The HUFF Festival And The Sad State of Live Music In Halifax

With the most recent edition of the Halifax Folk Festival in the books it felt like a good time to break with routine and instead of writing a piece reviewing the shows I saw, I’ve decided to do a piece on the festival itself.

Let’s start off with a big thumbs up to the festival organizer (I’m almost certain it was Mike Campbell but cannot 100% confirm that).  The acts chosen to play throughout the week are all top notch performers, ripe with loads of talent.  Local artist Matt Mays has proven time and time again that he has the chops to  rock with anyone; E.B. Anderson & The Resolutes have spent the past few years perfecting their country/blues sound to the point where it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them as a regular act in Nashville;  and what can I say about guitarist Garrett Mason, other than WOW.  Toss in the likes of Chuck Prophet, Neil Osborne (from 54-40) and Norman Blake (from Teenage Fanclub) and you’ve got yourself a festival packed with greatness.

So I have to beg the question: why was this festival not the hottest ticket in town last week?  Why is it that you could walk past one of the many venues partaking and see only a handful of people in the seats?  I’ve been asking this question for a while now and have yet to come up with a good answer, but what is wrong with the music scene in Halifax?

For a week straight you could walk into any of the seven listed venues and enjoy a great night’s worth of music.  Initially I thought I would have trouble finding empty seats, at the shows I did catch, but instead I often found myself in a room less than half filled.  Now it should be noted that the Carleton is an exception to this and, thanks to a great owner, that venue is considered the gold standard in Halifax when it comes to live music.

Why was it that Weir Field in Sackville was jammed with people for the Northern Pikes/Toronto/Helix show but only 20 or so people showed up at Tempo to see Bryan Potvin spend an hour and a half switching between new solo material and 15 years of Northern Pikes hits?

I jumped from one venue to the next (again other than the Carleton) and was often deflated by the lack of people attending the shows.  I was disappointed for the people who spent countless hours organizing the musicians and venues.  I was disappointed for the musicians who should have been playing for venues with no capacity but instead had to give their all to a handful of people.  And I was mostly disappointed with the potential death of another great festival.  Let me state that there is no reason to think that HUFF will not be back next year.  I’ve had no conversations, have not heard any chatter nor have I read anything that would lead me to believe that this year would be the end, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if those in charge decided to pull the plug.

All too often I hear people complain about the lack of live music shows that come to the area, and if you’re speaking about what’s new, hot and popular by today’s musical standard then they are correct.  Halifax has become the place where aging musicians come to play when they’re on the downward trajectory of their careers.  But stop and take a look around you, HRM.  Each and every weekend there are copious amounts of musical talent banging it out on stage and all it costs to check them out is a measly five dollar cover.  This city needs to embrace their own and support local musicians.  With close to half a million people in the HRM and surrounding areas it should be an easy task to get 150 people into the Seahorse on a Friday night.

I should have spent the last 600 words speaking about how mind bending it can be to watch Garrett Mason play the guitar, or how surprised I was by Noah Tye’s great performance as a singer/songwriter or how easy it was for Neil Osborne to play the role of storyteller; and because I didn’t I do apologize.  Instead I vented my frustration out in the form of words and need to spend the next year wondering if this great festival is going to come around again.

About the author


Jeff is one-fourth of the group that makes up HAFILAX. His usual ramblings can be read right here on the website. If reading isn't your thing, he also hosts the Basement Tapes podcast.