Americana UK 2010 Report of the Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival
Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival 2010 by Maurice Hope
KILKENNY SMITHWICK’S RHYTHM & ROOTS FESTIVAL
30 April—03 May 2010
Once again it was a case of all roads led to Ireland’s marble city of the southeast over the early May bank holiday weekend, and with the Josh Ritter giving a good account of himself on the Friday evening which I sadly, missed plus the improving Pete Molinari. A man who is carving something of a reputation out as an old fashioned but new Americana singer-songwriter troubadour.
On arriving on Saturday I was pleased little has changed since I was here two years ago, and many times before that other than they now have an impressive new venue; The Set Theatre. It was where I saw not only one of this year’s top attractions but two, Texas-based five-piece the Band Of Heathens first stepped up and delivered a show good enough to be the pick of most festivals. This year’s Rhythm & Roots included. The second act was of a less broad sound as you had, Jason & The Scorchers deliver a frenetic show that had as much energy to it as it did twenty odd years ago!
Texas Americana award winners, B.O.H were the business. Of whom I can only pass on positive thoughts and once they had dropped into the groove, the trio of lead vocalist, guitarists (Ed Jurdi, Gordy Quist and Colin Brooks) backed by the equally good rhythm section of Seth Whitney (bass) and John Chipman (drums) worked up a storm. Quist may lean more to rock than country but like Jurdi and Brooks he is a class act.
Jurdi was immense, both on guitar and keyboards plus his dark, evocative tones kicked up a ruckus every time he was handed the batten. And good though Colin Brooks and Quist were it was always treat (and where my attention focussed) when he came to sing lead. Although I have my preferences the band as a unit were splendid throughout and became sharper as the evening progressed into the early hours.
Highlights of the B.O.H set featured stellar takes of their songs ‘L. A County Blues’ that they opened with, plus the likes of ‘What’s This World’, ‘Jackson Station’ a slightly over-long version of Gillian Welch ‘Look At Miss Ohio’ and a whole lot more! It became even better once I found a seat upstairs and could enjoy a better sound.
It was certainly one of the gigs of the festival and after seeing the boys twice before it came as no surprise. Likewise was the case with Hot Club Of Cowtown! Back to being a trio, the music awash with energy akin to a firecracker shot from the stage as the amazing upright bass of Jake Erwin, flowing fiddle of Elana James and unique acoustic guitar (that at times sounds more like the mandolin playing of the late Tiny Moore) of Whit Smith took control of the venue. James, who due to Smith having a throat problem performed the bulk of lead vocals, revelled in the role. While as the trio it was arguably the best I had heard from them and that is saying something.
Pulling material from a wide repertoire, time and time they tore the place up. ‘Ida Red’ that they opened with set a standard not only ignited an abundance of energy but also simultaneously silenced any talk among the audience at Kyteler’s Inn. And didn’t Elana and the boys respond, with the lady herself at the top of her game —with her playing with a greater freedom than ever it was master class. Time and time again you could big intakes of breath from the Kilkenny faithful as they were swept along by the music, and with version of ‘Oklahoma Hills’, Tom Waits’ heavenly “Long Way Home’. Just to hear Elana sing this song coupled with a dash of fiddle alone would have been enough for me, but I have a big appetite and stayed to savour the whole enchilada. As such tasty offerings as the fiddle tune ‘Orange Blossom Special’ was aired, a must at a festival like this. Likewise, the swing driven ‘Cabiria’, ‘Pennies From Heaven’ that closed off the near two hours of entertainment had Erwin dripping with sweat as along with the others he worked his way through the adoring audience to take a well deserved rest (and enjoy a beer).
Next it was across to see Clive Barnes perform a wondrous lesson on slide guitar —and with this at the Set Theatre it was to close my time at the festival although Monday, wind down day was still to come and an unscheduled performance from Tommy Ramone at the Town Hall. And it was Ramone playing old time mandolin and like-minded material in the company of the California based Claudia Tienan on acoustic guitar, harmony vocals who did an interesting performance of tradition music at Cleeres; but in all honesty Tienan struggled to match Tommy hence the music was a little flawed.
Back to the Set, after Barnes’ wonderful controlled efforts Jason and the boys did a stirring selection of oldies with a few new ones as ‘Bible And A Gun’, ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’ and it doesn’t get much better or frenetic on stage than this and though seeming that way —the boys always landed back in the spot they started. What a gig!
Others I caught included Duke And the King (from the Catskills, New York State), who were fronted by Simone Felice who captured the imagination of the audience through his love to entertain and, with Simi Stone play fabulous fiddle plus Robert Bird Burke and Reverend Loveday the crowd were well entertained. The highpoints being, the interplay between the musicians apart was when Felice (The Duke) performed ‘If You Ever Get Famous’.
Irish act James McMorrow writes some good material but his vocals were a little weak, softer than I prefer from singer-songwriters. But he did have his moments as the likes of ‘From The Woods’; his anecdotes likewise were the business and there is every possibility his fame will reach more distant shores than his native Ireland.
For the most intense performer of the festival you had the Dex Romweber Duo. Made up of Dex on vocals and electric guitar and his sister Sara, on drums and harmony vocals the music was dark. Dex’s permanent stern expression coupled with an uncompromising style of music (he thrashed his guitar like he was giving it a beating!) made them one for the diehard opposed to casual listener and I am of the latter.
As for the recession little was to be seen in Kilkenny, with drink, music and friendship was in great supply and fans promising, god willing to return next year…and let’s hope Festival director John Cleere comes up trumps once again!