Well who would have thought that 10 years after founders Paul Spencer and Ken Ansell created a festival for the music that they loved - a music that no one seemed to be able to hang a convenient tag on - that this unique and perfectly rounded event would not only be going from strength to strength, but would be spawning bastard offspring in the form of other festivals now going out of their way to actively include what is now popularly known as the "Americana" genre. A term incidentally that Paul and Ken knew nothing about - they called it 'alt-country' and that was it!
And here we are a decade later and it seems that the old mantra of "if it aint broke, don't fix it" is ap-propriate in these circumstances, because as far as festivals go this is up there with the very best of them. The winning formula? Musically, give the customers some of what they want, give the custom-ers a lot of what they don't know they want yet, stay true to your roots, don't mess with a winning formula in terms of venue and layout. Sound simple? It's not of course, but Maverick makes it look easy and that is the mark of a well organised event that has been conceived with much love and thought.
This year, as with every year, there really was a veritable cornucopia of musical delights on offer from "star" names (with a small 's') such as Albert Lee and Justin Townes Earle, to upcoming young gun slingers like Hannah Rose Platt, The Worry Dolls and The Grande. The sheer number of performers is a delight, and often a frustration as there is never enough time to see everything that you want - but that is one of this festivals strengths. If something isn't quite to your tastes then it's easy enough to stroll on around to another stage and catch something new that might well be.
Here at Square Roots Promotions we took the option of catching those that we already knew and loved, and mixed it up with a lot of new (to us) artists that we'd either heard of, or who had been rec-ommended to us but we hadn't yet seen. This proved to be a wise strategy as each day was filled with music ranging from blues to bluegrass, cajun to country…and beyond. It is of course almost impossi-ble, without re-inventing "War & Peace", to physically review every artist that we heard, but with the sun high in the Suffolk sky, a beer in one hand and a crepe in the other, here were our highlights.
Orphan Colours - 5 piece British band, playing on the AMA (UK) curated Peacock stage, and slaying everyone with their unique brand of hook-laden electric americana, where shimmering melodies, and beautiful harmonies meet the rock and roll beat.
Tom Attah - Had the audience at the Moonshine stage eating out of the palm of his hand. A one man blues tour-de-force, with a personality big enough to match his huge musical talent. It was, at times, hard to believe that there was just one man up there with his acoustic such was the intensity and fire of his playing, and at one point when he utilised his loop pedal, there was actually 4 Tom Attah's up there! Mesmerising stuff, from a young master of his art. No wonder the crowd went wild!
Black Feathers - "World Class" is a term bandied about far too often, but when it comes to Ray Hughes and Sian Chandler it's a term that applies without reservation. The real deal? Of that there is no doubt - 2 sets (one on The Barn stage and one on the Peacock stage), both different, and both equal in terms of light, shade and drop dead quality. If the Black Feathers were American they'd have a huge record company behind them and they'd be headlining all the 'big' festivals. As it is, let's count ourselves lucky that for now, at least, we get to see these two fantastic musical talents up close where we can appreciate the pin-point harmonies, two stunning voices, skilful yet understated guitar work, wonderful songs full of emotions, and a stage craft guaranteed to make you smile.
Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles - This Nashville gal continues to wow UK audiences with her own brand of dreamy, ethereal americana.
Danni Nicholls - Not only a wonderful performer, but an equally great songwriter. Supremely talented artist at the start of what looks like being a stellar musical career.
Luke Whittemore - The unenviable task of a very early afternoon slot on the cavernous Barn stage, but rose to the challenge to perform a half hour set full of sinuous self-penned tunes topped off with some great vocals. Deservedly given a great reception.
Annie Keating - This New Yorker is americana personified. Her songs are from the heart, about life and it's trials and tribulations. She rocked it up a little with the help of her great band including Scott Warman and Steve Mayone, but there's a warmth and honesty about her songwriting that draws the audience in. A female Bruce Springsteen if you will.
Dean Owens - Scottish troubadour who wears his heart on his songwriting sleeve. Don't expect too much happiness, just gritty down to earth songs about the human nature and the twists and turns that life throws at us. There is a latent authenticity that course through his songs, and it's difficult not to get drawn into the microcosm that he cleverly creates.
New Essex Bluegrass Band - Old hands who do bluegrass the traditional way. All around a single microphone, choreographed movement, top notch musicianship, and 4 part voices to create that authentic sound. Few do it better.
Hot Rock Pilgrims - New kids on the (bluegrass) block. Last slot on the last day to close the festival - and quite how the roof managed to stay put on the Barn stage I still don't know! A great way for festival goers to remember their weekend. Scintillating musicianship of the highest order, a mix of great self-penned songs and traditional numbers that rattled along at a fair pace, and left the crowd breathless and calling for more. This young South East of England 5 piece are destined to tear many more venues apart with their explosive brand of bluegrass and old time.
As far as I'm concerned, this is without doubt the best festival of the year in the UK. The core values instilled by it's instigators and organisers are still intact and working, and long may that contin-ue. Here's to the next 10 years!
Words & Photos - Ken Brown
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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