The first ever Cicada Music Festival, to be held on October 13, promises to bring together some of Canada’s most incredible up-and-coming musical talents for an evening of unforgettable performances. One of the most highly-anticipated acts is Hamilton’s Terra Lightfoot, whose blues and classic rock roots have shone through three incredible studio albums and years of exciting live performances.
Lightfoot’s music takes very clear inspiration from generations of music gone by, without feeling like a nostalgia act. While her music may harken back to blues and rock acts of the 60s and 70s, there’s no mistaking that it’s Lightfoot’s artistic voice, here and now. Those influences blend with the unique timbre and smooth vibrato of her singing, as well as her soft but powerful touch on the guitar, to create something that could only have been made by her. In spite of how familiar they might feel, it’s hard to imagine the brooding, folksy darkness of ‘Sleep Away the Winter’, or the catchy groove of ‘No Hurry’, coming from anyone else.
Her newest record, 2017’s New Mistakes, is a little bit of a departure from those roots. The production feels a little more contemporary, with more modern sounding drums and a healthy dose of synth sounds. This new direction, as it turns out, wasn’t Lightfoot’s idea, or her intention.
“The producers wanted to take it that way and those sounds went way out of my comfort zone,” Lightfoot said of the album’s creation. “I didn’t want those sounds on the album. I learned a big lesson as a result, which is to stay true to yourself.”
In spite of Lightfoot’s misgivings, the album is an unashamed delight. The different direction on the production can’t take away from her stellar performances, especially on the classic rock powerhouse “Slick Back Kid,” or her delicate and powerful vocal performance on “Norma Gale,” both of which are career highlights.
Her reluctance to include these elements make one thing clear, though; Terra Lightfoot has a distinct style and she’d like to stick to it. These days, the music market can feel a little over encumbered with electronic music, where even the rock scene has become flooded with synthesizers. Lightfoot’s dedication to her guitar and her roots is almost a statement in itself. But there’s no frustration with, or distaste for, that way of making music: to that end, Lightfoot recalls a session she did with Wondagurl, an electronic musician.
“I’ve always loved the guitar, that’s the way I express myself as much as my voice,” Lightfoot said. “But there are people who learn their laptops like I learned my guitar. Wondagurl plays her computer like I play my guitar and I really respect that.”
For Lightfoot, it seems, it’s the hours and the love that you put in that matters. This is hardly surprising given the strength of her live shows, for which she is routinely praised. She is a consummate performer and the energy of performing live takes her music leaps and bounds beyond the brilliance captured on the record.
It’s surprising that she can achieve this given that her touring band changes around so frequently. Lightfoot is on the road a little more often than a lot of artists; she says she struggles to find musicians willing to leave their lives and families for the sake of a tour for a huge stretch of time.
Normally, a great live acts cements itself through the chemistry of the band, but it seems Lightfoot can conjure that chemistry with just about anyone. The criteria she looks for in her touring musicians speaks to that:
“The biggest thing I look for is a person’s ability to be cheery in the morning, because a lot of what we do is sit in a van for hours on end before the shows actually happen,” she says. Musical proficiency, of course, is also on the list, but a healthy attitude seems to be just as important to Lightfoot.
Lightfoot’s slot at Cicada situates her in good company; the likes of Joey Landreth, Dan Mangan and Donovan Woods fill a similar space in the music market. However, there’s an ethos to Lightfoot’s music that makes her stand out even in this distinguished crowd. No matter what you throw at her, or ask of her, Terra Lightfoot will still be Terra Lightfoot. She’s going to walk out on stage, play the music that’s in her heart and be rewarded for it by adoring fans the world over.