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SummerTyne Americana Festival

Venue: Sage
Town: Gateshead
Date: 21-23/07/17

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 so many music lovers, 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, not to m nation, of course. The ticketed events each afternoon and evening in the various rooms, and even on the riverboat! As has been the case 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. Also present was the ever popular street kitchen and the diner themed Brasserie.

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, whilst doing a roaring trade. There was also, once again, a variety 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 is one of my favourite things about the event.

It is, even more now than in favourite weekend of the year; so much so that I booked a local hotel e beginning, my favourite weekend of the year. For the second consecutive year, rather than travelling back and forth, I stayed in a nearby hotel; despite only living 9 miles away.

This year I was delighted toagain be able to see some of the Friday afternoon acts on the outdoor stage. Rhona Dalling and Buffalo Skinners got things started, followed by Paul Handyside Trio, who showed off some great vocals. They even got a flyby from the Sunderland Airshow! Next up were The King Bee, followed by Archie Brown & The Prisoners of Fender (not to be confused with a well known novel of a similar name!)

Teresa Watson's Blues Band were the final act outside although I was disappointed to miss them due to being in the Press Launch. I am told that again they had many of the audience up dancing with their striking rock country blues sound.

Tamsin Austin, Programming Director for Sage, 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, around the venue, during the year. Such an example is The sHores, who just three years ago, played a brief slot on the Concourse stage. For the past twelve months, each visit has sold out Hall 1. It was obvious to all listening to her talk, that SummerTyne has become her 'baby, and she is, rightly, immensely proud of what it has become.

Sam Outlaw then treated us to three stunning acoustic tracks, which left me itching to see him the following night. His voice sounded even better than on his CDs.

As Sage staff took time to chat to us, we had the opportunity to listen to Stax Academy Revue playing on the concourse. A new name, to me, they are all young people from a music programme in Memphis. The talent and energy on that stage was nothing short of astounding.

Merle Haggard's Strangers, led by his son Ben, took the Hall 2 audience on a reminiscence of his father's music. Their show was opened by Ashley Campbell, son of Glen, who I was sorry to miss. Interestingly, from conversations I had, it seemed people enjoyed her performance more. I was sorry to have missed her.

Thosenin Hall 1, unbeknownst to us, had a real treat in store. Catherine McGrath, from Ireland, got things going, with a voice belying her nineteen years. She was a little nervous, but her chat engaged the audience, who loved her performance of songs such as Hell Would Have To Freeze Over, Cinderella, She'll Never Love You and Say You Love Me. Vocally, she reminded me very much of Kacey Musgraves, who sold out Hall 1 not so long ago. Definitely a name we need to see more of.

The surprise for us was that we got another support act…Sarah Darling. I'm not sure how I haven't come across her yet, but she absolutely blew the audience away. With a beautiful, clear vocal, songs such as Where Cowboys Ride, Starry Eyes, Montmartre, Halley's Comet and Stargazer, had me mesmerised. I didn't want her set to end. I also have to add how lovely she is; I even got to tell her that not only had I been to Wyoming, as she had asked, my boots came from Cheyenne! I sincerely hope that Tamsin brings Sarah back soon!

The Shires, as always, had the audience in the palm of their hands as they took us on a journey through their music. It seemed they played most of both CDs, in a set which whizzed by. The highlight for me was Daddy's Little Girl, which showcases just how gorgeous Crissie's voice is. Other standouts included Made in England, State Lines and A Thousand Hallelujiahs, which ended their set with everyone up dancing and singing in the aisles.

As I left, wondering if anything over the weekend could better this outstanding triple bill, I was pleased to catch a couple of songs by Cyndi Cain, who was down on the concourse, as I headed to the Summertyne Late Lounge, to see an intimate performance by Marlon Williams. A new name to me, I could see why he is so popular. However, I'm not sure whether his style didn't really work for me, or I was simply buzzing too much after the Hall 1 performance, but I left feeling somewhat non plussed.

By the time we all made it back to the concourse, it was full of people ready to again enjoy the delights of Cyndi Cain, who certainly knows how to work a crowd and belt out the tunes. A great end to a great first night.

Saturday began with an optional cruise on the iconic River Tyne, featuring the contrasting sounds of Ashley Campbell and Massy Ferguson. At the same time a family hoedown was taking place in the Barbour Room (which was repeated during the afternoon) and a film, Awake My Soul:The Story of the Sacred Harp was showing in the Summertyne Lounge, the first of several across the weekend.

During the course of the day, the concourse stage was host to a range of AMA artists, highlights including Laura Oakes, Danni Nicholls and Sage Gateshead's own Summertyne Choir with Cyndi Cain. Massy Ferguson got the crowd going and even invited Danni Nicholls up on stage; they were a bit too rock n roll for my taste. Highlights on the Jumpin Hot Club stage included Fargo Railroad Company and the stunning Amethyst Kiah. Stax Academy Revue/Dexeter, who I missed, received rave reviews. Earl Thomas and Band brought the outdoor stage to a rousing finale for the day.

My revelation for the day came in Sage 2, in the middle of the afternoon. A double bill featuring Danni Nicholls and Angaleena Presley (no relation to Elvis, before you ask). Danni has a stunning voice and won everyone over in minutes as she played songs from her catalogue. Standouts included A Little Redemption, Back in Memphis and Green Train, for which she insisted on some audience participation; we were happy to oblige. Angaleena, who admitted to being an over sharer, told stories of her life which had us all crying with laughter. She could do stand up comedy. Musically, it was just her, her guitar and songs from both her own CDs and her collaboration with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe, as The Pistol Annies. Brutally honest, she delivered a stunning version of Country, channeling her frustration at the marginalisation of women within the genre, on American radio. Others which particularly stood out, were Dry County Blues (I've been to towns it could be describing), the tongue in cheek Knocked Up, Mama I Tried, Pain Pills and Grocery Store, which paints a picture with words. I also have to add what lovely people they both are, when they mingled after the show. This gig was what, in many ways, Summertyne has come to be about for me; encountering the new artists who literally take my breath away. Angaleena is already back in October as part of a Songwriters event; hopefully Danni won't be far behind!

As night fell and Sage lit up, The Summertyne Lounge was host to Jessca Hoop and The Worry Dolls, who received very mixed reviews. In Sage 1, Stax Academy again wowed the audience, followed by William Bell, whose blues sounds left a lasting impression. I was in Sage 2, for a very different double bill. Despite his huge popularity, I struggled to connect with Jim Lauderdale. His banter felt very rehearsed. That said, I did enjoy hearing songs such as I Lost You, and his song made famous by The Dixie Chicks. Sam Outlaw brought his band. Such a shame. From the outset I struggled to determine the song, much less the lyrics, such was the volume of the instrumentation. The only saving grace was the acoustic duet performed by himself and Molly Jenson, which literally left me with chills. Their vocal harmonies? Stunning. This is how he should perform. Sadly, I left the performance I had been looking forward to, feeling very disappointed. Thankfully, I wasn't alone. I would love to see him back, but playing acoustically, without the band.

Gerry and the E Types entertained those on the concourse, whilst the surprise for the evening came in the form of a free late night Songwriter's Circle, or Guitar Pull, in Sage 2. Led by Jim Lauderdale, it was lovely to see him appear more natural during this event. Alongside Jim were Chuck Prophet, Amethyst Kiah and Ashley Campbell, who I was delighted to see. They took turns to talk about and perform one of their songs, delivering three each. They hadn't all met prior and it was lovely to see them enjoying each other's music as much as we were. The highlight for me was Ashley Campbell talking about her father Glen, as an introduction to her song, Remembering. I was in tears and I don't think I was alone. It seems even more poignant now, as the Rhinestone Cowboy passed away so soon after, which I don't expect any of us would have predicted. I hope to see Ashley back as I would love to see a full set.

Sunday morning began, as usual, with a walk to Sage, via the Quayside Sunday market and a coffee; much needed after such a late night the night before!

Sunday was equally as action packed as Saturday, with every space of the building, and even the river cruise, again filled with music and film. Sadly, I didn't get to see any of the films as they all clashed; hopefully some will be repeated; I was especially sad to miss Let Freedom Sing. (Tamsin?!) The Jumpin' Hot Stage featured acts such as Robert Vincent & Band, Errol Linton Blues Band, Jonathan Terrell, who all gave it their all, despite heavy rain. Favourites from last year, Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay brought their Band, High Plains Jamboree and delighted the soggy audience with bluegrass tunes. The final act outside was The Savoy Family Cajun Band, who, as always had toes tapping and feet dancing.

The concourse stage also presented a variety of artists; Luke Whittemore, The much loved Kentucky Cow Tippers, Rosenblume, Hayley Mckay and Jonathan Terrell performed solo. However, the highlight, and strongest performance, of the whole day, for me, was Newcastle's own Chloe Chadwick. With the biggest crowd of the day, Chloe wowed all present with songs such as Love Will Find A Way, Big River (which seemed apt, considering our location), Summer Time Lovin' and Stanger's World, from her recently released debut album. I first saw her perform on the same stage four years ago and seeing how much she has grown in confidence and as an artist, is a joy to witness. She is back in September, with Jess and the Bandits, who themselves are no stranger to Summertyne;an evening not to be missed.

Callaghan performed at Summertyne last year and was evidently elated to be back at SummerTyne. Sharing stories, allowing her warm personality to shine through, she and her musician, Pete, delivered a variety of her songs, which held the audience spellbound. Highlights included Best Year, Why You Loved me and a great cover of Stand By Me, which had everyone happily joining in and adding their own harmonies. 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 so 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. Even the artists take time during the weekend, to enjoy each other's performances and to mingle with people they have met over the weekend; another unique quality of Summertyne. Callaghan is no exception, chatting happily with fans old and new.

Having seen Beth Nielsen Chapman many times, but not in recent years, it was great to see her back. She was the most relaxed I have ever seen her; laughing at a catalogue of errors she made and chatting happily as if to old friends. Backed by The Summertyne Strings, her music took on a totally different, yet wonderful, sound as she treated us to new songs, as well as much loved favourites, such as the achingly beautiful Sand and Water, All I Have, and a riotous version of her song made famous by Willie Nelson; Nothing I Can Do About It Now, which had us all singing along. Another highlight was when she brought Callaghan and Danni Nicholls out to sing the Faith Hill hit, This Kiss, with her. She chatted happily after her set with everyone waiting to speak to her, and whilst she admits to being hopeless with names, remembered the faces of many of she has met previously. Beth has a new CD due out next year, so I am hoping that means a quick return. The honour of the final concourse performance this year fell to Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay with High Plains Jamboree. A full set of bluegrass, including stunning songs such as Analog and their new band CD, had the audience happily tapping their toes, celebrating what had truly been a wonderful weekend. Even better was knowing I was seeing Brennen and Noel again the following night at The Old Cinema Launderette.

All that remains, is to say another huge Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, to all involved with every aspect of Summertyne 2017. To all who made it another weekend of music, friends, fun, memories and sheer magic, which will not be forgotten. Staff, artists, friends old and new.

I have no idea what Tamsin has in the pipeline for Summertyne 2018, but I do know it will be just as fabulous. Let the countdown begin! See you all there!

Helen Mitchell

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