Americana UK 2008 Report of the Maverick Music Festival
29/30/31 August 2008, Easton Farm Park, Easton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP13 0EQ, by Phil Edwards
On a rare sunny summer weekend the inaugural Maverick magazine music festival opened its doors for business.
Comprising of four stages, one bar, a couple of barbeques, some hand picked vendors and numerous animals this is a real farm that, not only opens its gates to the public throughout the year, now hosts family friendly Americana music festivals.
Upon arrival at the Easton Farm Park site the early indications didn’t look good. Not only were there no signs telling us where to park the car, the campsite merely consisted of about ½ a dozen tents and a few people. Glastonbury it wasn’t to be, and this is where its strength is. Due to licensing restrictions they’d only sold about a thousand tickets which made it a small but happy gathering. This also meant there weren’t the interminable lines for beer and food and it also had the added attraction of no smelly toilets, friendly staff, who took the time to chat to the punters, and clear views of the bands when on stage. Plus a tractor train with individually wittily named carriages that towed kids around the site. No room for grown ups though. Grrrr.
Apparently some locals had registered their displeasure of such an event happening in their back yard, but they needn’t have worried. It’s not like there were hoards of hairy rockers marauding the country lanes pulling up their prize flowers and urinating in their gardens. The crowd this event attracted were real music lovers who were simply there to soak up the sun and atmosphere, whilst consuming a few glasses of something cold and enjoying a couple of days watching some of the best music around.
The promised back stage passes didn’t materialise, but it made no difference as the whole site was open and accessible to all, and ‘back stage’ consisted of one hospitality tent for the artists, which was guarded by some heavies who were also friendly and seemed genuinely pleased to see the fans. They weren’t exactly stretched but this has to be a good thing doesn’t it?
With about 30 bands and workshops to see over the course of two evenings and one and a ½ days it was going to be difficult to see them all, so some careful schedule planning was necessary. Kicking off on Friday night in ‘The Barn’ with local bands ‘Lonesome Roadrunners’ (who featured Paul Spencer, the festival promoter on drums and his wife Barbara Ann on lead vocals), ‘Pancake’ and ‘Songs from the Blue House’ it finished with headliners ‘Two Fingers of Firewater’ (whose debut album was reviewed on AUK) and they put in a storming set to get us all in the mood for the rest of the weekend. From the rock’n’roll town of Godalming they did their best Skynyrd impressions and cranked out some meaty guitar amongst their flavour of country rock and it appears the guitarist was at some stage a Ritchie Blackmore fan.
The ‘major artists’ were due to appear throughout Saturday and were spread over all four stages, with the outside ‘Maverick Stage’ providing some class music during an afternoon bathed in glorious sunshine. ‘Two Fingers of Firewater’, looking slightly the worse for wear, kicked proceedings off, but their rocky approach was probably a bit too loud for a crowd who were rather subdued and weren’t ready to party at 11am. Things livened up with the arrival of ‘Winter’ (the band not the season) and their set was perfect for the setting and the weather and their laid back approach gave this event what it needed at lunchtime. Promoting three new songs from their forthcoming album, they also gave outings to tracks from their previous albums ‘A Million Miles’ and ‘Ten Songs’ (reviewed here on AUK).
A four piece band, boasting two electric guitars ‘Winter’s’ sound is both melodic and hard edged when they want it to be. ‘Artificial Love’ and ‘Don’t Be Waiting’ from ‘Ten Songs’ were a couple of the stand out tracks in their set and the latter delivered the immortal opening line “You keep walking on water, still devoted to yourself. Can there be any other, can you love somebody else?” provided one of the highlights of the weekend. An interview with Anna-Lena Winter will shortly be available on this site.
After the ‘Redlands Palomino Company’ and country swing of ‘The Pistoleros’, ‘The Storys’ delivered their brand of west coast country rock, all the way from Wales and was the perfect close end to an excellent afternoon’s outside entertainment. Gram Parsons/Jackson Browne look alike Steve Balsamo prowled the stage like he was entertaining 50,000 people, which he has done in the past when the band supported Elton John on his arena tours. This sound works whether in front of a couple of hundred or doing the stadium tours these guys are now used to. Highlighting numbers from their two albums ‘The Storys’ and ‘Town Beyond The Trees’ and taking turns to do lead vocals, plus numerous guitar changes, they dropped in ‘Evangelina’, ‘Save Me’, ‘Roll Like A Stone’, ‘Be By Your Side’ and the title track from their second album ‘Town Beyond The Trees’, which is the true story of a guy on death row writing to his unborn son. ‘Journey’s End’ perfectly displayed their masterful soaring harmonies and Rob Thompson and Dai Smith had ample opportunities to show off their guitar histrionics on a number of songs. With the sun shining we could have been in California at the height of The Eagles era. Watch out for an interview with the band on this website soon.
Meanwhile over in the Barn, William Topley was whipping up a storm with his own brand of lilting melodies coupled with some fine acoustic delta blues. Former ‘The Blessing’ front man is sadly under-rated and it was good to see him mesmerise the small audience with fine renditions of ‘Hummingbird’, ‘You Don’t Love Me Anymore’ and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ all swathed in dry ice.
Trying to catch all the acts in between watching other bands, doing interviews, checking out the food and drink vendors and chatting to the other punters simply proved to be impossible. And this is a shame, as I only managed to catch bits and pieces of Elizabeth Cook, who was small, sexy, sassy and perfectly formed and her down home Tennessean drawl (even though she’s from Florida) seemed slightly at odds with the Suffolk countryside, but she and her husband managed to bring some good old Loretta Lynn flavour to the proceedings.
Unfortunately I missed both of ‘Southern Tenant Folk Union’s’ sets (one unplugged), but I did have a beer with Pete Gow, former writer/music critic of this here parish. And alas I also missed ‘Redlands Palomino Company’s set, but seeing as they were camping in the tent next to me, they did a few impromptu numbers at two in the morning when we were joined by some of the festival staff for a party and a sing along; much to the annoyance of some of the other residents. C’mon guys it’s a festival. That’s what you do at festivals.
One of the real pleasures of the weekend were the artists who made themselves available around the Maverick CD store after their sets to mingle with fans, sign their albums and have photo’s taken. No stars or egos allowed here. Other festivals take note. Informal chats with the likes of the Haley sisters added to the ambience, and the festival staff had thoughtfully added a sign onto the ‘crowd control’ barriers rails stating “Do not lean - dirty rails”. A nice touch.
Eilen Jewell, Devon Sproule and headliner Sam Baker all came and went and reports from other audience members varied, from “good” to “brilliant”, but I’ll have to take their word for it, as I was engaged in a conversation with a guy who used to own the ‘Borderline’ in London’s Charing Cross Road, who debated long and hard about the state of Americana music today and also pointed out that I was far too young to know what I was talking about. It might have been an insult but I took it as a compliment.
The headliner for me was late addition to the bill, Mark Olson. But somehow he left me cold, which was a pity, considering it was ‘The Jayhawks’ who were responsible for getting me into the whole Americana genre in the first place twenty or so years ago. I don’t know what happened, but it didn’t happen for me. Maybe his forthcoming album ‘Ready For The Flood’ with Gary Louris will ease me back in.
After a heavy night, a gentle start to the last day was definitely on the cards with the promised ‘Gospel brunch’. Nobody was sure what to expect, so lots of people wandered around gulping caffeine, smoothies, bottles of water and eating full breakfasts/bacon sandwiches replenishing themselves ready for the final act of the event.
After an hour or so delay the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) choir appeared, hot from their previous nights appearance on the BBC’s ‘Last Choir Standing’. Twenty-five or so teenagers ranging in age from 17 - 25 crowded onto the tiny Barn stage and sang their hearts out. Led by the exuberant conductor Mark De Lisser, who also introduced the songs, he jumped around and generally engaged the audience, and they did rousing versions of ‘Oh Happy Days’, Bill Withers’ ‘Lean On Me’, Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’, ‘Our God’, ‘Going All The Way’ and the happy clappy ‘Praise You’.
Not only did these guys bring the house down on a Sunday morning, they also left the stage to dance and sing with the audience. No mean feat. These guys have an album out and even if you’re not of a religious persuasion (‘cos they don’t appear to be, despite some of the songs they sing), check them out. You don’t have to be into ‘church stuff’ to enjoy these songs. I’m definitely not, but I thoroughly enjoyed them and they even managed to bring a tear to my (jaded) eyes.
So, to sum up. How was the first Maverick magazine music festival? Well I’ve been to many festivals in my time and to be honest have got pretty cheesed off by the whole scene. But this event has restored my faith in how festivals really should be. Small enough to care, but big enough to attract the major artists, this festival will go from strength to strength. All the artists were hand picked by Allan Cackett the editor of Maverick magazine and it made a big part of the weekend, but it was much more than that. Yes the big names bring the people in, but excellent organisational abilities, friendly staff, cool vendors and a willingness of the locals to accept the discerned music fan into their sleepy part of England, all added up to a marvellous weekend.
A big shout really needs to go out to the ‘Original Funky Dub Bar’ www.funkydubbar.com who provided not only essential beverages throughout the weekend, but also chat and a space for impromptu sessions by whatever passing musicians wanted to join in at the time under their awning, including members of ‘Southern Tenant Folk Union’, ‘Special Ed & Shortbus’, plus members of the public who were brave and willing enough to have a go. MT Bellies www.mt-bellies.co.uk provided wholesome Caribbean food at fair prices plus some engaging banter in times of need. And if you fancied a decent coffee and a waffle then go no further than ‘Over The Moon’.
And not forgetting the punters. This event is for everyone with good taste in music, and despite the bad singing in the middle of the night from (lovely) drunken girls from Yorkshire and certain music critics in the camp site, the people who attended truly made the event. So if you want to find out more about what Suffolk has to offer, check out Grapevine. www.grapevineweb.co.uk
They say this festival is going to be a regular inclusion on the music events list. And so it should be. I’m lined up to buy my tickets for next year. Maybe then they’ll have sorted out their backstage passes. Then again hopefully they won’t need to.
Maverick Music Festival website: http://www.maverickfestival.co.uk