Maverick Festival 2010, Easton Farm Park, Easton, Woodbridge, Suffolk
by Louise Rodgers
It's a good long time since I pitched tent at a festival and boy, oh boy was I in for a surprise. Arriving with little over three hours until the first band would take to the stage, I was amazed to find the campsite almost empty. I'd spent much of the four and a bit hour journey recalling/recoiling at the memory of a Reading long gone and stressing that we'd be kipping in the car with two soggy doggies (that we took with us of course, just to straighten out any confusion).
I'll get to the point. We were greeted by a lovely chap (who I'm assuming worked there) who advised us that the field was divided down the middle to offer people either a "quiet" place to camp, or an "anything goes" place to camp. Young, spontaneous and fun-loving as we are, we natural plumped for the former. The fact that a couple of hours later our quiet campsite was more congested than the M25 on a bank holiday weekend speaks volumes about what a civilised affair Maverick really is. That's a good thing, honestly! The security guys spend the weekend playing tiddlywinks and drawing pupils on their eye lids, not to mention the fact that there are static toilets (!).
Oh right, I just did. Meanwhile, the four or so tents that I counted in the 'anything goes' campsite had nothing more than some strong cross winds and the odd tumbleweed to contend with.
All the action takes place just a couple of hundred yards from the campsites and there's heaps to see and do. The whole set-up is a credit to the festival organisers who've clearly put a lot of thought into every little detail.
Locally produced beer and cider is showcased at the bar and for an event of this type, especially in this part of the country, it's surprisingly affordable. There are also plenty of places to grab a bite to eat and whilst I will say that the grub aint that cheap, there is a great selection to choose from. No Siree Bob, no burger vans and pot noodles at this shindig. There's a creperie, a salad bar, a paella stand and a pizzeria, to name just a few. There's even plenty of choice for us pale, pasty avoiders of meat too. Yay! Sorry, made myself dizzy, let me just sit down for a second.
If you're more of a shopper, there's plenty to spend your bucks on too. Whether you want to buy CDs and merchandise, pick up souvenirs (a dream catcher for instance or some funky pens with cows on) or just lend support to local charities in attendance, there's no shortage of ways to indulge. If you're the flashy and spontaneous type, I recommend that you have a couple of bevvies, stop by the (still open) music shop en route to your tent and wake up next to your very own banjo! Had I not had the treasurer and voice of reason (I call him Dave) with me, I might have finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of owning an accordion. No, silly, I said owning, not playing. What do you thing I am?!
OK, down to business. There were a couple of small changes from last year. The outdoor Tenderfoot stage for instance was now the Maverick stage and the Barn was now just a different Barn, which unlike last year's wasn't completely enclosed and as such allowed people to stand outside and still enjoy the music (it was much better). Other venues were the Peacock cafe, located close to the barn and playing host to some acoustic sessions on Saturday night and the very intimate Tack Room, which did likewise, in addition to hosting films, q & a sessions with artists and Aaron Jonah Lewis's banjo and fiddle workshops during the afternoon.
There were a few changes to the scheduling and we learned that Chris Cooke, Dayna Kurtz, Chris Difford and the Orbitsuns would no longer be appearing. I had been looking forward particularly to seeing the Orbitsuns play live and whilst I was disappointed at the missed opportunity, I understand that there were very tragic personal circumstances which led to the cancellation of their entire tour. I listened to them quite a lot in the run up to the festival and I was anticipating being able to give them a great review. Since I've been unable to feed back about them as a live band, I'd ask that you please do check them out for yourself on either their Website or MySpace, I promise that they're worth a listen.
Despite a late start due to some apparent sound check problems, the weekend got off to a storming start with London based quartet Norton Money. Introducing their music as "experimental country", they play alt country and bluegrass for a younger generation. Whether it's San Franciscan frontman Dan, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Weezer's Rivers Cuomo (ooh, geek-country – that has to catch on, doesn't it?) or plaid shirted and shoeless Oscar, their Swedish bass/banjo player, these guys are fresh, unique and weirdly cool.
The rugrats dancing in the sandpit set the scene as they blazed through their short but electrifying set. Shifting easily from immediately catchy, high energy country rock to heart wrenching emotionally charged ballads, there was never a dull moment. Were it not for some a capella harmonising during their sound check, the sheer volume of their up-tempo numbers could distract you from really hearing the quality of their vocals, which are extremely polished. Dan's voice is superb, sounding almost grungy at times and further contemporising their eclectic sound.
Other members of the band also threw their (cowboy) hats in the ring, showing us that they certainly are not a one man band. Rhythm guitarist Jeremy provided the dulcet lead for the sweet and reflective 'Real Love' and the barn raising bluegrass clap-along 'lethargic hoe down' ("a song about man love"), which was where we also got to hear the banjo stylings of bass player Oscar before he broke out his harmonica for blues outing 'Stacey's fish tank'. Other highlights of their set included a decent take on Neil Young's 'everybody knows this is nowhere' (which had a decidedly Counting Crows feel to it) and my personal favourite from their own songbook, the wonderfully catchy 'half hearted'. I challenge you to hear this song and not buy their album. Norton Money are a serious talent.
A hard act to follow indeed, which was a task that fell to the lovely Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson, better known as Hungrytown. This modest and understated couple from Vermont could not have been more of a departure from the opening act. When they walk onto the stage there's just something about them that reminds you of returning to your (now) cold Sunday Roast, clutching a copy of some pamphlet that you're assured will inform you more accurately about 'God's love' (teeth grinding). But despite appearances Hungrytown were not here to sings us hymns or point us (spiritually at least) in any kind of new direction. But let me tell you, they could have. After half an hour in the barn with these guys I'd have bought whatever they were selling.
What they do is unspectacular but that's its charm. It's authentic and old fashioned, with an acoustic guitar, mandolin and sweet Celtic sounding vocals that lift your spirits and soothe your woes. Their simple and pretty songs are tender but strangely cheerful, with hints of Gorky's and Sufjan Stevens (but maybe on his birthday). Rebecca's vocals are really quite lovely and whilst her male counterpart's voice is a little harder to love, his accompaniment sets the whole thing off beautifully.
They began a relaxing stroll through their impressive songbook with a brave a capella number which succeeded in showing off their complimentary vocals and lyrical ability. From there in the show stealers continued with the heart warming 'November song', with its sleepy guitar licks and wonderfully descriptive lyrics, telling of Appalachian summers and transporting you to their front porch in Vermont where the song was composed. 'Any forgotten thing' though, with its dreamy harmonica intro was the overall highlight for me. A beautiful slow lament, which gently breaks your heart by presenting you with household disrepair as a metaphor for the neglect of a loved one or complacency in a relationship. That said, even during the more rueful of their songs you still have an overwhelming feeling of contentment. There's a wonderful optimism that radiates from everything they do. It's daydream music for the journey so let Hungrytown take you to your happy place. This would make a great soundtrack to the perfect romantic movie. Maybe one with a bittersweet ending.
The next artist to set foot onto the Barn stage was Hank Wangford, something of a legend it would seem in these parts and with good reason. Finding his feet in the country world through his friend Gram Parsons, Wangford has etched out a name for himself, not just as a troubadour but as a purveyor of country music in just about every medium, including TV shows and books. Not to mention some of the enormous names this guy can call friends but I'll let Hank tell you all about that himself, I'll try to stick to the music.
One of my favourite moments of the weekend was actually during Hank's set, when just as I scribbled the words 'proper wild west licks that sound like they should run over the opening credits of some cowboy show from the 60's' in my spiral bound notebook, a horse with amazing comic timing stuck his giant head out of his barn door and proceeded to chew, bear his teeth and lick his lips a la Mr Ed. Maybe you had to be there.
It's a shame if you weren't because Hank was, almost without exception, really, really good. The only part that let him down in my opinion was what I believe was a weak cover version of Johnny Cash's 'Get rhythm', which admittedly is not my favourite of the MIBs songs to begin with but I just felt that he brought nothing new to it and as such it seemed superfluous. But hey, it got people dancing so maybe I'm not the person to ask.
The rest of his set was a big hit with me though. With perfectly composed guitar solos and catchy choruses, there's something about these melodies that remind me of 1960s California (which is weird since I sadly wasn't there) or at least awaken feelings in me that I get when I hear the Byrds or the Turtles, which is quite a feat for anything that you're hearing for the first time. Best of all, he makes no attempt to assume an American accent, which makes for an honest, unaffected vocal that does him credit and makes what is in parts a very familiar approach sound entirely new. It's perky, summery, sing along fun with waltzes and Carribean riffs thrown in for good measure. Top marks.
As dusk descended on our little soiree, the ever captivating Brigitte De Meyer joined the party and set the mood perfectly with her soulful voice and bluesy guitar riffs that all sounded effortless. Love or hate the comparison she sounds (vocally) more than a little like Sheryl Crow but better. Much, much better. This lady can really sing.
And that's not all. She is relaxed and talkative, and with what is clearly the cleanest and most note perfect performance of the day so far, she holds the modestly sized audience enraptured. She looks great, sounds great and it's clear to see that she's having a great time.
The highlight of her set for me was the smooth and bluesy 'looking for Moses' (Moses is a cat incidentally), which despite being interrupted mid way by "technical difficulties", got the crowd clapping along enthusiastically. There was even a little sexy dancing going on in the crowd, which although failing to make up for a lot of less sexy, more sort of cumbersome, awkward and in parts ugly and unpleasant to watch dancing, it does prove that the general consensus was something like this: classic, sultry country at its best. Yes, that'll do.
The final act on Friday night were the Vagaband, who threw themselves into their performance at full tilt with a rowdy hoe down take on 'everybody's talkin' that had a certain Bluebellsness (copyright: me) about it and was miles better than the (yawn) Beautiful South version. The fun continued with 'I,I,I', an original composition and toe-tapping demonstration that their talent stretches far beyond bluegrass re-workings of classics. The Vagaband are multi-faceted indeed, fearlessly dabbling in just about every genre of music you'd care to name. We were treated to folk, rock, soul, blues, swing, country and even a little ska (the excellent 'Painted Horse'). The real testament to their ability though was the audience's reaction to them, which was absolutely electric. It was a fantastic way to end a brilliant evening.
Saturday got off to a more relaxed start, with Deanna Shunkaha Wanagiwin, a Lakotah Indian from South Dakota, heading the Native American Invocation. Dressed in traditional attire and speaking in her native tongue, Deanna held the crowd transfixed as she offered prayers before treating us to the extraordinary and unmistakable sound of an indigenous flute. Her performance was brief but extremely moving and it was a privilege to be treated to the beautiful and haunting sound of the flute. My only complaint is that if anything, her performance wasn't long enough.
The Going for a song Contest followed and I understand that Drew Nelson was one of the presiding judges. I apologise in advance if I have misspelled any of the performer's names (I'm writing what I thought I heard, as there were no details written on the program).
The Pancakes kicked things off with an odd little song laden with sexual innuendo, played on guitar and harmonica and sung kind of out of time with the music and in an accent that I'm at a loss to pinpoint. It was all very tongue in cheek and I've no doubt that their amateur performance style was completely intentional, giving their song an almost improvised feel. I think I'd have to call them a novelty act though and I'm sad to say that it was all a bit lost on me. I really don't like to be negative though so I will stress that although the lyrics weren't exactly to my taste, they did get the crowd laughing, and musically speaking the song's finger picking acoustic guitar intro was really quite beautiful. Perhaps therein lies the problem. I saw such potential at the beginning of the song that I was therefore sadly disappointed with it's conclusion. I expect that if these guys played it straight I would probably feel very differently about them as they clearly do have the talent, I'm just not sure that they're using it properly.
A little panto play acting ensued ("behind you!") when the next act went missing briefly but the Rosalees (a male and female duo) were soon discovered, in more ways than one. Their winning song, 'Innocent', a soft little ballad, sweetly sung and performed on an acoustic guitar and violin bought them a place at next year's festival.
Male and female duo Hollyann and the Katy Winter followed with their upbeat guitar ditty 'the day I met the king'. It's a nice song with lovely harmonies and although their performance lacked the professional feel of the Rosalees, they're still very much worth your attention.
Next up are little Red Acoustic, another male and female duo but with a very different sound who performed "a love song" (title unknown). The lead vocal was supplied by the man in this case, who also provided the guitar accompaniment. Both his vocal and playing styles had what I'd have to describe as a sort of bluesy Van Morrison quality, which I liked a lot. Sadly, I felt that the lady singing with him, although having a perfectly nice voice, added nothing to proceedings. If anything I'd have to say that their styles clashed too much and it actually detracted from the song. I could see where they were going but I don't think it worked.
Dave and Bo Weevil were the final act of the competition and I'd have to say they gave the most natural, confident performance of the day. The steel guitar sounded great and the female vocalist had an excellent blues voice. I was underwhelmed by their choice of song though, which I feel let them down. They could have been real contenders otherwise.
I hadn't planned to stick around for the contest but I'm glad I did. It was enormous fun and a showcase of some serious new talent. It's always cool to be around at the birth of something brand new and as such I look forward to hearing the Rosalees at next year's festival.
Despite being very enjoyable, the Song contest left me longing for some heavy hitters, and that gratefully arrived in the form of Nashville roots-rockers Last train home.
They cranked up the volume with their own special brand of Americana, dotted with evidence of their diverse musical influences. They are an awesome live band and their attention to detail is obvious. Therefore whilst I would describe their sound as quite noisy and gritty, their overall performance was very tight and really quite impressive.
Last Train Home undoubtedly know how to rock and they do it masterfully, but for me it's when they slow things down that they really shine. 'Can't come undone' is tender but emotionally charged, whilst 'Tonight' is sweet and sentimental.
Amid some fine original material we were also treated to some considered and well executed cover versions. Beginning with Bob Dylan's 'Tonight I'll be staying here with you', through 'the Beat goes On' which is given a cute country twist, and ending their excellent performance with a roaring, stomping take on the Stanley Brother's 'Say won't you be mine'.
Meanwhile over at the barn, Roger Humphries was taking the stage with his trusty telecaster to fly the flag for British Americana. He's been in the business for quite some time and for every song he plays there's a tale that goes along with it. You might think this would be a bad thing but he's so likeable and so unpretentious that it actually becomes an integral and very enjoyable part of his show. For the daydreamers amongst us it's also a nice opportunity to sneak a peek into a world that I'm sure many of us would love to be part of. Humphries, despite sounding like a London cabbie when he speaks, has an impressive singing voice. It's powerful and controlled with no attempt to affect an American accent, which you might think would better suit his music but you'd be wrong – it's much better this way. Add to this simple lyrics and clean, well composed guitar licks and it all works very well. He switches between sweet, tender bluesy ballads and what I could best describe as T-Rex do country.
He stands alone with an electric guitar but despite the lack of theatrics he holds your attention for the entirety of his set. He's good, very good, and what's more he clearly loves what he does. Well, Mr Humphries, I love what you do too. Good stuff.
Police Dog Hogan were next and got off to a loud and lively start with a jangly banjo and fiddle instrumental. It's very traditional country and western and their live performance is flawless. Second track 'why does everything have to be so hard?' is up-tempo and infectious with a big chorus brought to life by multiple, perfectly synchronised vocals. 'Slingshot around the moon' with its soft fiddle intro fooled me into thinking that they were going to slow things down but it's high octane all the way with this band.
Moved to a later timeslot due to cancellations elsewhere in the scheduling, I'd say it did them a huge favour. They drew a bigger crowd than they might otherwise have done and that's a good thing because they really deserve the attention.
One of the big highlights of Saturday was undoubtedly Rayburn Anthony, who performed on the Maverick stage with the help of Last Train Home, who were serving as his backing band.
Rayburn Anthony is something of a legend, 'the original Sun Records recording artist whose songs have been covered by the likes of Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride and Jerry Lee Lewis' as the Maverick program read. We were reliably informed by the man himself (Rayburn that is, not Elvis) that Mr Presley reworked his song 'there's no tomorrow', which then became a little tune called 'it's now or never'. Maybe you've heard of it.
It's really old school, up-tempo country based rockabilly and it's absolutely awesome. It's perhaps surprising then to see how modest Anthony is; often shying away from applause and instead choosing to share around the praise by drawing the audience's attention to the talent around him. This guy is the star though, like Johnny Cash on Prozac. He has so much personality and is so relaxed on stage, he quickly has the crowd laughing and singing along.
His voice is incredible; deep and emotive with that dirty southern drawl. He has great range and can hold a note for an unfeasibly long time without so much as a quiver. It's not just his singing voice either – when he speaks you just melt into his words. If my RE teacher had sounded like this I'd probably be doing missionary work someplace by now.
The Johnny Cash comparisons are overwhelming, so it's perhaps better to highlight some important differences. There are no sad songs in his set (as summed up in his song 'I don't sing Hank Williams anymore') and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that his voice is even better. It's extremely powerful, carries beautifully and is so bassy that there were Jurassic Parkesque ripples in my coffee at times. Ok, so I'm exaggerating but impressive indeed.
Basically, if Johnny Cash had decided one sunny day, whilst stroking a puppy that yellow would better suit his complexion, he would have sounded like Rayburn Anthony.
How do you follow that? With stompin' Dave Allen, that's how! Can you guess what he does? Well let me tell you – he plays banjo or violin, whilst singing and tap-dancing. It's obvious now that I've said it, right? Well yeah, plus it's super, super cool.
I know it's a novelty act and that makes me a big old hypocrite but I challenge you to watch this man strum his banjo behind his head like hillbilly Hendrix whilst busting some Donald O'Connor's and tell me it's not the best thing you've ever seen. Hah!
I have to be honest in that his vocals aren't great. They're not that bad though and in fairness they're not the most important part of his act. He is a very skilled banjo player and he can certainly dance but the most impressive part is that he does all of these things for a solid half hour and barely breaks a sweat.
The highlight of his performance (aside of course from stopping just short of igniting his banjo and offering the flames to the heavens) was the most fun version of duelling banjos imaginable. Dave Allen is unmissable.
At this point my afternoon became slightly hurried as I tried to divide my time between the million and one things going on, so I couldn't devote as much time as I might have liked to the remainder of the days artists but I made sure that I caught at least a bit of everyone. I managed to make it back to the barn just in time to catch a little of Roosevelt Bandwagon and I really wish I could have seen the whole set and properly do them credit but from what I did see I can assure you that this is beautifully constructed, emotional country. Their voices meld perfectly and their thoughtful songs tug at the heartstrings. The combination of their individual vocals adds such depth to their sound and the overall effect is traditional, authentic and lovely.
Similarly with Eve Sellis, who was a last minute (and very welcome) addition to Saturday's line up, I didn't catch as much of her set as I might have liked. She has a big voice, sort of like Anastasia does country, which was the main focus of her performance, hence she sang solo with a single guitarist to accompany her. It really worked too. Her musical style is very eclectic, blending country, blues, R & B and good old rock and roll to create a sound that is entirely her own. Her voice is outstanding and it's hard to see that there's any genre that she could touch without turning it to gold.
Back at the barn Eric Brace (frontman with Last Train Home) and Peter Cooper were storming through a very strong set and proved to be a big hit with the ever growing crowd that had assembled to watch. Vocally, they complement each other very well and their musical style is what I would describe as traditional, bare bones country and western. They were very good indeed and the briefness of my coverage relates more again to my lack of time on the day and does not reflect the quality of their show. I enjoyed them greatly and regret that I was unable to stay for the whole set. Please do check them out.
The last act to perform on the Maverick stage were Danny and the Champions of the World. If I were to be brutally honest I'd say that having done a little research in the run up to the festival, I really wasn't looking forward to seeing this band, least of all having to write about them afterwards, as I like to credit myself with always trying to find something positive to say and I really thought I might struggle to do so on this occasion. The truth of the matter is that Danny George Wilson's voice (and I have seen him perform previously in various incarnations) has always left me cold. It is the sort of voice that people love or hate, take Billy Corgan for instance or (if you really must) Ronan Keating. Sadly I have always fallen into the latter camp (a hater, not a Boyzone fan, if there were any confusion). Until now that is.
You see, although it all sounds pretty bleak so far, that only serves to magnify the extent of the compliment that follows. DANNY AND THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD BLEW ME AWAY. Phew, I feel better now (my amateur journalistic five hail Mary's and two our father's, if you will). They are definitely very much a live band and they clearly pour everything they have into their performance. Songs that I felt aloof about previously came alive for me, with soulful harmonies that travel right through you, my favourite of which being the wonderful 'Restless feet'. Wilson's voice (though still a little Marmite) is flawless and when backed up by the superb vocal talent of his band mates it really finds its niche.
To say that they surprised me is an understatement. They are such a finely tuned unit that despite the size of their band and the open air environment you can hear every instrument clearly. This is upbeat, feel good country edged pop at its very best. DGW is a skilled songwriter and storyteller and he has a GOOD VOICE (whether I like it or not!). So in short, I take it all back. I would pay to see this band.
In a barn far, far away Rod Picot was tuning his six string in the company of the lovely Amanda Shires (violin). His style is quiet, sombre Americana. I know I'm probably not selling it to you in saying that but after a long day of sun an excitement I was ready for a quieting down period and this was just the medicine.
He has a deep soulful voice, gravelly, bluesy and well worn; perfectly suited to his genre. Musically, he isn't reinventing the wheel as they say (seriously, who does say that? It's a stupid expression). So he's not doing anything particularly new, who cares? He's doing something that works, something familiar, something I really love and what's more he's doing it exceptionally well and with ease. I like him a lot.
A new addition to the festival was the Peacock cafe, playing host to a series of acoustic performances on Saturday night (this is the point where I would have collapsed from exhaustion had the Maverick stage not wrapped up due to licensing laws or some such nuisance). It offered festival goers a chilled out alternative to the Barn, which at this stage was just starting to heat up for what was to be a raucous evening. It also had the added advantage of being in close enough proximity to the barn so that people had the option to float back and forth between the two venues, as not to miss what turned out to be a great line-up.
First up at the Peacock cafe was Stephanie Lambing, a young woman with an impressive but mellow voice. She speaks regularly to the audience, introducing her songs and in places explaining the meaning behind them or her motivation for writing them. It's this, combined with her confident vocals that quickly make you forget how young she is (23). This lady deserves, no, demands, to be taken seriously and she quickly earns your respect with her dark, moody and emotional sound that speaks of maturity an experience beyond her years. The mood throughout her performance is quiet and a little melancholy but in a good way. This is music to kick back, close your eyes and lose yourself in – it's very good indeed and I suspect that the best is yet to come from this talented young songwriter.
The inimitable Suzi Ragsdale was hot on her heels and was a huge shift stylistically from the previous performer. With her breathy, almost husky voice and an audible Southern twang (I'm loath to make this comparison but vocally she's more than a little reminiscent of Shania Twain), Ragsdale is a breath of fresh air. Her chilled out, calming melodies, paired with slightly eccentric lyrics makes for great listening. Add to that her relaxed chit chat between songs and we were always in for a great show. She is a natural live performer and her down to earth, self deprecating humour makes you feel like she's just a mate of yours who wants your opinion about some tunes she wrote.
Amanda Shires followed with Rod Picot returning the favour and providing accompaniment on guitar. Shires is a confident, energetic songwriter and her creeping melodies work very well in a live environment, particularly at Maverick, where the descending darkness, fresh outdoor breeze and dimly lit barn created the perfect ambient backdrop for her haunting and memorable songs. Her voice is reedy and heavily accented and with its characteristic yodel she reminds me of Dolly Parton, if she were ever persuaded to the dark side of the force. Amanda herself though, wearing feathers in her hair, is as sweet and charming as her lovely songs.
The closedown at the Peacock cafe was capably handled by Kim Richey, who brilliantly pairs quite heavy acoustic guitar licks with pretty, sensual vocals. These contracting elements work perfectly together and in support of some beautifully composed, thoughtful songs, they give Richey an unusual poppy crossover sound. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes her so great but in my opinion this lady should be a big deal.
While all this was going on, Phil Lee was tearing things up over at the barn, with his weird and wonderful blend of country and rock 'n' roll. You can hear everything from Jerry Lee Lewis to Bob Dylan (via Tom Petty) in his music, which is not to say he's unoriginal, quite the contrary. He's clearly embraced his influences and as such he fearlessly pulls out the pin and blows them all to kingdom come. His sound is raw and uncompromising whilst managing also to be strangely light-hearted, catchy and even fun. His voice isn't so great but it is instantly likeable for reasons I can't be sure of and with it he sings his heart out, which is what it's all about really. With just an acoustic guitar and a harmonica (with which he could give Neil Young a run for his money), this is as exciting as country music gets.
Crowd favourites, Thomas Dolby and the Toadlickers ensued and met with the biggest applause of the whole weekend. Complete with double bass and burlesque dancers (no, I'm not kidding), they drew a large and enthusiastic audience.
Playing a high impact, high volume set, their sound was a melting pot of influences in which we could hear country, swing, rock, soul, you name it. Add to that excellent vocals and fast paced, catchy rhythms and you're halfway there. The crowd (who were singing and dancing excitedly) are really every bit as much a part of their performance as the band themselves and they seem to feed off this energy. The whole thing was jolly good fun and they ended as they began, with new single 'here come the toadlickers'. I'm not sure if this was a response to popular demand or because they ran out of material but no-one was complaining. At least I couldn't hear them complaining over the racket (I mean that in the nicest possible way).
It was never going to be easy to follow Thomas Dolby but if anyone was up to the job it was Drew Nelson. After the buzz surrounding the Toadlickers performance, Nelson proved to be a much welcome comedown. Soft and slow but with an air of positivity, this is soothing, life affirming Americana in its purest form. I'm back in my happy place. His voice is deep and a little gravelly, the vocals very masculine but with a certain sensitivity. The tunes are simple and understated, with side guitar skilfully employed to create melody, whilst the lyrics are intelligent and emotive.
In addition to his own accomplished compositions, we were also introduced to Drew's reworking of 'Folsom Prison Blues', which went down a storm and was by far the best Johnny Cash cover of the weekend. He is, in short, great. This is what you want to hear at the end of a tough day and I loved every minute of it.
I was really starting to flag at this point and I wasn't alone. Saturday night's headliner, Chris Scruggs, was late taking to the stage and the crowd, who seemed to be growing restless, had already started to dissipate. I wonder if perhaps he'd sensed this because he wasted no time at all in bursting into a raucous opening number, heavy on the drums, that woke us all from our slumber. The big, catchy songs didn't let up there either. He quickly won the audience over with a superb set list, jam packed with instantly recognisable beats that you couldn't help but dance to and straightforward choruses that you could quickly sing along to.
It wasn't long before Chris Scruggs could do no wrong in the eyes of his audience. Every song he wrapped up was greeted with rapturous applause and he took the opportunity to show us his more sensitive side. With his mature, old fashioned, stripped down country ballads, you get the feeling that he really is, as his song describes, an "old soul".
There are moments (and plenty of them) when he sounds remarkably like Mark Olson, but the vocals are the only similarity. His driving force doesn't seem to be the country so much as the Blackpool rock ('n'roll). If you cut him open he'd have Buddy Holly running right through him. Get it? Did you see what I did there?! Sigh. Chris Scruggs was an excellent choice to wrap up the second day of the festival.
The Sunday morning wind down began promptly and fittingly with the Good Intentions, last year's going for a song contest winners. With sweet, melodic vocals and pedal steel, mandolin and double bass, their sound is pure, plucky country and it's the ideal soundtrack on this sunny Sunday morning. In addition to their sound, the lyrics also help add to the authentic country mood ("even cowgirls get the blues etc") and it's all wonderfully mellow and nostalgic. You almost feel that you've been transported back in time. The good intentions have proved themselves deserving winners of the contest and there's no question that they belong on this stage.
Exhausted, I say with some sadness and more than a little relief, the festival drew to a close, played out by the Ragged String band/Maverick All stars. With scheduling alterations and a lot of will they/won't they, it was a little tricky at this point to know where one ended and the other began. I can tell you that the Ragged string band were joined by Chris Scruggs, BJ Cole and Aaron Jonah Lewis at one point or another during the last hour or so of their performance, who were all a big hit with the waiting audience.
If I said 'oh brother where art thou?' perhaps that would give you an idea of what these guys do. It's a nice mix of laid back bluegrass and lively plucky country and western. They're clearly very accomplished musicians with great voices and whilst I might have liked the vocals to be slightly louder, I really can't find fault with their performance. The highlights for me being a great cover of 'the weight' by the Band and perhaps the craziest re-imagining I've ever heard in the form of a hoe down version of 'Walk like an Egyptian' (I can't even begin to tell you how great it was. There is never a dull moment with the Ragged String band and I'd have to say it was the perfect end to the perfect weekend.
In summation, Maverick 2010 was incredible. The only disappointment was that the outdoor stage had to close so early. The weather was phenomenal and it would have been great to sit out on the grass and enjoy some more performances on the main stage but this is not the fault of the organisers, who I guess have to keep the neighbours happy if they want to continue to host this awesome event (and they must!).
If you didn't make it to this year's festival I implore you to come along next year. It's a quarter of the price of some of the bigger festivals (cheaper still if you don't want to camp) and worth every penny. If anything, these guys try to cram in a little too much, so the biggest danger of disappointment is that you might have to forfeit some acts that you want to see in favour of others. Alternatively, you can take the same approach that I did and run back and forth like crazy to see a bit of everyone. However you decide to do Maverick 2011, I guarantee you'll have the time of your life. See you there!