Lisa Redford took in the sun, sights and sounds of the UK’s first Americana festival, now in its 10th year
After celebrating a landmark 10th anniversary last year, Maverick Festival – the UK’s first Americana festival – showcased a range of exciting, authentic and multi-talented musicians from all over the world again this year. Over the past decade, founder Paul Spencer and the organisers have consistently provided festival goers with an impressive and inspiring programme of a flourishing genre. Under glorious July sunshine, I attended on Saturday and once again enjoyed this unique boutique festival in the stunning Suffolk setting of Easton Farm Park.
My day began at the outdoor Southern Sounds Stage with The Grande from Liverpool who performed incredibly melodic, harmony filled songs drawing on timeless influences such as The Band and Neil Young. I particularly enjoyed Heartbreaker from their latest self-titled album. A superb start to the day. This year’s programme celebrated a Hawaiian theme and next up were BJ Cole and his band who debuted tracks from their new album, showcasing the slack key guitar and featuring the Hawaiian singer and dancer, Kehau Kahananui. Perfectly complimenting the sultry weather, it transported the languid lunchtime audience to even more exotic climes and it’s always a treat to hear the legendary BJ Cole.
Headlining the Southern Stage stage were Cordovas from Nashville who were concluding their current UK tour. Performing songs from upcoming release That Santa Fe Channel, which was produced by the Milk Carton Kids’ Kenneth Pattengale in East Nashville – their harmony filled, raw roots-rock and southern storytelling really impressed and entertained. Reminiscent of the The Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and Lynyrd Sknyrd and evoking lots of southern charm and charisma, they played a dynamic set. Southern Rain with its “Tennessee is where I will remain” chorus refrain was particularly memorable.
Female musicians really shone. Gwenifer Raymond, an astonishingly gifted Welsh multi-instrumentalist, mesmerised the audience in The Barn with her mastery of finger-style guitar and banjo drawn from the roots music of Mississippi and Appalachia. Playing a blend of bluegrass, blues and Native American original instrumentals from her debut album You Were Never Much of a Dancer, which has garnered rave reviews, it was truly exceptional and witnessing; her frenetic finger picking as she was immersed in her instrument was utterly compelling.
Australian singer-songwriter Imogen Clark was hugely engaging in The Barn during the afternoon with a natural stage presence and effortlessly powerful voice. I particularly enjoyed the affecting High Tide from latest album Collide on Lost Highway, with its “I can feel a lie in-between the truth” refrain – and the heartfelt and melodic You’ll Only Break My Heart. Speaking after the show, Imogen said, “Maverick Festival had some of the most dedicated, music-loving crowd members I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing to. It was a wonderful opportunity, and one I hope I’ll get to do again soon.”
Imogen was touring and sharing a stage with fellow Australians Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes who were making a very welcome return to the festival after being a wonderful discovery last year. This year performances included various slots throughout the weekend. I recently interviewed Lachlan for Songwriting, so it was great to hear songs from the new alt-country gem Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music live such as rousing folksy opener I Hope That I’m Wrong. He also possesses a natural stage manner and an abundance of charisma.
As the sun still shone I enjoyed Lachlan and bassist Shaun Ryan on the outdoor Travelling Medicine Show Stage when they were joined by another Australian artist, Laura Coates, for some achingly good acoustic songs with gorgeous harmonies. Coates is part of The Weeping Willows, a husband and wife duo who also performed during the weekend and have been earning huge acclaim for their roots style steeped in bluegrass tradition and gothic Americana imagery. On the same stage the lyrical and Hawaiian folk infused sounds of Pepe Belmonte was a delight. Joined by a mandolin player, the Irish folk-blues guitar player and songwriter has a wealth of eclectic influences: Mississippi John Hurt meets JJ Cale meets Nick Drake. Over the weekend there is so much for festival goers to enjoy; films, workshops, exhibitions and in the welcome shade the Jimmie Rodgers Stage provided artists with an opportunity to perform. I had fun playing a short set and it was lovely to witness many styles and performers, including singer songwriter James Hodder who also hosts radio show Tin Can Review which broadcasts on London’s Resonance FM. His charming King Of The Jungle from album In The Beginning listing various animals really delighted the gathered crowd.
As the sun went down, I headed to the Peacock Stage to enjoy two artists based in Portland, Oregon, a hugely creative city for artists. Anna Tivel is a singer-songwriter crafting subtle, narrative-driven indie folk which calls to mind Anais Mitchell, Laura Veirs and Gregory Alan Isakov. A winner of the Telluride Troubadour Contest and the Kerrville Songwriting Contest, her soothing voice and delicate playing suited her confessional style with sharp observational lyrics that compel and draw you in. Lines such as, “Underneath the heavy sky, the highway shines,” from Illinoise the opener on fourth album Small Believer produced by Austin Nevins (Josh Ritter, Anais Mitchell, Kris Delmhorst) really sets a scene. I’ve since listened more to her haunting music and exceptional storytelling.
Anna’s touring partner Jeffrey Martin who followed was also really impressive with his soulful raspy voice. Also signed to Portland’s excellent Fluff & Gravy Records, he has released music since 2009 and shared shows with the likes of Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Mulvey, Amanda Shires and Tracy Grammer. I particularly enjoyed Golden Thread from his third full length album One Go Around, with the romantic refrain, “Lay me down and sing to me again. Shut my eyes with a song that will never end.”
Later in the Barn the energy was picked up with Southern Avenue from Memphis whose style embodies their home city’s soul, blues and gospel traditions, while adding a youthful spirit and dynamic energy all their own. Headliners were the always uplifting Danny & The Champions Of The World whose warmth and energy, as well as amazing musicianship and superb anthemic songs – such as Waiting For The Right Time from latest album Brilliant Light – perfectly rounded up an outstanding day of live music. After the storming set Danny said, “Loved Maverick…was really chuffed to be closing the barn stage..amazing atmosphere…just felt like we were among friends.”
Maverick Festival and its celebration of Americana and roots music has become a major fixture of the summer music calendar with its outstanding line up, lovely friendly atmosphere and idyllic setting. Long may it continue to shine a huge light on a vibrant genre.
Words: Lisa Redford