The Stardew Valley: Festival of Seasons concert was magical, even as a newcomer

I attended the Toronto concert having never played the game and came out absolutely blown away

Stardew Valley Festival of Seasons

I have a confession to make: I’m generally not a fan of life sim games. I appreciate why people enjoy them, but they’re just not my thing, especially when they involve tending to gardens, farms and other forms of property.

All of that is to explain why I’ve never played Stardew Valley. While I’ve always admired from afar what solo developer Eric “Concerned Ape” Barone has accomplished with the game, I’ve never had a desire to jump in myself.

At least, not until this past weekend. After receiving a complimentary ticket from Canadian presenter Kashamara Productions, I attended SOHO Live’s Stardew Valley: Festival of Seasons concert in Toronto. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, given how little I knew about the game itself.

To my surprise, I found the whole experience absolutely delightful.

That all started with the presentation. Having been to several Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts concerts over the years, as well as last month’s Sonic Symphony, I had been anticipating an orchestra of dozens of people performing Barone’s music for the game alongside an HD video presentation of Stardew Valley gameplay. But that’s not what Festival of Seasons is at all, and it’s so much better for it.

Altogether, there were maybe 12 musicians on stage, including the pianist off to the side, and there was no screen to be found. Initially, I had at least hoped for the latter so I could see more tightly edited footage that would maybe help me learn more about the game. For instance, the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concerts essentially offer “Greatest Hits” sizzle reels of moments from each featured game, which, alongside the live orchestra, proves to be an engaging form of storytelling.

But I quickly came to appreciate how the comparatively quaint and understated nature of Festival of Seasons was remarkably effective in its own way. As the title suggests, the structure of the concert is divided into the four seasons and associated songs, with the transition between each being marked by ambient lighting and the conductor’s reference-filled interstitial commentary. (Apparently, people don’t like a character named Pierre.) But otherwise, the music was left to speak for itself, and I found that surprisingly meditative.

Without gameplay footage to paint any of the scenes, I started to develop a greater appreciation for how the music itself told a story. I imagined myself being a newcomer to the titular valley, just as the hundreds of people around me once were, and what that experience might be like. In a sense, I was using my own makeshift mental character creator, rather than the in-game one. And from there, the setlist helped colour in that journey.

The opening warm and calming spring tunes, like “It’s A Big World Outside,” helped evoke the excitement of starting a new chapter in this town and all of the sense of potential that entailed. When the serene “Dance of the Moonlight Jellies” came on and the crowds around me jumped up with glee, I could picture my worker plunking himself down after a long day and taking in a stunning nighttime show. During the eclectic medleys of various character songs, I wondered what sorts of colourful people I would meet as I carried out my day-to-day farm work, be it the mayor, general store owner or my neighbour.

And when the show closed with “A Golden Star is Born,” I found myself getting surprisingly wistful. From what I now understand, that plays when you build a community centre, and even then, I certainly got that feeling. The whole piece captured the feelings of having come together and found your people, creating that soothing sense of accomplishment after a long journey.

Through all of that, I started to really understand why so many people around me were getting so emotional, like the girl beside me who tearfully said “I’ve ascended” towards the end. In the same way that a live Distant Worlds performance of “Aerith’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VII can reduce me to tears, I started to better understand why these people were having these powerful reactions. I saw that Stardew Valley as a whole was about each person’s individual journey with the game — how they spent their days, which professions they took on, who they ended up marrying.

It’s a testament not only to Barone’s incredible music, but the power of the medium of gaming as a whole. What each player has experienced with Stardew Valley is wholly unique, and that’s what they brought with them into the concert. Even with my ignorance towards the game itself, I felt all of that through the music.

And after all of that, I absolutely now want to check out Stardew Valley. The timing also couldn’t be better, given this week’s launch of the highly-anticipated big 1.6 update. What I saw at the Festival of Seasons concert was honestly quite magical, and I’m excited to see more of that in the game itself.

If you need me, I’ll be in Pelican Town.

The Festival of Seasons is now touring worldwide. In Canada, the concert will next play in Ottawa (March 23rd), Vancouver (March 27th), Edmonton (March 28th) and Montreal (May 5th), although tickets are currently sold out in all of these cities.

More information can be found here.

It’s worth noting that Kashamara Productions is also helping to present the Final Fantasy VII Rebirth concert which will play in Toronto on September 19th and 20th (tickets go live March 22nd at 10am) and Montreal on November 29th (tickets are now live).

Image credit: SOHO Live

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