Daniel Lanois keeps his sunglasses on in the recording booth, in case his wide-brimmed straw hat doesn’t block out enough light.
The producer (U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball) is one of the headliners at the second annual Greenbelt Harvest Picnic, a music festival with big-name draws (Feist, Emmylou Harris, Gord Downie) but without "music" or "concert" in the title. When Lanois and friends launched the festival last year, they were perhaps thinking more about food than music.
The Sept. 1 event, at Christie Lake conservation area near Dundas, Ont., promises food from more than 20 local farms and vendors, including Feng's Dumplings, Gorilla Cheese and Sabores Latinos, free admission for children under nine, as well as gardening workshops by the Mount Hamilton Horticultural Society. This really is your grandfather’s music festival.
In the CBC studio, Lanois talks about his relationship with food and where it overlaps with music.
Corey Mintz: Do you cook?
Daniel Lanois: I do cook. Mostly in the wintertime. It’s too hot in the summer. When fall comes, I start getting the inclination. I have an AGA stove (a dual heating/cooking system) here in Toronto and it heats up the apartment as well. Once the AGA’s on, then we start thinking about cooking.
Mintz:Who taught you how to cook?
Lanois: My mother. I’m French-Canadian. So my mom is the best, and certain things I learned from her. It’s a lot of common sense really, in the end. I’ve never worked with cookbooks. She would make tortière every year, which is a meat pie, and then sucre a crème, which is a maple sugar fudge, and then these beans that you cook for 10 hours. So we had all the old Quebec classics around.
Mintz: What don’t you eat anymore?
Lanois: I’ve stopped drinking beer. I’ve backed off on sugar and try to stay away from the obvious starches. And I feel much better. If I have a chance to work out for an hour in the morning and I eat good foods in the day, then I can get tanked at night. It all sort of balances itself out.
Mintz: Do you grow anything?
Lanois: I have an orchard in Los Angeles. I planted 120 trees. I have pomegranates, mulberries, cherries, apples, red baron peaches, kumquats, loquats, lemons, limes, oranges. I’m hooking up with some buddies with the view of providing the harvest to food banks. Absolutely organic. Consequently, the birds get a lot of them and the squirrels are greedy. But I love birds and squirrels.
Mintz: Greenbelt Harvest Picnic. There’s no music or concert or hootenanny in the name? Why the food focus?
Lanois: JP (Jean-Paul Gauthier, the event’s organizer) and I have always appreciated regionally grown foods. As teenagers we came up in Hamilton, and just outside of Hamilton you can get to some really beautiful farmlands and it’s really one of the nicest places in the world. We wanted to make sure that we brought some awareness to the growing of food, to know that great food comes from small farms. We are running music in tandem with that. Organic foods and organic music.
Mintz: Do you have any personal relationships with any of these farms?
Lanois: I had a personal relationship with a farmer’s daughter, when I was in high school, which was a very important time in my life. Because I grew up without a father. And her father was amazing. They were fifth generation farmers in Copetown. They had cattle and they grew some corn as well and a few other grains.
Mintz: Have you had any good corn this year?
Lanois: I’ll save it for the harvest picnic. JP will make me a bowl. I don’t eat it right off the cob. I’ll bring my knife so he’ll slice it down for me.
Mintz: You won’t eat it off the cob?
Lanois: No, I don’t do the cob – $200,000 worth of dental work to look after.
Mintz: Does food mix with being in the studio?
Lanois: We try and bring something in that’s not just junk food. Don’t get me wrong. I still like a bag of Cheetos every now and again.
Mintz: Can a musician eat what they want? Or do you starve or feed a musician to get them to [perform]?
Lanois: You can’t feed musicians too much.
Mintz: Do they get lazy?
Lanois: I guess if you eat too much pasta you get lazy and fat. And ugly. And then nobody will want to look at you or hear you ever again. [Laughs] I never put too much thought into it. People can eat what they want. I’ll be in the control room, trying to get the masterpiece done.
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on Aug 15, 2012