In 1965, Bob Dylan led the transition from traditional American folk music to the new folk revival, pissing off fans by playing with amps in Newport, Rhode Island. But the Electric Dylan controversy helped redefine folk and expanded practice in other "common man" genres like country. Exposing stasis, Dylan used his resources to make folk reflect the times.
From August 26 to September 1, Mike Campbell pulls a Dylan. The third Halifax Urban Folk Festival kicks off at The Carleton Music Bar and Grill with Bry Webb and Daniel Romano.
Over 40 acts will grace the bars and theatres of Argyle Street. After organizing a festival for the 2006 Juno Awards, founder of The Carleton and music biz whiz Campbell realized such a thing could be annual with someday-dreams on a much larger scale.
"We call it an urban folk festival because it's not in a hayfield, there are no mosquitoes, you're not looking for Porta Potties at 2am, we have a perfect city for this," he says. "It's important to keep the culture of live music alive and well here. You can't have too many of these things."
The lineup, which also includes Ron Hawkins, Steve Poltz, Ellliot Murphy and Willie Nile (both playing with The Halifax All-Stars), Danny Michel, My Darling Clementine, Jon Samuel's album release, locals Nick Everett & Everybody, Carmen Townsend, Joel Plaskett and many more also features electronic dance bands and Romano, rural Ontario's country songbird.
Also an indie rocker (City and Colour, Attack in Black) and co-dude at You've Changed Records, Romano released neo-Nashville throwback Sleep Beneath the Willow last year, a gorgeous songbook of the simple hooks and pedal steels of classic country. His next album, Come Cry With Me, isn't an intentional departure from folk, he says, but yet it is.
"It's much more country. As much as country is a specific genre of music, there are ways you can abuse it or use it," Romano says. "And I use the hell out of it. I don't even know how to stray."
As a branch of folk, classic country retains elements of aural experience that depend more on mood and vocal talent than much of modern pop. Like folk, country is accidentally authentic.
"Country in the '50s, '60s, '70s had the best song writing and the best singers because it was the only genre where it didn't matter if you were horribly ugly, it just mattered that you had a great voice," Romano says. "Delivery and range is everything, and it just seems like such a plain and obvious way of making a song."
In the current music landscape, Romano's nostalgia for George Jones and the cowboy ballad confronts our expectations of modern country, as do many of the folk acts at HUFF.
The idea of folk is wide but true at this festival. Some artists play a solo set before being joined by a full locally farmed band. With free shows on the bill, the venues are within two walking blocks, so there is room to roam. Campbell is cultivating the relationship between artist and audience as both a discovery and an intimate experience of exceptional performance. You really shouldn't miss it.
Along with Webb (The Constantines), Romano and The Trilliums will open up what is sure to be a range of authentic moments at HUFF, taking the rural to town and bringing it all back home.
Halifax Urban Folk Festival, Sunday, August 26 to Sunday, September 2, For full venue and show listings visit thecarleton.ca/huff-festival