LaFave’s rave

Jimmy LaFave at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West), Wednesday (May 15). $15 advance, $17.50 door. 416-531-6604. Rating: NNNNNit's been well.

Jimmy LaFave at Hugh’s Room (2261 Dundas West), Wednesday (May 15). $15 advance, $17.50 door. 416-531-6604. Rating: NNNNN

it’s been well over a year sincehardcore folk troubadour Jimmy LaFave put out his fabulous Texoma (Bohemia Beat/Rounder) disc, and he isn’t planning to be anywhere near a studio until at least November. That won’t keep LaFave from criss-crossing the continent to play shows. Singing heart songs — low on sentimentality, high on soul — is what LaFave does best, and he’s spent most of his life beating Bruce Springsteen at his own working-class-hero game.

Of course, you won’t see LaFave wowing stadium crowds he’s more likely to play for 150 of the faithful at a local church hall. But that’s why he’s the real poet of the people.

“My buddy Butch Hancock and I were performing together recently and we got to talking about what we’re doing these days,” says LaFave from a road stop in Madison, Connecticut. “He said, “Jimmy, we sell dozens of records to discriminating listeners in small pockets of good taste.’

“I think he nailed it. Last night 200 people came out to see me perform at what’s called the Outpost in the Burbs — an old cathedral in a small New Jersey town — and it was a wonderful thing.”

These days it could just as easily have been a show in somebody’s home. Just as corporate interests have been taking greater control of established concert venues, enterprising middle-aged people have started staging shows in wedding halls, community centres and their own suburban residences, getting the word out through the Internet.

“There really has been an explosion of so-called house concerts all across America. People invite say 70 or 80 people they know to come over on a Saturday night, and you set up in the living room and play your songs.

“People who come are genuinely interested in listening to the music, which they know they can’t hear on the radio.”

It’s an intriguing phenomenon that appears to be an odd variation on the old community barn dance, updated with ideas borrowed from the DIY punk shows that enthusiastic hardcore fans used to put on in their parents’ basements in the early 80s.

There’s something extremely encouraging about groups of disenfranchised folks, tired of being spoon-fed pop pap, taking a stand to reclaim a small but meaningful piece of the cultural real estate the music industry at large has undervalued.

LaFave sees a parallel to the changing attitudes toward concertgoing and music purchasing in the specialty coffee shop boom.

“There was a time not too long ago when a coffee was just a coffee. But now little shops on every corner offer all different types of coffee. People are demanding more quality and variety in what they consume.

“And just like they figured out there’s more out there than Maxwell House, they’ve also realized they don’t need to listen to *NSync when there are artists like Steve Earle and Butch Hancock making music they like. So they’re seeking it out and supporting it more than ever.

“All of this is happening under the radar of the music industry. The labels can mass-market all they want — there’s a whole niche of people who are buying what we do regardless.”

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