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SummerTyne Americana Festival

Venue: The Sage
Town: Gateshead
Date: 19th - 21st July 2019

Incredibly, this is the fourteenth year that SummerTyne has taken place at Sage, Gateshead, on the very edge of the River Tyne, the River made famous by Jimmy Nail's "Big River". It is my favourite weekend of the year, so much so that, for now six years, I move into a hotel across the river, so as not to miss anything the weekend has to offer.

Traditionally, the Friday begins with the free Jumpin' Hot outdoor stage, featuring mostly local acts. Unfortunately I missed Elaine Palmer, but I made it over with friends in time to see two intriguingly named acts; Struggle Buggy and The Most Ugly Child (from Nottingham) who both had a very decent sounds, musically and vocally. The latter had a more traditional sound, closing their set with a George Jones song. The audience sang along and clapped, unperturbed by the onset of rain.

Roosevelt Collier opened the concourse stage this year: a name I was curious about to say the least. He and his band delivered an energetic, charm filled, musical performance which took me straight to the Mississippi Delta.

Friday night saw the Hollie Rogers and The Long Ryders in Sage 2; feedback from those present described a memorable performance by the main act and left me looking forward to seeing Hollie the next night.

I had opted for KD Lang in Sage 1. I will admit to not being a huge fan, but have always loved Constant Craving and have heard great things about her live performances. Her support was the Grigoryan Brothers, or in our case, one brother, as one was stuck in Sydney. His guitar playing didn't excite me, but I loved his banter between the music.

As soon as the curtains opened for KD Lang, there was a sense that something very special was about to unfold in front of us. What followed was one of the most unexpectedly magical experiences I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. She is hilariously funny and appeared very genuine. Her band were remarkable and I have never seen an artist introduce her band in such a touching, personal way. Billed as the Ingenue Redux tour, the whole iconic album from 1992 was performed live, in its entirety. The Mind of Love, Miss Chatelaine, Save Me and Outside Myself took my breath away, but Constant Craving was three minutes I never wanted to end. Her voice, if anything, sounded even better than the original recording. Mesmerising. Then, just when I thought she couldn't top that, she introduced a trio of songs by her favourite Canadian artists; by the time she had delivered the most stunning covers imaginable of Help Me by Joni Mitchell, Helpless by Neil Young and Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, I was actually feeling very emotional. Making a plea that we all treat ourselves and each other with compassion, to make the world shift in a positibe direction, she dedicated her encore to all of those trying to create change in the world; a poignant message, reminiscent of Joan Baez.A two hour long experience I didn't anticipate but will never forget. As Lang said of her feelings about Mitchell, the memories of that performance will be forever tattooed on my soul.

Exiting Sage 1 on a euphoric high, there was nothing to do but to wander to the bar and allow the experience to sink in over a gin and tonic.

I then wandered to Sage 2 to have a listen to Alvin Youngblood who delivered a high energy performance to end the night.

Thankfully Saturday morning's rain deluge didn't put off the hordes of music lovers; after all, that's what ponchos were invented for, right?

I began my Saturday at the outdoor stage with A Different Thread, who intriguingly hail from Lichfield and Durham, NC but met in Ireland! I thoroughly enjoyed their style and their harmonies, their set ending with a beautiful, stripped back cover of Long Black Veil. These are a duo I hope we encounter again.

Then it was over to Sage 2 for one of my most highly anticipated performances; Rachel Harrington, who last visited SummerTyne in 2010. I have loved Rachel's music for a long time and have seen her a few times over the past nine years. Accompanying herself on guitar, she entertained us with stories and songs old and new. Highlights included The Barn, with its raw emotion, Hush the Wild Horses (the metaphors in this song are so clever), Little Pink and a whole audience sing along which temporarily made us her back up singers! It was wonderful hearing those from her new CD, Hush the Wild Horses, live for the first time. In my opinion, these are the strongest songs she has ever written. Her set was over far too soon, and I suspect, left everyone in the room wanting more.

Next up was a trio new to me, The Local Honeys from Kentucky. Gathered round a sixties style microphone (think Brennen Leigh/ Noel McKay), playing several instruments each and alternating lead vocals, their musicianship and harmonies are exquisite. Very much an old time sound, they vividly brought to life Kentucky's past, most relatably for us, its rich history of coal mining and disasters, the latter relayed through the song Cigarette Trees. It struck me that the two places are three thousand miles apart, yet have similar stories due to the pits. Talking about the music tradition being passed on, they reminded me very much of Rhiannon Giddens as that is her passion also. I could have listened to them telling stories all afternoon; the history lesson was enjoyed every bit as much as the music.

Exiting the afternoon's performance, I stopped on the stairs to watch Eve Selis' concourse performance with the SummerTyne choir. As always she delivered an emotive, powerful set of songs including Cotton and Hallelujah, which stopped those walking through in their tracks. Kudos to the choir too; they were awesome! It was obvious that Eve enjoyed it as much as they did.

Massy Ferguson delivered a rock tinged set on the concourse stage with a guest appearance from Rachel Harrington, before she and I squeezed in an interview about her new CD.

The rush that followed was made up for with impressive performances by Sister Susie and The Adelaides on the outdoor and concourse stages, respectively.

I was gutted at the next clash; The Cowboy Junkies in Sage 2 and Strictly Country in Sage 1. Thankfully on this occasion Cowboy Junkies, whilst by all accounts putting on a great performance, didn't perform my two favourite songs so I felt less like I had missed out!

Sage 1 was an intriguing, if long, set up. Four acts I wouldn't necessarily have put together, with breaks between each. Eve Selis and her band; the fabulous Mark Intravaia, Larry Grano and Josh Jewsbury, got it all going with a brilliant performance. Eve actually played the very first SummerTyne, on the outdoor stage, fourteen years ago! From The Ballad of Kate Morgan and See Me With Your Heart, to Hallelujah, where the choir made a return, the performance was faultless. Interesting hearing Hallelujah in the same room two nights in a row, delivered in two very different ways! Grey Skies Blue, about her brother , is clearly still very hard for her to sing, and tears flowed on stage and all around the room. The standing ovation was well deserved.

She was followed by Catherine McGrath, who seemed much more confident than last time I saw her at Sage, as she performed songs from her 2 releases.

Lauren Alaina, who is known to the US for American Idol, delivered a high energy performance; I love her voice and the song Ladies of the 90s, but she felt distinctly more pop than country.

Last up to close the show, was The Wandering Hearts, who appear to be going from strength to strength, although my favourite song of theirs remains Burning Bridges.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of this show was that of all of them only Eve did a meet and greet at the merch table, even though the others usually do.

Hollie Rogers closed Saturday on the concourse; hailing from Cornwall, she has a great sound and rapport with the audience; there is definite potential for something big.

Sunday began with, as is tradition, a walk along the Quayside Market, in rather lovely weather! Another disappointing clash was Rachel Harrington on the riverboat with Massy Ferguson whilst Sarah Darling was in Sage 2. By all accounts the cruise was enjoyed by everyone present, with two sets of music from each performer.

Twinnie (known to many from Hollyoaks!) opened the show in Sage 2; I had been looking forward to seeing her live and she didn't disappoint; I was worried she would sound more pop, but there is a definite country influence in her sound. From her stories it seems she had a slightly unconventional upbringing, documented in Half Gypsy Half Hollywood. Better When I'm Drunk had everyone singing along and her new single, the relatable Social Babies, was well received. Honestly, she made a few references to it being the afternoon and I feel like for some reason this made her hold back. She definitely has more to give so I hope to experience her perform live again soon.

Sarah Darling was introduced by Tamsin (programming director for Sage Gateshead), as the most requested artist to play SummerTyne; this is her third in three years. It is obvious how much Sarah loves and appreciates her fans and this comes across in a huge warmth, even from the stage. There were sound issues, which was disappointing as for several songs it was difficult to make out any lyrics, but she played a mix of songs from her new and previous albums. The absolute highlight for me will always be the beautiful When Cowboys Ride. She has a gift for engaging her audience as she sings, so we all feel a part of her performance; she used her hands and arms a lot to draw them into her space. Sarah took time afterwards to meet anyone who wanted to say hello, greeting everyone she has previously met with a huge hug and a smile to match. She is likely to be back next year, and hinted that she may be with another artist known to Sage Gateshead; watch this space!

Izzie Walsh and Thea Hopkins were perhaps my biggest diappointments of the weekend, having heard so much about them for months now, but I was impressed by Fargo Railroad Company, Daisy Chute, and Barbara Nesbitt, whose CD I actually reviewed a couple of years ago. It was great seeing her live and getting to have a brief chat. She is also anticipating returning to the UK next year.

As a Last night treat, a group of us took a break from the delicious street food of Greek, burgers and pizza outside and booked a table at the SummerTyne diner inside near the concourse. We were all very impressed with our meals and it was a welcome chance to have a proper sit down and chill out for an hour!

Sunday night saw all three rooms in use; Sage2 featured Marlon Williams and Ida Mae, both of whom I heard rave reviews about. The SummerTyne Lounge hosted the Voices of Virtue Gospel Choir with Smoove and Turrell and I had opted for Kiefer Sutherland in Sage 1. Unfortunately I missed Jesse Dayton as we were eating, but heard great things about his set. I am going to put my hand up here; I didn't have high hopes for Kiefer and opted for his show out of curiosity more than anything. I officially eat my words. He is a natural performer, very engaging, a great storyteller and both he and his band are fabulous musicians. Vocally, I was very impressed. The highlight for me was the title track of his new CD, Reckless and Me, with an unexpected background story.

There is always one act chosen to close the festival on the concourse on Sunday night. This year the honour fell to Rob Heron and the Teapad Orchestra. Admittedly not who I would have chosen but with their old time style, they had toes tapping as people exited the other spaces.

All too soon, it was midnight and it was all over for another year. I always feel such a mix of emotions at that point. Disappointment and anti-climax that it's over, certainly, but above all an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I am forever grateful l to all at Sage Gateshead who make this wonderful event happen, especially Tamsin. Thanks to the musicians who make the event so special. Something else I am reminded of every year is the wonderful friendships I have made through music and so many of us get to share the weekend together. So, simply, thankyou, to all who made it another wonderful, fun, laughter, and of course music filled weekend.

Let the countdown to SummerTyne 2020 begin!

Helen Mitchell

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