Americana UK 2009 Report of the Maverick Music Festival
3/4/5 July 2009, Easton Farm Park, Easton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP13 0EQ, by Phil Edwards
Whether you want to hang out with Americana stars in their (VW sponsored) cars, ride on Thomas the Tank Engine or simply chill and enjoy the music over a sunny weekend, then the Maverick Festival is for you. We even got to hear some Bob Dylan, albeit on CD.
Appropriately held over the American Independence Day weekend, the second Maverick Festival bought the believers out in significant numbers to assuage fears that audiences would be down because of the economic climate, or a lack of interest in what Americana has to offer.
After negotiating the thistles on the camp site, and the tent safely pitched amongst the rowdier fans, I headed toward “The Barn” for some sounds. Catching the end of ‘Ange Boxhall & The Wagon Band’ set they prepared us nicely for the return of Godalming’s own ‘Two Fingers of Firewater’ who delivered the first of their two weekend shows. As expected they went down a storm, though the band themselves weren’t happy with either their show or the sound; but trust me boys, you did good.
There were some changes to the festival layout this year. Last years outdoor “Maverick” stage became “The Tenderfoot Stage”, the “Barn” moved across the yard and became an indoor and outdoor venue, the “unplugged” sessions were held in the “Tack Room”, and the fourth stage disappeared.
Saturday kicked of with a songwriter’s competition “Go For A Song”, and I was asked to step in and help judge the winner, as Gail Davies could no longer make it. Well I don’t have the same credentials as one of Americana’s premier singer-songwriters, but I was happy to fill the breach. ‘Good Intentions’ impressed the judges enough to be declared the winners, closely followed by ‘The Rosellys’, who are opening Americana-UK’s “Electric Dustbowl” in September; www.electricdustbowl.com
The Tenderfoot Stage concentrated on demonstrating local acts at the beginning of the day including The Hollesley Trumpets, a band made of local school kids, which to be honest wasn’t the best place for them to be seen. Whilst I understand the need to support the local community, I do question the wisdom of allowing primary school age children to play an assortment of standard nursery rhymes including “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” at an Americana festival – maybe they were being ironic?. Will Dixon followed with his acoustic cover versions of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Eurythmics, Coldplay and Gnarls Barkley. His interpretation of “Minnie the Moocher” must have been the most surreal song played all weekend. But then he may have been outdone later by the guy who did a piano version of Hendrix’s “Wind Cries Mary”. Bizarre.
But what this ultimately meant was the audience drifted away to the Barn to check out The Haley Sisters who, with their Yorkshire harmonies, dropped in classics, such as Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright (Mama)” made famous by Elvis Presley, (Phil Spector’s ) The Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is To Love Him” as championed by Bob Harris, with their own songs. These girls know how to harmonise and they reminded me of Vika & Linda, which is a comparison to relish. A gentler and more genuine act wasn’t to be seen all weekend.
Later in the Barn came Otis Gibbs, who proved to be the best act of the weekend. With his songs of life, big debts, anti war rallies, battered women and other “love songs for young radicals”, the bearded one went down a storm. Playing in a very natural style, and with a certain amount of modesty, this very accomplished Indiana performer won the crowd over with his storytelling, both during and between his songs. He truly understands when to use his baritone voice and when to make the guitar do the work and engaged everyone right from the get go. However one of the more cynical writers on this here website, whom I bumped into, later stated that it wasn’t as spontaneous as Gibbs made out. Well I can’t comment on that until I see Gibbs again, which I plan to do.
The problem, if it is such a thing at Maverick, is trying to fit in all the bands as there are so many to be seen. This is a good problem to have, but it does mean that bands get missed, what with all the socialising that one needs to do, but suffice to say the reports I received back from my spies state that Alana Levandoski, Gail Davies, the quirky swampy grunge of the Groanbox Boys, Rachel Harrington & Rod Clements and Eve Selis, turned in some excellent sets.
Al Perkins’ Big Dog 3, featuring Brigette DeMeyer, bought Saturday’s proceedings to a close after another storming set from Two Fingers of Firewater. Whilst Perkins’ has an outstanding reputation and has played with some of the biggest acts in the world, his set was somewhat disappointing. More of a bar band than a headliner at an Americana festival, the band churned out fairly mediocre standard fare rock’n’roll songs including “Black Dog”, “Crossroads” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” (or was it Green Manalishi”? the audience’s collective memories forget – well it was late and the bar had been open all day).
Sunday bought proceedings to a close with the promised “Gospel Brunch” held in the Barn, kicking off with Harrington & Clements who managed to turn the venue onto a “21st century church” coupled with her laptop placed in front of her. Finalising songs late into the previous night the duo gave us some gospel tinged songs including “Working on a Building”, “Roll on that Day” and “Freedom Square” about slaves in the late 1800’s singing gospel songs on their Sunday afternoons off after church, which ultimately evolved into jazz. A version of Manhatten Transfers’ “Operator” also made a welcome appearance.
Perkins reappeared with an ensemble including Harrington & Clements and DeMeyer and collectively they delivered more gospel that included “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, “Down to the River to Pray”, “Jesus is on the Mainline” and “Do Lord You Remember Me?”
Final act of the weekend were the brightly dressed Young Zulu Warriors Gospel Choir, who bought their own brand of African flavoured gospel to bring the event to a rousing close. However they could have engaged the audience more and made better use of their individual personalities, as they took it in turns to sing lead vocals.
So was the second event a success? Yes, but with some caveats. Everyone I spoke to enjoyed it, but there were a few grumbles from the food/drink vendors, particularly about the situation of their pitches (which resulted in some leaving early) and there simply weren’t enough tables to sit and drink eat at. Also licensing laws meant the bar shut promptly at 11pm each night, which caused some consternation and alarm with some of the punters; more signage is needed to indicate the opening times. Plus numerous questions were asked about the non appearance of advertised acts like last years favourites Southern Tenant Folk Union, Mick Taylor and the Hank Wangford Band.
Also this year there were loads of irritating thunder flies, (don’t wear yellow or lime green clothes) which I don’t suppose the organisers can do much about, seeing as it is a farm hosting a yearly influx of music fans. But they weren’t present last year; so maybe they’d heard last years gig was such a success and therefore turned up in large numbers to see what was going on?
If next year is going to cement this festivals reputation as a long standing annual event, then the overall quality of the acts this year needs to be looked at, as it fell below the very high standard set in 2008. Maybe less local acts and more internationally renowned Americana bands is the way to go? Whatever is decided I shall look forward to another fine gig in 2010.
With special thanks to Bob Paterson www.bpa-live.com for letting me hang with not only his family, but his artistes, Karen for always being there, Jeremy Searle for his journalistic insight, Steve Foster of BBC Radio Suffolk for NOT giving me the microphone, Alan Cackett of Maverick Magazine www.maverick-country.com for his wisdom, the Maverick Bar for nourishment and Steve at Grapevine Magazine www.grapevineweb.co.uk for not only the chat (Springsteen!) but allowing us to pick up where we left off last year.
Maverick Music Festival website; www.maverickfestival.co.uk