April was not a good month for Juliana Hatfield.
Midway through a warm-up tour in support of her new album, "Only Everything," Hatfield got sick. Very sick. "I kind of had, like, a breakdown," she says, her tiny voice barely a whisper over the phone from New York. "A physical collapse or something. I had to go into the hospital. I had to convalesce for a while."
She doesn't divulge the diagnosis but allows that too much pressure and too many promotional activities played a part. "April was just a really [lousy] month," she says, laughing lightly. "I think a lot of people believe that it's the cruelest month. Someone said that, didn't they?"
Yes. T. S. Eliot. "Right, right," she says, then sighs. "It was a really bad time. I'm glad it's over." Unfortunately for local fans, Hatfield's medical problems caused her to cancel a show at Hammerjacks. "We just had two more shows when we canceled," she says. "It was a warm-up tour. We're starting up again with the real American tour."
She adds that there are no plans to reschedule the Hammerjacks show. "We're just going to start fresh," she says.
Hatfield's Baltimore-area audience hasn't completely lost out, though, because she is part of the bill for this year's HFS-tival.
Now in its third year at Washington's RFK Stadium, the HFS-tival has become one of the nation's premier alterna-rock gatherings. Sponsored by the modern rock outlet WHFS-FM, it is one of the largest and most prestigious radio station-sponsored concerts in the country. Last year's fest drew about 53,000 people -- including such luminaries as Harrison Ford -- and was covered on MTV and in the pages of Rolling Stone.
In addition to Hatfield, this year's lineup includes Soul Asylum, ex-fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt, Primus, Better Than Ezra, Bush, General Public, D.C.'s own Shudder to Think and the Ramones. Tickets sold out the day they went on sale, but WHFS listeners have had regular chances since then to win tickets.
Considering the size of the audience she'll play to at the HFS-tival, you might think the pressure would be on Hatfield to impress the crowd and boost sales for her new album. But the truth is, she'd really prefer to ignore that side of the music business.
"I'm trying constantly to not focus on people's reactions," she says. "I don't like to think about that part of it. Because it's distracting. And it can be really paralyzing, because I really have no control over it. None at all. So it's better for me to focus on something I have control over."
Maybe that's why she'd rather talk about the change in her singing. Although her last album, "Become What You Are," saw her consciously trying to expand her vocal range, singing some songs in a register that was almost painfully low for her, "Only Everything" finds her giving in to the limits of her voice.
"In the past, I've stretched, really stretched my voice," she says. "On this album, I was trying to sing more within my range. I was using my limited range for what it was. Accepting it as limited and not trying to push the boundaries so much. Because usually, I write melodies that are really, really hard for me to sing. This time, I was trying to do something that made more sense for my voice. It was an experiment."
It did have one interesting side effect, though: Her guitar got louder.
"I think, with the guitar, I was compensating for the way that I'm laying back vocally," she explains. "The experiment was to relax and just try to lay back. And when I relax, I like the guitar to rock harder."
When: Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Gates open at 10 a.m.
Where: RFK Stadium, Washington
Tickets: Sold out
Call: (410) 880-4338 or (301) 306-0991 for information