It was a moniker given to her 15 years ago by a man she met while living in Saskatchewan. Little Miss Higgins, he called her, so she used it on a poster for a gig, and it just stuck.
Little Miss Higgins (a.k.a. Jolene Higgins) will be bringing her unique brand of blues, roots and jazz to the Burnaby Blues + Roots Festival on Saturday, Aug. 12, along with four of the Winnipeg Five, a quintet that includes Jimmie James McKee on trumpet, Eric Lemoine on banjo and pedal steel, Blake Thomson on guitar, Patrick Alexandre Leclerc on upright bass, and Evan Friesen on drums.
The NOW reached Higgins by phone from her home in the Interlake region of Manitoba to talk about her music, motherhood and what people can expect from her show later this month.
How would you describe your music?
It’s country, blues and roots music rooted in old-time kind of blues and jazz and folk and country of the early 1900s stuff that I love, but I use that and I make it my own. It kind of ventures out in all directions from there.
What do you love about performing?
I love the relationship with the audience. Engaging an audience and telling stories either through song or with words. It can be a lot of fun, it can be challenging as well. I mean with the rowdy folks it can be really challenging, but it’s always new and it’s always different.
You’re no stranger to touring, what’s it like?
Again, it can be challenging. It can be very rewarding. Meeting great people and meeting different people, too, that sometimes challenges you. And so you have to kind of reach inside and find ways to share, share those stories and listen to other stories, which is great, too. I often get to hear a lot of stories when I’m on the road, and I keep those with me.
Is the Burnaby Blues + Roots Festival part of a tour?
No, it’s just one show. We’re just flying out at like 7 in the morning. Come out and play a show and then we leave the next day.
Is this your first time playing at the Blues + Roots Festival?
No, I played there once before, many years ago. Gosh, I can’t even remember. (Higgins played at the festival in 2010.)
What are your expectations for the Burnaby show?
I have none. I’m just looking forward to having a great time. Last time I played as a duo, so this time I’m bringing four of my five-piece band – four of the Winnipeg Five. And I really love playing with the guys, it’s so much fun, so I’m looking forward to sharing them with Burnaby.
What keeps you going?
I don’t know, I ask myself that same question. This is what I know, it’s what I’ve been doing for many years now. I actually just recorded a new album, and I’m like, “Why did I do that?” But it’s actually my most favourite album so far. The process was amazing. Getting together and playing with a bunch of musicians is just awesome, you know. The music is what keeps me going.
What’s it like having a baby in the midst of an active music career?
I miss him a lot, and I actually released a lot of songs on the new album, and I was like, “OK, well, I wrote that song singing to Joe when he’s crying and I’m trying to console him, and I can’t think of any other song I know in the moment, so I just make songs up.” It’s challenging, it’s hard to get anything done, but we make it work just like any parent, I’m sure they’d understand. You know you work and you try and enjoy the moments.
So, are you going to stay a while after the show at Blues fest?
We’ve got all day. We perform and then we have all day there and the evening, and then we leave at 1 o’clock then next day, so we’ll have the whole day to hang out at the festival.
What are you most looking forward to?
Someone to bring me some blackberries. I’m hoping there’s going to be blackberries there.