Cole brings back Chester's Harvest Fest


Last updated 9/22/2023 at 12:19pm

Photo courtesy of Amanda Moss

Peyton Cole sits in a pickup truck. Cole returned to Chester during the COVID-19 pandemic and revived the community's Harvest Festival.

The Harvest Fest begins in Chester today, a now-annual event revived by local resident Peyton Cole, who, in a twist of fate, unexpectedly returned to her hometown during the COVID-19 pandemic and now finds herself the primary organizer for the event.

Cole, who works in music production and management, said she went to Missoula for college in 2016 and never expected to return to Chester, but when the pandemic hit and a great deal of her industry shut down she was hurting for work.

A friend of her family mentioned to her that if she needed work while the pandemic continued her parents were in need of help on the farm south of Chester, and Cole said she took them up on the kind offer.

Cole said she had a rough childhood, and she ended up associating a lot of her bad memories with the place she lived and came to resent the place, telling herself she would never go back.

"I think we all have a little of the tunnel vision when we're younger," she said.

However, she said, working on her friend's farm provided her with a place that made her feel secure during an incredibly stressful and chaotic time, and that experience, as well as the experience of farming itself, really changed her perspective on the area.

"It was a comfortable and safe life that I lived on the farm during COVID-19, and a lot of people didn't get to experience that," she said.

Armed with a newfound passion for her hometown, she said, she noticed as the pandemic began to dissipate, that the area didn't really have a whole lot of events going on, and she wanted to change that, especially considering how important Chester is as part of the Hi-Line.

"Chester is the county seat, we're the heart of the Hi-Line, we're central to everything," she said.

Cole said she remember harvest festivals being held when she was younger, but they tended to be sporadic, and she wanted to see something that went on every year, so she set out to revive the event, bigger and better, if she could.

This is the second Harvest Fest she's organized and it's already bigger than the first one.

She said she originally planned to make music the centerpiece of the fest, but this year, as it evolved it's become more varied, which she thinks was the right way to go, with food, vendors, children's events, artwork, music and more throughout Friday and Saturday.

Despite the increased diversity of events from last year, Cole said, one of the biggest events is a release party for "On the Hi-Line Vol. 1," an album of music from local artists produced by Cole and recorded at the Liberty Village Art Center, a 1910 Catholic Church turned art gallery in Chester.

Artists include Cole Kleinert & the Slow Rollers, The Lucky Valentines, Sunsah406, Nicklaus Hamburg, Nickolas Crawford, The Ditch Riders, Sheila Roberts, Paige Plaisance and Cole herself.

Cole said the production was pretty barebones as far as budget goes, but she's thrilled with how it came out and loves giving local artists a chance to get their work out.

She said she changed course at college a number of times, hardly uncommon for college students, exploring psychology, chemistry, pharmacology, but during that time she encountered a certificate program in entertainment management, and that's when she encountered her calling.

She said she's always been passionate about music and the program at the University of Montana, as well as the jobs she jumped into after leaving the program, made it clear what she wanted to do.

"It just felt right," she said.

However, this passion for music, while it informed how she's revived the Harvest Fest, is also what is taking her away from Chester.

Cole said, now that the pandemic has receded and the live music industry has returned, she is moving to Texas next week, a place she's always wanted to end up, to take a couple jobs managing bands. But her time in Chester has changed her perspective on the area, she said, which has only compounded as she's taken to organizing the event, and has made it difficult to leave.

"If I don't leave now, I'm never going to," she said.

Cole said she's spent a lot of time setting up the Harvest Fest this year on the road and hasn't actually spent much time in Chester recently, so it's clearly possible to organize events like this remotely, but she wants to pass the reins to people in the community, even though she may lend some help from afar.

She said she's tried to set things up so local organizations like the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce can seamlessly take the lead on the event, which she hopes will continue to be held every year.

Organizing this event, she said, and the production of "On the Hi-Line Vol. 1," has also taught her things about music production.

She said people in communities like Chester tend to be a little more private than those in Missoula and larger cities, where she's had previous experience setting up shows and recording interviews with artists.

Cole said the experience has informed her perspective on her own industry, but her studies in college also informed her new perspective on Chester.

She said when she was studying psychology, she learned why events like this are important, what kind of difference a sense of community can make in people's lives and that was one of the things that motivated her to take up this event and how she did it.

She said community events make people feel connected to each other and bring people back to their hometown which strengthens connections with the people who do end up leaving.

Ultimately, Cole said, the experience of coming back home and organizing this event, an idea that started out as a passing notion to her, has been wonderful and she will miss it when she leaves.

"It was a brief thought that I had back then and now it's evolved into this big community event, and that's great," she said.


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