The Halifax Urban Folk Festival (HUFF) has a bunch of great things going for it, from the intimate listener venues to the always-stellar lineup. It's the kind of event where you feel like you've seen something special, rather than another night on the road for the performers. Part of that is the wise move put in place to attract artists that might not get to the region any other way. Instead of booking a performer and their full group, they go after singer-songwriters who are willing to play with (very, very good) local players, vets who can do their music justice. Then they are booked over three nights, one night as headliner and the other two as part of a songwriter's circle. This keeps hotel and travel costs down for the festival, and the artist is promised a working vacation, getting to enjoy the famous Maritime hospitality. In other words, stuff them full of lobster until they're happy.
This year's surprise choice (there's always at least one that you'd never think of beforehand) is Nashville's Lilly Hiatt. The up-and-coming singer-songwriter comes by it honestly, the daughter of the revered writer John Hiatt, but that of course only goes so far. She's clutching no-one's coattails, already an accomplished and passionate writer and performer. Her latest album, Trinity Lane, is a rowdy, rocking, emotionally charged release, full of fresh writing. There's a bit of twang to her sound but it's more roots-rock than country-folk, and her F-bombs will ensure there's no Opry invitation anytime soon.
Things are pretty intense when you delve into Hiatt's lyrics, with lots of lines about being on the edge emotionally, trying to get it together. She admits, "I just wanna rock 'n' roll/scream out my lungs and burn real slow." There are lots of old relationships hanging around, like the one in The Night David Bowie Died, where the singer wants to call a recent ex, but sits alone and cries, blaming herself for the split. No matter how much biography is in the songs, a key line seems to be "I'll take lonely if it means free." There's a whole lot of fire in the songs, and a bunch of life experience and survival wrapped up in that one line.