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The Halifax Urban Folk Festival

The Halifax Urban Folk Festival (HUFF) gets underway this evening in the provincial capital. Founder and organizer Mike Campbell gives us the lowdown on this year’s highlights.

What inspired you to put this festival together?
After I produced the live music component - JunoFest - for the Juno awards in Halifax in 2006, I was sitting around with a bunch of other industry friends wondering why it was that a lot of our events (like the ECMAs, for instance) always wound up inviting people from all over the world to come here in the winter instead of when we're at our best. We also were lamenting the usual problems with singer/songwriter festivals (rain, bugs, long drives to the country and on and on). I assumed that hotels in the city in the summer months were routinely sold out but once I looked into it, discovered that actually the last week of August through Labour Day weekend was actually slow for hotels. SO, I started thinking about the idea... "why not an 'urban' folk festival in a perfectly good city with nice hotels, great clubs and restaurants?" Then I started The Carleton and the idea hit the back burner for a couple of years until I decided to revive it again in 2010. That first year we only did shows in my room so it was more of a mini festival but it did get the ball rolling. In my mind (which, as many people know doesn't necessarily correspond to any reality we're used to), this could build to a very big event over the coming years. I like the idea of some big shows down the road. Maybe not Ottawa Blues Festival big but much bigger than it is now.

How has it grown since last year?
Last year (the second year), we expanded it to 4 venues and this year we've got 7 in total. The Carleton is running shows from Sunday, August 26th through Sunday, September 2nd. The Economy Shoe Shop, Durty Nellie's, The Neptune Studio Theatre, The Argyle and the Loose Cannon will be doing shows on Thursday, August 30th, Friday, August 31st and Saturday, September 1st. The Seahorse will have festival shows on Friday, August 30th and Saturday, August 31st. There are a lot of choices and some really great talent from around the world, nationally and regionally. Three of the stages are free: Shoe Shop, Durty Nellys and The Loose Cannon. I also think it's cool - even though it wasn't necessarily the plan - that all the venues are on Argyle Street.

What can audiences expect this year?
The mandate of our festival is to bring artists from all over to the city but not just for one night, and in many cases, not just for one show. We want them to be here long enough to actually see some of the region, not just the airport and the inside of a hotel and a club. Our Carleton headliners over the Labour Day weekend each do one night as the headline act and the other two nights as part of a songwriters' circle to open the shows; we add one other artist each night to make the circle three artists. These are fantastic nights and our "bonus" artists each night are great (Joel Plaskett on Friday, Ron Hawkins on Saturday and Willie Nile on Sunday). Audiences can also expect a good combination of singer/songwriter shows, band shows and pretty good representation in a lot of different genres. For instance, we're making downstairs at The Argyle an electronic/hip hop stage with killer line-ups each night. That room will be a lot of fun!

In your estimation, what are the 'must-see' shows this year?
All the shows are worth seeing but one of the highlights will, for sure, be Elliott Murphy - playing with the Halifax All Stars - on Friday night at The Carleton. The All Stars are Dave Marsh (Joel Plaskett Emergency), Jay Smith (Matt Mays) and Paul Boudreau (ex Cool Blue Halo) and they'll be doing some songs with Elliott so he can end with a rock'n'roll bang. Elliott's coming in from Paris, is pals with Bruce Springsteen and has never been here before...Harlan Pepper is my favourite new Canadian band and they've all only just turned 19. They're doing multiple shows... Jon Samuel's CD release show at The Neptune Studio Theatre on Saturday will be great (the new record is excellent), Ron Hawkins at the same venue on Thursday, along with 4 grads of Gordie Sampson's songwriting camp, will be wonderful... Another act doing multiple nights is Brilliant Fish from Toronto, a very cool one-man show. There are too many great shows to single out any more! Ari Hest! Ana Egge! The list DOES go on!

Why is it an important event for the city?
It's important because I think Halifax is losing its live music vibe and we have to remind people that this town used to be the live music capital of the country. We're down to very few live venues and that means fewer and fewer places for our artists to play. We still have the best writers in the world for my money and this festival puts them in touch with some equally excellent ones from other parts of the planet to, we hope, create some creative synergies and, just as importantly, have a really good time. We want to fill the hotels and bring commerce to the venues and other businesses in our area of town.

What are the plans for the festival for the years to come?
I envision bigger and better. If people come out to this year's iteration, there's no reason why we won't work hard to make it a larger concern every year.

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