Monday, 7 July 2014

Maverick Festival - Easton Farm Park, Suffolk Friday 4th July to Sunday 6th July 2014.

Two anecdotal comments over the weekend captured the very essence of Americana music. In her Saturday evening slot in the Barn, Mary Gauthier commented that the genre won’t earn you much money but will sure get to your heart. The following morning during a presentation of The Band’s seminal Americana album MUSIC FROM BIG PINK, the host pulled up short of a definition of the genre by simply saying ‘you’ll know it when you hear it’. The couple of thousand music enthusiasts who descended on Easton Park farm in Suffolk for the seventh Maverick Festival certainly heard it, as a wealth of hardened, seasoned and burgeoning artists shared their talents in this idyllic agricultural setting.

There is no finer point to commence the artist look back than the captivating performance that Mary Gauthier gave to those eager to savour the delights from one of Nashville’s most esteemed and respected singer-songwriters. There was a magnetic charm radiating from Mary, who mixed humour, stories and songs, all delivered in a unique style rich in warmth, affection and a glowing touch of eccentricity. Always keen to involve the appreciative audience, she drew on the depth of her latest record TROUBLE IN LOVE as well as slotting in some older favourites like ‘Last of the Hobo Kings’ and ‘I Drink’. Whether having a Gretchen Peters’ co-write (‘How to Learn to Live Alone’) included in the Nashville TV series, and commenting on its on-screen performer Jonathan Jackson as being cute, to asking the audience about their experiences of a relationship with a sociopath narcissist, there is an engaging originality to her art and she was a worthy inclusion as one of the festival’s more established bookings this year.

At the other end of the career scale, Hannah Aldridge is beginning to make waves in the UK with her stunning composure and natural flair for breathing life and emotion into a song. Hannah was a late addition to the festival’s line up this year but more than justified the booking with a couple of sets including a slot in the unashamedly female oriented Saturday evening Barn presentation. The delivery of a celebrated bunch of songs from her debut album RAZOR WIRE had a significant country feel to them when accompanied solely by an acoustic guitar. This was in contrast to the Muscle Shoals rock, blues and soul sound that ratchets up the mood on the record. In line with the festival sponsorship by the Alabama tourist board, Hannah, also raised in Muscle Shoals, was involved in a Q&A session after an earlier festival viewing of the recently acclaimed documentary made about this iconic recording town steeped in southern legacy.

Both Mary and Hannah plan to return to the UK in October to play further shows and positive reports from their Maverick festival appearances will no doubt boost interest. Sandwiched between these two wonderful artists in the schedule was an equally striking set from Holly Williams who was at the conclusion of a successful and highest profile UK tour to date. In contrast to her Birmingham gig at the start of the tour, she was joined for this evening by the talented Anderson East on accompanying guitar who displayed a gripping potential that suggests we may be hearing more from him in the future. Having recently featured Holly in a more in-depth live review earlier in the tour, the same applied to the closing act Larkin Poe who rocked the crowd late into the evening with their newly unwrapped brand of southern roots rock.

As well as being spoilt by a thrilling four hour ensemble of US bred Americana on Saturday evening, Maverick also presented opportunities to catch live for the first time other artists who have made a considerable personal impression when their albums have crossed my path. Jamie Freeman was afforded one of the AMA UK slots in the Peacock CafĂ© on Friday evening and thus had the opportunity to confirm what was a prized selection of songs he recorded on the 100 MILES FROM TOWN album last year. With an hastily arranged incarnation of The Agreement put together for the evening including the temporary engagement of Phil Jones from Hatful of Rain on bass and the rather late addition of Michael Girie from Police Dog Hogan on drums, Jamie successfully held the band together and the ultimate tribute came from an audience who valued the set’s vibrancy, energy and, as a symbolic UK take on Americana.

Ethan Anderson
Another band marked on the pre-festival form guide as one to watch was Seattle based alt-country rockers Massy Ferguson who commenced a trio of likeminded sets on the outside stage during Saturday afternoon. Apart from a powerful array of songs linking the roots of pub rock with the subtleties of country, lead singer Ethan Anderson erased a bout of afternoon sedation from those in the vicinity of the Sweet Home Alabama stage with a vaunted and successful attempt at enlisting audience participation starting with the vivacious ‘Powder Blue’. The subsequent performance by Scottish band Wynntown Marshalls retained a similar driving beat straight after Massy departed the scene and although a little less brash than their American counterparts, were more than their equal in an ability to unleash a round of mature and cultured alt-country rock.

The Dreaming Spires are an exciting and rapidly developing force on the UK scene and showed a continuing step in the right direction with a passionate set. Having seen the band four times in the last year at various events, this was their most accomplished performance to date and the expectation for their follow up to BROTHERS IN BROOKLYN grows ten-fold after being exposed to the rousing anthem ‘Dusty in Memphis’. This once again brought to life an outdoor audience gratefully spared longer outbreaks of the showery weather that dispelled the myth that it never rains on Maverick Saturday.

The Barn continues to be the hub of the site’s live music and perennial Maverick favourites Police Dog Hogan were granted their usual Friday night slot to raise spirits with a glass of ‘Shitty White Wine’ and preview a new album due to be released on the Union Music Store label coupled with an nationwide Autumn tour. This will see the band play the spacious West Midlands venue The Robin 2 who coincidentally hosted the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band only a couple of days before this Indiana based raucous blues infused trio were given the accolade of closing proceedings on a sultry and humid Friday evening.

The unavoidable festival regret of only seeing partial, or missing complete sets applied to a couple of artists this year but make no mistake Danny and the Champions of the World are a respected band and will be featured in full when they hit the road again with the excellent STAY TRUE and upcoming new live album in the Autumn. Other acts previously covered but not seen on this occasion due to clashes in the schedule were Peter Bruntnel and Rebecca Pronsky, but often a festival is about discovering new acts.

In that category this year were Vermont duo Crying Wolf who brought a fix of graceful country, roots and folk duets to the Barn on Saturday lunchtime and left an impression of you wanting to seek out more. The same applied to Dan Beaulaurier who packed a Sunday morning Moonshine Bar with the help of London based duo Hallelujah Trails and served up a treat of original music with a side order of Johnny Cash. UK up and coming country band Ward Thomas were an intriguing booking for the outdoor stage on Saturday afternoon and came with a sound that was a little less hardened and worn to many acts deep rooted in the soul of the Americana genre.

Obviously the dust needs to settle for the full viability assessment of this treasured festival but from many quarters it continues to be a resounding success and a nourishing source for those desperate for a comprehensive live diet of alt-country, Americana and roots music. A further anchor for the festival is its continued location for the genre’s fledging organisation body - the AMA UK’s annual conference. The appetite for this festival remains strong overall and if the conundrum of defining Americana is never solved, then the joy of listening to the music is really all that matters.

Photos of Hannah, Holly and Mary courtesy of Steve from 4000 Miles to Nashville. Check out his site here.

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