An effortless exploration of where rock meets country, Lilly Hiatt kicks off Fredericton’s 2021 Harvest Music Festival right.
Stream: ‘Walking Proof’ – Lilly Hiatt
The buzz of the crowd echoed through Fredericton’s Playhouse theatre and I didn’t realize how much I missed it, needed it. As the bar lights flashed signalling last call, Lilly Hiatt’s Rickenbacker shone on the stage, begging to be distorted and loud. We were all desperate for that.
“Gotta tune up, it’s come a long way,” Hiatt told the crowd after she and the band sauntered on. “Some further than others,” her guitarist replied. A reference to the band losing their luggage on the trip from Nashville—a Canadian rite of passage at this point—it could also have been a reference to every person in that room. Masked up and in my old hometown for the first time since shows were cancelled, I felt all those miles and months.
From the first notes of “All Kinds of People” however, they slowly melted away. The more the dust was blown off the band, the more the years seemed to drift. I’m not corny enough to say Hiatt solved everything, or even to suggest that the steaming of my glasses—usually a sign I was singing too intently—wasn’t a reminder of the world’s state. Rather, Hiatt showed us what was important.
Two Fender amps and a bass cabinet was all they needed, as a complete sound filled every corner. The drums and bass created a bedrock for Hiatt to belt her classic drawl, as an endless supply of solos ripped. The band, despite admitting they hadn’t had much chance to practice recently, started strong and grew tighter.
Through their nearly two hour set they played pretty much all of Walking Proof and Trinity Lane, cherrypicking classic jams such as “Machine” and “Three Days” from her older catalogue. Her setlist danced in the grey area between rock and country. A Tennessee drawl and a reverb tone keeping Johnny Cash proud, while there was screaming guitars and pounding drums that would rival the Rolling Stones. These genres fought for dominance all evening. A solo encore of a new song and two more full-band songs sent us home in awe. As I met my partner in the lobby, her first words were “she’s a fucking rockstar.” I couldn’t disagree.
Her louche swagger was mesmerizing, her comfort level enviable. It wasn’t the in-your-face arrogance of Jagger, but the assuredness of someone born to be on stage. Chewing gum and wondering around like Tom Petty’s heir, it was clear why she was headlining the opening night of Harvest Music Fest. Over the next ten days Fredericton will welcome Jason Isbell, Matt Mays and The Revivalist, among others—but no-one will rock the fest like Hiatt did. Cool and composed, calm and colossal, few other people bring it like we all so desperately need right now.
I sprayed hand sanitizer on my hands as I walked into the lobby, socially distanced and humming “Candy Lunch.” Re-entering reality was striking, but that night Lilly Hiatt showed us what we missed.
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Stream: “Candy Lunch” – Lilly Hiatt
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