. Ben Harper arrived in Halifax the night before, and spent some time at both the Commons Skate Park and at Pro Skate (who helped repair Ben’s board and who also got a shout out during the show), he was extremely appreciative of the crowd here and from the sounds of things may be back out our way at some point in the future. Some people had mentioned that the set was only supposed to be a little over an hour, and it ended up being well over 2 hours. The set list was near perfection, long time fans were treated to gems such as “Burn One Down”, “Diamonds on the Inside”, and “Excuse Me Mr.”, which were interspersed with a few impressive covers of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”, Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and closed out the set with a scintillating version of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”.
After it was all said and done, this was a set that may find its way into my personal top 10. Harper played everything I wanted to hear and then some, glad I got an opportunity to cross him off of my Bucket List but I hope I get a chance to see him again, it was an unreal night with his blend of Blues, Soul, Funk and Rock. Day 2 was certainly a personal highlight. Thanks @sonicconcerts and @BenHarper !!