SummerTyne Americana Festival

Venue: The Sage
Town: Gateshead
Dates: 17-19/7/15
Website: http://www.sagegateshead.com

It is hard to believe that this was the 10th annual SummerTyne Festival, a full decade of what is now an annual highlight of the Sage Gateshead's calendar, held in part on the outdoor stage on the banks of the River Tyne and also across the various spaces within the Sage - and even a riverboat!

This year, there is no doubt, was the biggest, best and busiest to date, with an atmosphere that can only be described as electric. There was also much excitement that parts of the weekend were to be filmed for Bob Harris' Under The Apple Tree Sessions.

Proceedings kicked off on the outdoor stage, this year sponsored by DFDS Seaways, on Friday afternoon; unfortunately I was still at work, but it was well attended. Afternoon highlights included Gilded Thieves, Miss Mary and the Mr Rights and Big Red and The Grinners.

The SummerTyne Southern Soul Choir also christened the Concourse stage for this weekend.

The evening line up was spectacular. All performances were sold out, returns only. Felice Brothers and Pierce Brothers wowed their audience in the SummerTyne Lounge. Friends of mine attended Dann Penn and Spooner Oldham in Sage 2 and by all accounts they were spectacular, interspersing a 1960s soundtrack with stories of their experiences of writing together and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

My experience was the legendary Emmylou Harris with Rodney Crowell in Sage 1. This was the fourth time I had seen Emmylou and about the same for Rodney. I, and the rest of the audience, were unanimous in our feeling that this was the best Emmylou has ever sounded. Both artists seemed incredibly relaxed. Over the course of two hours and five minutes, they played straight through, fitting in 25 songs, banter and humour peppered throughout. They, and the band, clearly work brilliantly together as they delivered songs from their new collaborative CD The Travelin' Kind, as well as some of their own individual material. The funniest moment came when Emmylou introduced the next set of songs, and Rodney did absolutely nothing, looking at her in confusion. It soon became clear there was another song between and Rodney obviously thought she'd altered the set list without consulting him! It is honestly so hard to pick between the songs they performed, but particular standouts for me were Bring it On Home To Memphis, You Can't Say We Didn't Try, The Travelin' Kind, Red Dirt Girl and the encore song, the most achingly beautiful rendition I have ever heard of Boulder to Birmingham. Two hours rushed by all too fast and a wonderful performance was rewarded with one of, if not the, biggest standing ovation I have ever seen at Sage.

As if three performances in a night wasn't impressive already, there was more still sto come. Alabama's Anderson East took to the Concourse stage, whilst in the Barbour Room, a short film was played documenting Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

On Saturday, it was hard to know where to begin. The summertime river cruise featuring Ags Connelly and Sour Mash departed mid-morning, whilst events at Sage commenced at noon. Lewis and Lee took to the Outdoor Stage whilst I drifted into the SummerTyne Lounge to watch two short films in the summertime lounge one about Mississippi Delta blues the other entitled Two Black Churches. The films were put together in association with The Star and Shadow Cinema, filmed by William Ferris an academic from Mississippi as part of his research and fieldwork into black culture. The first film was inspired by his book "Give My Poor Heart Ease" and was filmed between 1967 and 1968 in Leland and Clarksdale Mississippi. It featured scenes of black people playing the blues whilst picking cotton, also illustrating the roots of blues in prisons from as early as 1934. One man pointed out, "Blues is about a feeling. You don't have to be black to get the blues." The second gave a rare and fascinating insight into two black churches, Rose Hill Church in Vicksburg Mississippi and Saint James' Church in New Haven Connecticut. We witnessed a very different kind of worship, which reminded me of a Baptist mass I attended years ago in Florida.

I love that the Sage endeavours, along with Americana music, to present a sense of the time, place and history that goes along with it.

Red Sky July delivered a polished performance on the concourse stage, followed by an excellent set from Hillfolk Noir on the outdoor stage. Graham Anderson was also spinning some vintage discs along with vintage dancers, in the SummerTyne Lounge.

Events outside continued with Suzette Lawrence and the Neon Angels, Noreen McCulloch and the John Lewis Trio. In the SummerTyne Lounge was an event I was sorry to miss, Peggy Brunache in conversation with the McCrary Sisters about soul food. I, however, was headed to Sage 2, to see Callaghan, for the first time in six years, having seen her in Jesmond, Newcastle, shortly before she moved to Nashville. From the moment she arrived on stage, she exuded enjoyment and a quiet confidence. Accompanied by Akori Johnson from Atlanta, on cello, she told us about her move to and experiences in America, in between more well-known songs and newer material. Highlights included Green Eyes, originally called Blue Eyes in error, Crazy Beautiful Life and Best Day. I hope this is the first of many visits to the Sage for Callaghan and maybe next time she will include Meant To Be in the set, if I am lucky?! in the audience was split between people who had heard of her and people who have not. By the end of her performance most present will be looking out for her returning.

Double billed with Callaghan, was a band of whom I have never heard, Jess and the Bandits. It transpires that Jess - Jessica Clemmons- is from Houston, Texas whilst the bandits are all from England. It was clear, from the first note that they are a force to be reckoned with. Full of confidence and with bags of personality, Jess owned the stage and had the audience in the palm of her hand. She has an incredible voice, switching seamlessly between country, pop, blues and jazz. Most of the songs feature on the newly released CD, highlights including Nitty Gritty, What If, My Name Is Trouble, Single Tonight, and a stunning version of Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman. Another performance, over all too quickly, I for one was left hoping I would get to catch her again over the weekend on another stage, though it didn't appear likely from the listings.

Events continued around the venue, with a special guest appearance by Callaghan, Martin O'Reilly, a film about soul food junkies and a performance by Sunderland based singer songwriter Chloe Chadwick, whom I was looking forward to seeing live. Appearing confident, relaxed and up for some fun, she had toes tapping and hands clapping as she effortlessly delivered a selection of her own material, some of which appear on her recently released EP. Highlights of her set included the upbeat Feels Like Home, Settle Your Heart, Wearing Hearts and a cover of a Jack Savoretti song, which proves she can interpret others' songs as well as her own. She has an excellent vocal range which belies her years. She even handled a stage invasion admirably! I will be watching out for Chloe locally as I suspect she is going places.

UK country band Ward Thomas were followed by Hannah Rose Platt, James Hunter Six, who all delivered excellent performances, leading up to the evening's headliners.

Many were later raving about Gruff Rhys - American Interior, in Sage 2, and also about the SummerTyne Late Lounge with Ags Connolly. Red Sky July and Rob Heron and The Teapad Orchestra.

Continued

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Jess and the Bandits - My Name Is Trouble


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