Thursday, September 21, 2023


It's a busy time music-wise here in the Maritimes. Here's how one festival's excellent programming helps out another city's music scene, bringing cool and different artists to the region, ones that we'd normally not get to see in these parts.

Halifax's Mike Campbell, he of multiple East Coast Music Award-wins for Venue of the Year at the wonderful Carleton, runs his Halifax Urban Folk Festival (HUFF) each September in that city. Campbell, a renowned spotter of top live talent, goes out of his way each year to find great, non-mainstream roots and rock artists to bring in and wow the crowds. He always manages to find a couple of U.S. or European types that you never thought would make it to the region, let alone to such an intimate, audience-friendly stage. This year he's done it again, including a classic alt-rock veteran, and a newcomer-groundbreaker singer-songwriter.

Tommy Stinson first came to near-fame as the bass player for the influential, erratic 80s group The Replacements. Known for its deep distrust of commercialism and chaotic live shows, The Replacements somehow managed to flirt with success and influence half the bands that came after them and remain heroes for a couple of generations at least. When the band broke up (for the first time) in 1991, Stinson proved himself a bandleader in his own right, forming the group Bash and Pop, a vehicle for his songwriting efforts, which has had a couple of lengthy runs whenever Stinson has branched out on his own.

He hasn't had a lot of opportunities to focus on his own career though, because he keeps getting called up to the big leagues for support. He became a full member of Guns N' Roses in 1998, did many tours with them, and contributed to the Chinese Democracy album. That lasted until 2014, with Stinson the major reason the band became a steady touring outfit in those years, as he acted as the musical leader on stage. Also calling on his skills was fellow Minneapolis band Soul Asylum, with Stinson both touring and recording with that group from 2005 to 2012. 

Along the way, he's taken part in various Replacements reunions and recordings,  brought Bash and Pop back together, and lately has been doing more intimate, stripped-down shows as a duo in Cowboys in the Campfire with Chip Roberts. Campbell convinced him to make his way to the Maritimes, and he's at the HUFF for three shows, joining such luminaries as Bobby Bare Jr. and Mary Gauthier in songwriter's circles on Friday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Sept. 30. He's headlining his own show Sunday, Oct. 1 at the Carleton, fronting the ad hoc Halifax All-Stars.

Coming even further for the festival is the British folk-rock powerhouse Grace Petrie. Outspoken and brave, I wouldn't call her a protest singer, as her songs are actually more uplifting, especially for marginalized communities and their supporters. She's a Glastonbury regular and Billy Bragg-approved, her politics firmly and proudly planted in the left, Socialist field. While she has been active and recording since 2006, she just recently broke through with a UK Top 40 album, Connectivity (2021), featuring the social media marketing spoof "We've Got An Office in Hackney." And for a taste of her humour/political mix, try out "I Just Want The Tories To F*** Off (A Christmas Song)." She's at the HUFF for two shows, a matinee and an evening performance on Sunday, Sept. 24.

It's a win-win for both Halifax and Fredericton as both Stinson and Petrie added dates in that city, since they were already in the neighbourhood. Petrie is going direct from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to the Fredericton Inn, where she's playing on Friday, Sept. 22, part of the Uptown at Night series presented by Music Runs Through It at 7:30 PM. And Stinson will hit Fredericton after HUFF, playing Tuesday, Oct. 3 at The Cap, plus another local show at the Trailside in Charlottetown, Wednesday, Oct. 4.