Our regular columnist Lisa Redford took in the outstanding musicianship provided at this year’s celebration of Americana and roots music
Americana is a genre gaining more and more widespread coverage and attention. The second UK Americana Awards ceremony hosted by Bob Harris in February featured an array of both well established and exciting new artists and for its 10th anniversary, Maverick Festival, the first UK festival to celebrate the genre, presented a superb line up of quality artists and bands across five stages. I was lucky enough to return for a third time to this lovely family friendly (and also dog friendly) festival on the Saturday and sampled a wonderful taste of the variety and outstanding musicianship on offer in the glorious July sunshine.
Over the past decade the festival has showcased quality and authentic line-ups and received various accolades including making the UK’s Best Festival List 2015 in The Guardian, included in The Sunday Times Top 40 Festivals list 2016 and winning Festival of the Year for BBC Radio Suffolk last year. Festival founder Paul Spencer wanted to ensure he had a special line up for this anniversary year and his passion for the genre has brought artists to perform from the USA, Canada, Australia, an abundance of homegrown talent, as well as presenting fascinating music documentaries and workshops.
One of the many lovely things about the festival is being able to wander to each of the stages in the picturesque setting of Eastern Farm Estate, Suffolk and discover previously unheard artists for the first time. On the outside Sweet Home Alabama stage, Melbourne’s Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes made their UK debut and were hugely impressive with their great songs and Lachlan’s stage presence. Winners of the esteemed Australian Golden Guitar Award, they performed songs from third album The Mountain including the humorous Sun Records feel of The King And I, about an Elvis impersonator, and the lovely plaintive Afraid Of The Light co-written with renowned US songwriter Kim Richey. It was also a treat to catch an acoustic set later on from Lachlan, joined by guitarist Damian Cafarella and bassist Shaun Ryan, on the Travelling Medicine Stage. Also performing on that same stage were Tammy Rochelle and Joseph Bamber, of Nashville duo Chasing Summer. They had earlier given a fun music and art workshop for children and their uplifting newgrass Americana, rich harmonies, and melodic catchy songs such as Going Going Gone certainly received lots of crowd participation.
A UK female singer songwriter currently earning huge praise is Hannah Rose Platt who was very engaging as she made her Maverick debut on the Sweet Home Alabama Stage. Playing her first few songs solo she performed songs from debut album Portraits and previewed ones from her upcoming release. The touching 1954 and Brooklyn a song inspired by the brilliant film of the same name, illustrated how strong storytelling is at the heart of her moving Americana music. Later in the set she was joined by multi instrumentalist Thomas Collison on bass and keyboards and then John Morgan on drums for the excellent recently released single Chanel & Cigarettes.
Another singer songwriter gaining acclaim is Scotland’s Dean Owens whose soulful voice sounded great in The Barn despite his admission of suffering with throat problems. Performing his skilfully crafted and heartfelt songs from latest album Into The Sea, including the poignant Closer To Home about a soldier in World War I, he was later joined by the renowned pedal steel player BJ Cole, who performed with many artists over the weekend, and was excited to announce he had recently signed to At The Helm Records, an independent UK label that champions Americana.
Clubhouse Records, another independent UK label with an impressive roster of excellent Americana artists, had two Maverick favourites, Don Gallardo and Case Hardin, return to perform during the warm afternoon. Don Gallardo enlisted some other great musicians during his confident set including Ben DeBerry of Nashville based trio The Danberrys, who also performed their impressive rootsy country over the weekend, and aforementioned musician Thomas Collison. Don’s music has featured in films as well as the TV series Nashville and The Vampire Diaries and he showcased why he is growing in huge stature as a respected live performer. Widely regarded as one of our finest exponents of homegrown Americana, Case played a reliably energetic rocking set including stand out tracks from the outstanding Colours Simple record.
As the sun went down it was fitting that two time Grammy winner, and recent recipient of the AMA UK Trailblazer Award, Albert Lee closed the outdoor stage. With his enthusiastic performance of songs by Buddy Holly, Glen Campbell and past collaborators Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, he delighted the early evening crowd and got many dancing. Demonstrating his awe-inspiring guitar skills in his self effacing manner, and also joined by BJ Cole and his son on keyboards, it is no surprise he is considered as one of the masters of the guitar, “the guitar player’s guitar player”, and still obviously relishing playing live music.
Back in The Barn, another virtuoso of their instrument, the mandolinist Sierra Hull, played an exceptional and highly technical set of beautiful bluegrass songs accompanied by stand-up bass. With such a sweet pure voice and stunning musicianship, Sierra has been a prodigious talent from a very young age, mentored by Alison Krauss, and most recent album, the Béla Fleck-produced Weighted Mind was Grammy nominated.
Billed as one of the headliners, and following Sierra was Justin Townes Earle. Considered a forefather of contemporary Americana, the son of alternative country legend Steve Earle and winner of multiple Americana Music Awards, was on humorous form as he brought his raw, honest and personal blend of Americana, soul, folk and blues, including songs from new album Kids In The Street. Playing alongside superb guitarist and pedal steel player Paul Niehaus, he introduced some honky tonk into proceedings and played my personal favourite One More Night In Brooklyn from the timeless Harlem River Blues. It was a rare treat to see him during this short UK tour.
With an always high quality line up, warm atmosphere and idyllic location, Maverick Festival has become an essential part of the summer music festival calendar bringing a wide range of captivating country, folk, roots, blues, soul, jazz street music and old-time bluegrass, reflecting the variety within the genre. Here’s to another 10 years.
Words: Lisa Redford