The 2014 festival season was vastly curtailed from the previous year when a Canadian road trip saw seven days spent at various outdoor musical gatherings. However where the quantity was lacking, the quality more than made up. So at the eleventh hour, here is a reflection of the best ten sets seen at events during the year, which to supplement the lower number included the C2C Festival:
1.Rosanne Cash – Cambridge Folk Festival
Opinion was divided on Rosanne’s Saturday evening headline slot at Cambridge. One respected observer likened it too much to listening to the album but for me it brought one of the year’s best records to life. The stories surrounding Rosanne’s mystical journey around the South were captivating alongside the near perfect band presence led by her husband John Leventhal.
2.Jason Isbell – Cambridge Folk Festival
This first opportunity to see Jason live met all the expectations of an artist fast heading towards legendary status in the world of Americana music. The lack of his full band was easily compensated by Amanda Shires on fiddle and the music they are now making together has a moving and extraordinary elegance about it. Close observers to me would have switched position 1 and 2 and Jason’s fine performance came within a whisker of agreeing with that.
3.Dixie Chicks – Country 2 Country Festival
The scheduling of country music’s all-time favourite female trio at the second C2C Festival in London was totally out of the blue and proved to be one of only a handful of appearances during their brief reunion period. Yet for one hour on that Saturday evening in March, the years were well and truly rolled back with a glimpse into Dixie Chick heaven. A one off? Maybe, but eleven years on from the ‘nearby’ scene of the crime, a packed arena was humbly grateful.
4.Sarah Jarosz – Cambridge Folk Festival
After waiting a while to see Sarah, it was a case of three appearances in six months including twice in three days. This afternoon set at Cambridge probably saw Sarah at her most relaxed and just eclipsed the church and Symphony Hall slots. The enclosed venue on this festival site brought a greater focus on her beautiful voice and the superb band assembled for the UK tour.
5.Hannah Aldridge – Maverick Festival
With her striking stage poise and ability to capture live the emotion of the record, Hannah confirmed her status as one of the finds of the year. Taking a rightful place at the heart of the Maverick Festival’s scheduling decision to make Saturday evening in The Barn, the domain of the female artist, Hannah raised her imposing stature another notch to reel in a new set of fans.
6.Mary Gauthier – Maverick Festival
Mary rounded off her weekend at the festival, after a key note speech at the AMAUK Conference, with a super Saturday evening slot capturing the spirit of Americana and mesmerising an anticipated gathering. Wit, stories, sing-alongs and a stream of career defining songs filled the Suffolk air as Mary easily became one of the year’s highest profile regular visitors from the States.
7.Zac Brown Band – Country 2 Country Festival
Another set which divided opinion. This one a touch more vociferous as the highly successful crossover band rocked the O2 Arena a little more than some folk wanted. However from a personal viewpoint, the Zac Brown Band amp it up in the right way and there was ample evidence of their country and folk rock credentials in this high energetic headline slot.
8.Holly Williams – Maverick Festival
Having seen Holly at either end of her UK tour, she was definitely more in the groove as the visit came to a close at Maverick in a Saturday evening all female Barn slot. The addition of guitarist Anderson East supplied an extra dimension to her live show as Holly showed that the Williams clan are still going strong into the third generation, with Holly herself adding to the fourth by the year’s end.
9.Lindi Ortega – Cambridge Folk Festival
Following on from her winter UK tour, Lindi made a surprise fleeting summer re-visit to play a couple of dates including this exciting set at Cambridge, bringing a dose of dark ‘North’ Americana to England’s premier folk festival. The rapturous reception Lindi received suggested the festival goers were up for a little bit of variety and she certainly didn’t disappoint.
10.Dierks Bentley – Country 2 Country Festival
Eight years on from seeing Dierks play an extremely steaming Borderline venue in London, he made a triumphant return to the capital playing a bold brash set but packed with plenty of subtle emotion For many, Dierks was the highlight of the weekend and this was aided by him bringing the very strong new album ‘Riser’ along to share with his legions of new found fans.
Mary Gauthier, Holly Williams and Hannah Aldridge images courtesy of 4000 Miles to Nashville
Dierks Bentley, Dixie Chicks and Zac Brown images courtesy of Hels Bels Photography