By Robert Tomlinson
THREE RIVERS — For 30 years, one music festival in St. Joseph County has been a consistent presence on Labor Day weekend, bringing music, harmony and good times to downtown Three Rivers.
HarmonyFest returns to downtown Three Rivers for its 30th year on Sunday, Sept. 3 with live music from 1:15-10:30 p.m., bringing bands of all different genres and backgrounds to the city. The festival is free to attend, with donations being accepted.
Being able to celebrate a milestone achievement such as reaching 30 years was a great feeling to HarmonyFest organizer Charlie Wolgamood.
“It’s pretty neat for the community. People talk about it, and people count on it,” Wolgamood said. “It’s important for downtown and the community.”
Wolgamood said the festival started as something to do after Water Festival and before football season started, and it started out as a blues fest and branched out into other genres later down the line. Through the years, one thing has remained the same: its mission to bring the community together for a day-long festival of music.
“People get out and see people they haven’t seen in a while, and there’s something for everybody to make it family-friendly,” Wolgamood said.
Once again, another wide variety of bands are on tap for this year’s festival.
Leading off the day-long festival is The Kennedy Affair, beginning at 1:15 p.m. The trio based out of Kalamazoo plays Texas blues-style music, with some R&B, rock and soul music intertwined in it. Following them at 2:15 p.m. is Flatlanders and Outlaws, a four-piece country and rock band led by local musician Mark Higgins. Wolgamood said Flatlanders and Outlaws tends to play up to the audience frequently, which could make them favorites.
“They play up for the crowd, a lot of good banter, give and take jokes, stuff like that. Their music is exceptional,” Wolgamood said. “They do a great job.”
Next on the docket at 3:30 p.m. is The Nathan Moore Affair, led by local musician Nathan Moore, whose music combines indie soul, blues, folk and rock music. The band has played at two festivals in Kalamazoo, the Fretboard Festival in March, and the Sounds of the Zoo in mid-August.
At 5:30 p.m., the Kalamazoo Pipe Band will make its return to the HarmonyFest stage. The band is a non-profit organization involved in teaching and performing traditional Scottish music in the Southwest Michigan area, and has been a favorite of Wolgamood’s for a while.
“I’m not gonna do a HarmonyFest without bagpipes,” Wolgamood said. “Those guys are good; the crowd seems to like them. Last year, they told some stories about why they’re playing certain music, what it means, things like that, and the crowd was pretty much mesmerized listening to them.”
Local author and poet Debbie Allen, who Wolgamood called the “poet laureate of HarmonyFest,” will take the stage following the Pipe Band at 6:15 p.m., reciting an original spoken-word piece in honor of the festival’s 30th anniversary. Following Allen will be Kitten and the Tonics at 6:30 p.m., a band specializing in rockabilly, surf-style and rock and roll music. Then, at 7:45 p.m., is Cabildo, a west Michigan-based alternative Latin rock band, who infuses a blend of ska and folk sounds with their music.
Headlining the night and rounding out the festival at 9 p.m. are the Out of Favor Boys, a contemporary blues band with funk, soul, and rock elements. Wolgamood said the band has played HarmonyFest before, nearly two decades ago, and normally play around the Kalamazoo area.
“They play up for the crowd. They’re consummate professionals, and they do a great job in whatever form they’ve been in,” Wolgamood said. “They play really good dance music too, and they’re gonna sound great downtown.”
Outside of the music, there will be a Kids Zone at the festival from 2-5 p.m., featuring games, crafts and other kid-friendly entertainment, and multiple food trucks and restaurants will be open and operating during the festival.
The downtown block of Main Street will be blocked off beginning in the morning hours to accommodate the festival, and will be blocked off until early Monday morning.
Wolgamood said the festival is something that many people look forward to every year to start the fall season, and is looking forward to seeing people downtown this Sunday.
“We have good energy every year. I always look for good energy for the things we do, and we have a good vibe with music, and good weather,” Wolgamood said. “People want to come, enjoy the music, and enjoy the area. We get a lot of complaints about a lot of things, water, roads, things like that, but they come together to hear this music, we get people from around the area and see the good, positive things we have going on.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.