Brent Staeben: Fredericton’s impresario | UNB
University of New Brunswick est.1785

Global Site Navigation (use tab and down arrow)

Spring/Summer 2021

Alumni Changemaker

Brent Staeben: Fredericton’s impresario

ALUMNI NEWS MAGAZINE | Spring/Summer 2021

He is Fredericton’s impresario and a founding force behind the city’s beloved Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival (now known as the Harvest Music Festival), an annual event that has opened New Brunswick and its capital to the world of music, and its power to inspire.

Brent Staeben (BSc’88, BA’89, MA’91) has done a lot for his adopted city and province since he first travelled to Fredericton in 1983 to compete in a swim meet. The Corner Brook, NL, native stayed at the home of UNB professor emeritus Bill Seabrook on University Avenue, and even though it was the dead of winter, Staeben fell in love with Fredericton and the  UNB campus.

“It became a combination of an incredible campus, great people and a great swim program,” Staeben says of his decision to attend UNB. “I always say I got a bachelor’s degree in swimming from UNB, and I got some education while I was here as well.”

Staeben was a force to be reckoned with in swimming, blazing up and down the lanes of the Sir Max Aitken pool and winning AUS titles, especially in the difficult but elegant butterfly, a legacy his son Erik, UNB’s current AUS champion in the 100-metre butterfly continues today. Even in those early days, Staeben stood apart thanks to his drive for excellence and his interest in volunteering, particularly in coaching young swimmers.

After graduating from Queen’s University in the early ‘90s, Staeben returned to Fredericton with his soon-to-be wife Sonya Hull (BA’90) and started working for the provincial government in communications.

By this time, friends of his had launched Harvest, and Staeben was happy to volunteer, putting his communications and marketing skills to good use. He is the longtime chair and current music director of the festival - a role he seems to have been born for.

Staeben’s ability to lure big names to the increasingly popular Harvest festival is nothing short of magical: Robert Plant, Mavis Staples, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Taj Mahal, John Hiatt, Levon Helm, Steve Earle, and Buddy Guy just to name a few. One of Harvest’s greatest gifts has been the development and promotion of Atlantic Canadian talent, especially New Brunswick stars like David Myles and Matt Andersen.

Staeben says that he has also enjoyed watching how Harvest helped grow volunteerism in Fredericton. Volunteers are at the heart of the festival, which relies on as many as 1,000 to keep the event rolling smoothly.

“We were starting to hear from the social development agencies within the United Way and the YMCA that Harvest was making volunteering cool and bringing new people out and helping to build a capacity in the community,” he says.

“Then what happened is, of course, our people and people who had put down roots in Harvest started branching out and doing other things, and being leaders in other areas of the community.”

Staeben also puts an emphasis on encouraging future Harvest fans. He spearheaded the Blues in the Schools program, which has exposed jazz and blues to more than 40,000 local school children. Last year, Staeben worked with blues legend Fruteland Jackson of Chicago to produce workshop videos that have been shared with music teachers in the province. These videos offered children a glimpse into the rich history and moving stories of the blues. He has also been instrumental in developing grant programs for young musicians and in providing opportunities for first-time stage performers.

“The intention has always been for it to be something cultural, but it was also for the kids to feel that they were part of Harvest.” 

“The intention has always been for it to be something cultural, but it was also for the kids to feel that Harvest was part of them and they were part of Harvest,” Staeben says. Last year, Staeben’s contributions were recognized with an Order of New Brunswick (ONB), the province’s highest honour for its citizens, “for his steadfast dedication to cultural enrichment and economic development, and for empowering our youth to build their capacity to positively contribute to society.”

“To have the chief justice of New Brunswick call me and say ‘You are being honoured with the ONB,’ I was flabbergasted,” Staeben says. “I’m just so proud to say that I’m a part of  New Brunswick in that way.”

His recipe for success in life is the pursuit of excellence and never settling for “good enough.”

“When we do something, I want it to be as good as it can be done, I want it to be excellent. It’s part of what drives me.”

“How do we reach for something that is better than what we have today and better than just good enough? That has followed me through my professional career. When we do something, I want it to be as good as it can be done, I want it to be excellent. It’s part of what drives me.”