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SummerTyne Americana Festival

Venue: The Sage
Town: Gateshead
Date: 22-24/07/16
Website: http://www.sagegateshead.com

It is incredible to think that this was the 11th annual SummerTyne Americana Festival, on the banks of the River Tyne; an event which is for thousands, the highlight of the Sage's calendar. Every year, it has grown in size and variety and this year was certainly no exception. There was free music on the outdoor Jumping Hot stage, inside the concourse on the AMA stage and in the Northern Rock Foundation Room, including showcase by some of the artists performing paid gigs elsewhere in the venue, during the course of the weekend. Speaking of paid gigs, the variety is immense, and for the past couple of years there has been a multi buy discount offer so the more you book, the better value, to see an incredible array of Americana acts.

Across the concourse, also, were a range of stalls. The annual CD stall, offering music by acts appearing over the weekend and a wide range of others, also showcased some music by performing artists. There was also an array of themed stalls; jewellery, cigar box guitars, western wear, and vans serving burgers, beer and other related food and drink. All of this added to the buzzing atmosphere, which was evident all around the event, all weekend.

It is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite weekend of the year; so much so that I booked a local hotel this year, rather than travelling back and forth!

Usually I am unable to attend the Friday afternoon, so this year I was delighted to be able to see some of the Friday acts, too, even better as the sun was shining for the outdoor stage. Tony Bengtson returned to SummerTyne to kick things off outside, with some great lyrics and a folk twist to his musical social commentary.

Kari McLeod and The Fugitives were next; originally from Scotland, Kari now lives in Heaton. She told us she has attended the festival and it has been a dream to play. Clearly loving the experience, she played a variety of songs, which alternated between a country and a gospel sound.

The Hokum hotshots, I learned, were the very first act ever to perform for the Jumping Hot Club. They had a great sound, all delivered with humour and they had people laughing, singing along, clapping and dancing. I was most intrigued by one member playing an instrument worn as a tie, resembling a New Orleans style washboard!

Teresa Watson's Blues Band had many up dancing, with their rock country blues sound. Delivered with banter between, she showcased a powerful vocal style, delivered with real energy as she powered through her own material and a Bonnie Raitt cover.

The Sons of Bido Lito had a good sound, if a little loud and rocky for my taste.

I then wandered up to the Press Launch where the Sage's managing director, Abigail, spoke of how this was her second SummerTyne and is both amazed and proud of what it has become and how much it is at the heart of everything here. With over 15,000 people attending over the weekend, she told us it is the best way possible to end their season but they couldn't do it without the help of some who support the event and the venue.

Tamsin Austin who succeeds Roz Rigby as Programming Director from September, spoke to us about how the event, which began as a collaboration with the Jumping Hot Club, has become embedded in a way she never expected and re iterated that it can only be done with the support of others. She went on to talk about how she loves that she can bring us well loved acts as well as introduce us to new and emerging talent, who often then go on to headline their own acts. Her love of the genre was visible for all to see and to see how personal this is to her, as well as how personal it has become to so many of us, felt very poignant.

The manager of the Side Gallery, reopening on October 1st, talked of his experience putting together exhibitions and films which diversify what is on offer at SummerTyne and give the event a context in the history of America and its music. This is one of the many things SummerTyne does well, from films about black churches, to photograph galleries, which all give what we experience over three days a real sense of place and time.

We were then treated to a song called Time's Winding Up by a band new to me, named Windborne, who hail from New England. With a great gospel sound and beautiful harmonies, they showcased a sound which belied their years. Upon finishing, to huge applause, they went straight to the concourse stage, where they stunned the crowd who had gathered to listen.

Following the launch, I was happy to catch the last few songs by local singer Chloe Chadwick. Having first seen her perform here last summer, it was a joy to see how much she has grown in confidence as a performer since then. She has a relaxed manner, a very distinctive, clear and strong vocal, and engages well with her audience, clearly enjoying every moment. She owned the stage and had the audience clapping, singing and dancing as she and her band delivered high energy performances of new songs alongside favourites Settle Your Heart, Feels Like Home and Never Change. I am looking forward to her CD being released later in the year.

Whilst Howe Gelb entertained the paying visitors in Hall 2, my night was spent in Hall 1 in the company of Striking Matches, Ward Thomas and Callaghan.

Callaghan performed on a double bill with Jess and The Bandits last year and was clearly delighted to be back at SummerTyne. Despite time being short, she shared a some stories and had some banter, allowing her warm personality to shine through. Along with her musician, Pete, she delivered a variety of her songs, which held the audience spellbound. Personal highlights included Best Year, Why You Loved me and a great cover of Stand By Me, which has everyone joining in. She ended with a beautiful performance of We Don't Have To Change The World, sharing her thoughts that sometimes the world seems so crazy we have to hold onto the good stuff and people around us. This seemed very appropriate as in many ways that is what the weekend is about; letting go, enjoying the music, the musicians and friends old and new, that are all around us.

During the interval, Jess and the Bandits were playing on the concourse and even had us dancing upstairs in the queue for the toilets!

Ward Thomas were next up and to be honest. I didn't know what to expect. I hadn't been blown away by their CD and had missed their set last year due to a clash (the one down side of there being so much going on!). I would have liked more chat between them and with audience, but I was pleasantly surprised by their stage presence and delivery, as they took us through songs from both their existing and upcoming CDs, including Cartwheels, Push For The Strive, The Town of Uglee and a stunning acoustic version of Safe. They have certainly grown in confidence and are finding What style works for them. I am very much looking forward to hearing Cartwheels when it is released.

Striking Matches are a duo I have heard a lot about. It transpired they had flown from Nashville just for his show and it was clear how much this was appreciated. Demonstrating excellent musicianship they delivered a real performance of songs and music from their current CD. Their high energy performance of songs such as When The Right One Comes Along, Trouble is As Trouble Does and Missing You Tonight, disguised their jet lag as they wowed the crowd with their distinctive sound.

Meanwhile in Hall 2, the Kentucky Headhunters had toes tapping, whilst the Late Lounge featured the fabulous Mike and Ruthy band and Gill Landry.

Reminiscent of last year, as the halls spilled out into the concourse, few, if any were able to resist stopping to watch, sing, dance, as Jess and the Bandits again filled the venue with their incredible sound. They are one of those few bands who seem to have the power to stop everyone in their tracks, as Jess' personality pulls you in, to listen to songs such as My Name Is Trouble, Wichita Lineman, and What If. Jess also divulged that since SummerTyne last year, Newcastle/Gateshead holds their greatest fan base!

Saturday morning began after a leisurely breakfast and walk over the Tyne, to get our coffee fix at Sage. We then meandered between the outdoor and concourse stages, where we saw great performances from a number of artists, including Danielle Howle, Peter Bruntnell Band and Mary Jean Lewis (niece of Gerry Lee) and Her Lowmen. Somewhere in the middle of all of this the first of the weekend river cruises was taking place, along with several films in the lounge.

In between these, I took a chance on a show I was curious but a little unsure about; Kelly Willis and Bruce Robsion, supported by Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay. The latter delivered a very original, olde worlde sound which was like taking a step back in time. Their vocals and harmonies were absolutely stunning as they sang their melodies into their old style microphone; somehow even that added more atmosphere to their too short set. Connecting easily with the audience, they had Hall 2 from the get go as they told stories of their recently adopted dog and their recent travels. Songs such as Analogue (which tells a story of times long gone,) Backseat Of Your Car and Steam Threshers Reunion, to name but three, they had us captivated until they had to take leave of the stage. Their impact was obvious from the comments afterwards and queues of people buying CDs (yes I bought two!) I also feel I have to mention what lovely, gracious people they are to chat to; the following day Brennen passed me and even came across to say hello and chat, testament in many ways to the people SummerTyne attracts to perform and the ethos it creates of connection between artist and audience.

By the time I had been wowed by Brennen and Noel, I didn't expect the main act could be as impressive. I was wrong! Kelly Willis is a name I have known for years and Bruce Robison I've known as a songwriter for a long time, but I was surprised that Tasmin has been trying to get them over here for seven years. Boy was that worth waiting for! With distinctive vocals, great harmonies and banter with the audience, they again took the stage, just them no their guitars no had Hall 2 mesmerised from the start, not least when Bruce spoke movingly of Guy Clark, before they delivered a beautiful song he wrote about the Spanish/Mexican border, reminiscent of Tom Russell. Songs such as Ball and Chain, Before The World Was Made, Rosie a stunning rendition of 99,999 Tears and a moving delivery of the song Bruce wrote for the Dixie Chicks, Travelin' Soldier, which sung by this pair, brought tears to my eyes. Magical. Commenting on the world class venue and production they suggested they would like to return and I know 400 people in Hall 2 are wondering not if but when. They are also lovely to speak to and both seemed to be genuinely humbled by people's comments. It was a joy to tell Bruce how much I love that Dixie Chicks song!

From there I returned to the outdoor stage, where I saw the Urban Pioneers ahead of a set to which I was very much looking forward. San Diego's Eve Selis and her band blew away the crowds at the very first SummerTyne outdoor stage. She has since played Hall 2 nearly every July but after a year's hiatus in which personal experience prompted her thoughtful new release, it was great to see her have the same effect out there a decade later, an experience she clearly enjoyed, too. In her own inimitable style, she drew the audience into her space on stage and held them there until she left. Backed by her stunning band; Marc Intravaia, Jim Soldi and Rick Nash on guitars and Larry Grano on drums (shoutout to Sharon Whyte, we missed you on keys!) Eve delivered stunning, high energy performances of new material alongside older classics such as Russellville and Kate Morgan, which had the audience up, singing and dancing, before ending with the most exquisite version I've ever heard of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujiah, which had everyone spellbound, ending their set on a complete high. Eve and the band took a long time to chat afterwards, with both people they know and those new to their music. Can't wait to see them back next July!

In a real dose of SummerTyne magic, hot on the heels of Eve, was one of my favourite singer songwriters we see at Sage, Gateshead, Gretchen Peters. Despite playing here regularly, it was her first ever SummerTyne performance, though the second time we got to see her this year.

Unfortunately, due to the clash of the time Eve's set finished, I missed her support act, Scottish Dean Owens. However, I learned that he was selected by Gretchen herself, no mean feat in itself. He wowed the audience with a selection of songs from his CDs, with great vocals, lyrics and banter.

Gretchen took to the stage in her second home full of cold and clearly struggling. Joking that we'd have a little Willie Nelson with our Gretchen tonight, she told us this performance marked her 10th anniversary of performing at Sage, Gateshead, although she has performed in the North East since 1996, which didn't go without mention and a shout out to those few of us who were there that night!

With that in mind, I was struck during this gig, at the sheer magic of this event, that I was in my favourite music room, in my favourite venue, watching one of my favourite artists, knowing that around the room were friends from near and far, whom I have met through music, this building and SummerTyne itself. Wow.

Cold or no cold, Gretchen had us in the palm of her hands as she delivered a wide range of her catalogue; Standout songs included Idlewild, On A Bus To St Cloud (which she said she would do if she had to talk through it, such was its resonance in the UK,) Guadalupe, Hello Cruel World and Woman on The Wheel. Dark Angel allowed Barry Walsh to venture from stunning piano and accordion accompaniment, to harmonise in the role of Rodney Crowell. Gretchen. Left Barry to give us a taster of his piano prowess as he played us the beautiful October Waltz. At the end of a set which just whizzed by, Gretchen left the stage to huge applause, only to return, to show the playful side of her, Barry and band; Colm McLean on lapsteel and Conor McCreanor on bass (shoutout to Christine Bougie who was very much missed!) as they delivered a wonderful rendition of John Prine's In Spite Of Ourselves. As Gretchen thanked us, telling us she loves us and loves playing here, a spontaneous and very much deserved standing ovation took place, at which she looked genuinely moved.

Despite not feeling great, she took time to meet old and new fans alike after the show, as is her way. She is taking some well deserved time off next year, so we will miss you Gretchen, but will be here waiting for you in 2018!

Whilst Gretchen was wowing Hall 2, Imelda May supported by Jess and The Bandits were making big impressions in Hall 1 and in the SummerTyne Lounge, The Hillbenders performed their own take on the Tommy musical. At the end of the night, Lucky Peterson was delivering rock, soul and blues, in Hall 2, whilst we enjoyed some rockabilly from Miss Mary and the Mr Rights, to close Saturday night on the concourse.

For the second night in a row I left Sage to walk across the river, buzzing after a full day of truly amazing music, known and new. Again, the fact that acts new to me could stand up so well against acts I love, is testament to SummerTyne itself.

Sunday morning began as Saturday had, with the addition of a look at the Sunday Quayside Market. As the second river cruise was taking place, we were alternating between the stages to watch Jumping Hot Club's own Shipcote and Friends, Gem Andrews and Hymn For Her (definitely the cleverest name of the weekend!) I then had a wander upstairs to look at the stunning photographic exhibition by James Perry Walker, entitled The Preacher And His Congregation. It follows the Reverend Louis Cole and his congregation through rural Mississippi and Tennessee in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I found it to be a fascinating, insightful and emotive set of photographs, which very much told their own story of people, time and place.

Next up was a show I had been very much looking forward to, Ron Block and Sierra Hull. Support came from Chester and the Fog Duo, a young local band, who despite appearing nervous, showed good musicianship and potential.

Multi instrumentalist Ron Block, known for his work with Alison Krauss and Union Station, was joined by Sierra Hull on Mandolin, his bluegrass protege. Whilst the two are, without a doubt, excellent musicians, and played some outstanding bluegrass pieces, I honestly felt the set was too long and was lacking in rapport with the audience. That said, others clearly enjoyed it so maybe bluegrass just isn't so much my thing.

Unfortunately, I missed Luke and Mel, but was out on the concourse in time to hear Amelia White, about whom I had heard great things X she didn't disappoint. Her brief set showcased songs from her current CD; strong songs lyrically and vocally, which attracted a huge crowd to gather, listening attentively. I got to have a lovely chat with her afterwards, too and she had nothing but great things to say about Sage, the festival no how well she had been looked after.

The Worry Dolls took over the stage as we drifted outside to get some themed food, whilst listening to Amanda Rheaume Trio, who had been recommended to me by a friend (thanks Rebecca!) you would never know this was her first time in the UK or at SummerTyne, so confidently did she grab the attention of the outdoor crowd, with banter and energetic performances of songs from her current CD...I told her I had only one complaint, that she'd cracked my no more CDs rule, which elicited a laugh and a lovely conversation.

Ending the weekend on the outdoor stage this year, fell to Yola Carter and Band, no stranger to SummerTyne. I honestly thought she was American, so authentic was her gospel sound, so imagine my surprise when I learned she hails from Birmingham! She bubbled with talent and personality, and with some help from the Sage SummerTyne Choir (I can't sing, but one year I may just sign up to participate) had everyone on their feet, dancing and singing back to her; perfect way to end the weekend on the outside stage, a powerful act and a standing ovation.

The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band had everyone on their feet in Sage 2, with their blend of ragtime, blues, folk and country and perhaps most intriguingly, a guitar which had had a neck repair from coffee stirrers and superglue! Over in the lounge, Yola Carter, Brennen Leigh, Amelia White and Amythyst Khan, were wowing the crowd with a songwriter's circle I was sad to be missing. Apparently they made a great combination and a wonderful night was had by all.

My last headline show for the weekend was Mary Chapin Carpenter, whom I have seen several time, in Hall 1. She is one of the many acts I never thought I would see perform, until Sage brought her here! I had to shake myself to believe this was the sixth time I have seen her perform live.

Yorkshire Folk singer Bella Hardy, who has won several folk awards, opened for her, as last time. She had with her Ian Thompson on guitar and Thomas Gibbs on piano. I felt this added more of a dynamic to her vocals and fiddle. Whilst I enjoyed her sound a little more this time, I still wasn't overly enamoured, but several people I spoke to loved her set. She sang some of her well known songs such as The Herring Girl, the new song she wrote to perform at her sister's wedding the day prior, and a couple of songs about America, a nice touch, I thought, to fit with the weekend.

Having just released her fourteenth album, The Things That We Are Made Of, Chapin played, naturally, new material, songs such as the title track and the beautiful Rosetta. I had found the CD a little hard to grasp on first listening, but hearing them live and some of the stories behind the songs, it has fallen into place. I now appreciate why it was hailed as " a masterpiece of the 21st century."

She seemed more at ease than I have ever seen her, as she chatted effortlessly with the audience, telling stories about herself and her dogs, and joining the many artists this weekend who couldn't speak highly enough of this special world class venue, how lucky we are to have it and how much she looks forward to playing here every time.

With the wonderful Jon Carroll on piano and Johnny Duke on guitar, they made an exquisite team on stage, creating, quite simply, beautiful music together. There was a beautiful moment, during Livingston, which she preceded with a story of travelling to say goodbye to a friend. I assumed the recently passed John Jennings, who produced and played with her for years. It transpired when I investigated later, that it was a singer named Ben Bullington. I would like think Jennings is in her thoughts too during that song; he was certainly in mine.

Many well loved songs made an appearance, including Transcendental Reunion, The Hard Way, Lucinda Williams' Passionate Kisses (I prefer it upbeat,) and He Thinks He'll Keep Her, some with lovely harmonies from Bella Hardy, who returned to the stage. Standout song for me was one I've waited all this time to hear live. I Am A Town took me back in my mind to a sleeper train between Savannah and DC, four years ago. For three minutes I felt like she was singing that song for me. Those moments in gigs are rare but very special.

As she said her farewells to the third standing ovation I experienced this weekend, I knew she meant it when she said she would be back soon.

The Kentucky Cow Tippers closed the weekend on the concourse, whilst I enjoyed a chat with Yola Carter at the bar and a final beer with some friends to reminisce on what was a truly wonderful weekend. I came back to a thought I had listening to Mary Chapin singing The Things That We Are Made Of. They say we are made of our experiences, memories and the people we meet. All three of these are in abundance every SummerTyne weekend. Not least that we are able to come face to face with artists whose music helps to shape our lives and prompts so many memories. I have friends I have made through music and SummerTyne with whom I get to share the weekend and make memories, year after year. Those things are priceless and they are all down to the work, vision, commitment and dedication of the staff at Sage Gateshead. A special shoutout has to go to Tamsin Austin, who year after year creates a weekend of musical magic for us to enjoy. Thank you. Thank you also to the artists who perform as without them there would be no SummerTyne! I look forward to seeing many of you again soon.

I have no idea what Tamsin has in mind for 2017, but I do know it will be brilliant and I am counting down already. See you all there!

Helen Mitchell

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