On Friday night, I had the utmost pleasure of being able to catch another show during the 2023 iteration of the Halifax Urban Folk Festival. Not only was I able to snag a seat close to the action, but had a great vantage point to snap some shots of the performances.
The headliner on this evening was Nashville’s own Bobby Bare Jr. who was accompanied by the Halifax All-Star Band. Had someone asked my opinion (they didn’t of course), it would have looked identical to the lineup presented on Friday night. You can’t beat the combination of Leith Fleming-Smith (Matt Mays) on keys, Clare MacDonald (Like a Motorcycle, Hillsburn) on drums, Zach MacLean, Tori Cameron (the shorter list would be to name who these talented musicians haven’t played with).
Bobby was fantastic, as would be expected for a fella from Nashville whose father was a respected musician, and who grew up next door to George Jones and Tammy Wynette. His set was not pigeonholed to a single genre, bouncing between alt-country, folk, rock, and punk. Bobby’s wry sense of humour had you waiting for the wink after a wry smile. The Nashville musician opened up by performing a few songs on his own, before welcoming the Halifax All Stars to the stage, where the amps got dialled up for a more rock n roll based show.
At the top of the night, Mike Campbell quipped that with an opening songwriters circle as they had assembled, it was worth the price of admission alone, and the headliner was a bonus. After the show wrapped and reflecting back a day or two later, it went off as billed. It doesn’t hurt that the circle featured Mary Gauthier, Tommy Stinson, and ringleader Terra Spencer.
The songwriting circle consisted of three rounds, where each artist would perform a single song per round. The opening round featured Terra’s politically slanted “Victory Song of the Great American Sperm”, which had the crowd chuckling. Up next was Mary Gauthier, whom I wasn’t familiar with prior to this show, but quickly became a fan of her music, and her track “Last of the Hobo Kings” which reminded me of Tom Wilson in its almost spoken word form and spare arrangement. Then Tommy Stinson (former member of The Replacements) took to the mic with his gorgeous olive green guitar and wowed with his folky, engaging delivery.
As great as all three acts were, there were two moments that absolutely floored me: the first was Mary’s second song that she performed that I thought was entitled “Some Times” as it was beautifully sorrowful, talking about life and those moments one experiences and endures as we grow and age. That was the moment that solidified the fandom of this writer. The other moment was Terra performing her song VHS, a heartwrenching tune depicting a widower watching old home movies, allowing him to revel in those good times while coming to grips with grief and loss. It is every bit as devastating as those opening 10 minutes of the movie Up. While normally performed by Ben Caplan with Terra on piano, this was a beautiful performance that couldn’t have left too many dry eyes in the room.
All in all, it was another unbelievable night of the Halifax Urban Folk Festival inside of The Carleton. Hard to believe it’s year 14 for the legendary festival, looking forward to seeing what the 15th year brings in 2024. Thanks as always to The Carleton and Phillips PR for having me out.